Wellness

My wellness wins: sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley

The author of How To Sleep Well and former chairman of the British Sleep Society gives us an insight into his bedtime habits and his surprising tips on how to sleep better

My bedtime routine is… free of rules. You can only fall asleep if you have a quiet mind.

My morning ritual is… I always get up at the same time – 6.30am. I’m a morning person and always wake feeling positive. If you start the day thinking, ‘I’ve had a bad night’s sleep’ you set yourself up for having a bad day. Judge whether you’ve had enough sleep by how you feel at 11am, not when you wake. If you’re alert and focused mid-morning, you’ve had sufficient.

I always tell my loved ones to… have a cuddle, then go to sleep in separate bedrooms. Humans are the only animals to sleep together for intimacy over warmth or security. I published a paper in 2005* showing that most sleep disturbance is caused by your bed partner. I’m in a long-term relationship and we sleep separately. I’ve never looked back!

My favourite mantra is… don’t pretend to be something you’re not. Be honest, don’t lie, don’t inflate your credentials. I’m a sleep expert, I don’t claim to be a sleep guru. I’m always striving to be authentic.

My favourite way of relaxing is… reading. I’ve got more than 2,000 sleep books. I try to not look at my mobile phone before bed. The blue light emitted from smartphones and computers suppresses melatonin**, which is what tells the body that it’s time to sleep. Primarily, though, looking at our phones creates mental stimulation. The brain needs a quiet mind for sleep.

Exercise to me involves… Not changing my clothes. I incorporate fitness into everyday life. I walk a mile and a half to the station instead of catching the bus, I climb stairs and run down the escalator at the Tube. Exercise is part of my daily routine, rather than a special event.

My biggest turn on… finding a copy of a sleep book that I don’t already have! I’ve just spent a lot of money on an unknown edition of a book called The Philosophy Of Sleep by Robert Macnish that was published in Germany in 1857. That’s made me happy!

The bad habit I’m glad I’ve kicked… worrying about sleep. I used to wake in the middle of the night and struggle to drop back off for an hour, which made me anxious. Now, I’ll switch on the light and read. I also keep a notepad and pen that lights up by my bed to jot down any persistent thoughts. Drink Horlicks, play Pink Floyd loudly, do meditation – find what works for you!

I inject positivity into my life by… living one day at a time. If you feel good today, that’s all that you can hope for. Winning the lottery and achieving world peace are distant dreams – but your life as it is today is not a dress rehearsal, so enjoy it. Nobody has ever been on their death bed thinking ‘I shouldn’t have had that KitKat’.

No.1 on my gratitude list is… my health. I’m 54, I’ve still got most of my hair and teeth and I can’t remember the last time I visited the doctor.

How to Sleep Well (Capstone) is out now