Dr Michael Mosley sleep tips: Five ways you can get a more restful night in bed

Georgina Noack
The Nightly
4 Min Read
New details about the death of British television presenter Dr Michael Mosley have been revealed following an initial postmortem in Greece.

Like most of us, Dr Michael Mosley was “obsessed” with sleep. But not just for its health benefits; because it eluded him for decades.

When Dr Mosley was younger, he could sleep anywhere, at any time — he once spent a night in a “telephone kiosk” after missing the last train home. But as he got older, his life became busier and his sleep became more erratic and broken.

Dr Mosley would then learn that he was an insomniac and spend more than 25 years trying to ‘fix’ it, documenting it and his experiments, of course, in the name of health education.

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As news broke of his tragic death this week, fans around the world have come out to share their stories about how his research helped change their lives.

And when it comes to the most precious of commodities, sleep, here are five hacks from the great man himself that can help send any of us to the land of nod.

Slow your breath

Simple, yet effective, Dr Mosley’s first tip was to take slow, deep, belly breaths.

Belly breathing helps to calm the body down by tapping into a cluster of cells deep in the brain called the locus coeruleus that have a big role in its function.

“If sleep isn’t coming and your mind is racing, it’s the locus coeruleus that’s active — spraying a hormone called noradrenaline (the wake-up chemical) all around the brain,” he said.

To belly breathe, put one hand on your chest, the other just below the rib cage. When you inhale, you should feel the belly rise while your chest stays relatively still.

He recommended following the steady 4-2-4 breathing pattern (a four-second inhale, two-second hold, four-second exhale) to ease racing thoughts.

A good night’s sleep starts in the morning

Dr Mosley said one of the “best” pieces of advice he got while trying to tackle his insomnia was to have a regular sleep schedule and find daylight as soon as he woke up.

In fact, he said, researchers found the time you get up in the morning “has a greater influence on our body clock than the time you go to bed”, because of daylight.

“When light hits the eye, it excites receptors at the back of the eye that detect light and send signals to a region of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, your “master” body clock,” he said.

“A burst of morning light halts the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin, and signals to the body that the day has begun.”

That signal sends a chain of events into motion which means around 12 hours later, melatonin starts to rise again and our body starts to prepare for sleep.

Enjoy your bed and make it sleep-friendly

As much as he wanted to hack sleep to make it better, Dr Mosley also believed if it was not coming to get out of bed.

He said it was part of “stimulus control”, reducing the amount of time spent “lying there awake and ‘not-sleeping’, and associating the bed purely as a place of rest.

“By getting up when you’re not drifting off, and going to bed only when you are feeling truly sleepy, the negative association can be broken.”

You need to warm up to cool down

A warm body is a sleepy body, Dr Mosley said.

He recommended a warm bath or shower before bed to not only help fall asleep quicker but to wake more rested.

“By warming parts of your body, especially your hands and feet, special blood vessels that radiate heat start to dilate,” Dr Mosley said.

“This pushes more of your blood to the skin’s surface, which helps speed up heat loss so that your core temperature drops – and this acts as a signal for sleep.”

This doesn’t mean cranking the heater or electric blankets and blowing out your power bills. A hot water bottle, adding extra blankets or just wearing bed socks can help make you feel warmer and cozier for bed.

Don’t worry about sleep so much

For as much as we hear that we must aim for eight hours of sleep each night, the stress of reaching that target can actually cause more harm than good.

“Some people do perfectly well with less, and some might need a bit more. It also changes through our lifetimes,” Dr Mosley said.

“If you find yourself dozing off while doing activities in the day then it may mean you need a bit more sleep!”

The eight hours is a hangover from pre-industrial times, where people would sleep a few hours before dusk then be active, then go back to bed for a second sleep.

And if Dr Mosley said he found that fact reassuring whenever he snapped awake at 3am, you can too — and hopefully heading back to sleep sooner.

But if you are struggling with sleep and feel like it’s affecting your quality of life, speak to your GP.

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