A good night's sleep is seemingly the most humble of desires, but it's the one thing that many of us have a hard time getting.
Whether you're a tosser and a turner, a groaner, or someone who stares at the ceiling in vain, trying to fall asleep, there is a myriad of sleep complaints and as many rumoured tips and tricks for mastering sleep.
Speaking on Today With Seán O'Rourke yesterday, Motty Varghese, a sleep physiologist and behavioural sleep therapist at the Sleep Therapy Clinic at St James' Hospital in Dublin, shared some scientific insight into the struggle for sleep, as well as some science-backed tips and tricks.
When it comes to sleep aids, Varghese explained that "historically, sleep medication or sleeping tablets have been the most common way of treating insomnia". Many people use tablets to drift off, but how do you wean yourself off medication when the struggle to catch some z's could be nightly?
Varghese suggests cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which he says has been proven to be extremely successful. "It's basically to look at your cognitions, the way you approach sleep, the beliefs and attitudes that you keep about sleep", he said.
"People with insomnia would have a lot of anxiety about going to bed", he says, so CBT would work to "correct those and also to correct the behavioural factors. There may be a lot of habits that they may have that are not necessarily helping their sleep patterns".
So, it is possible to come off medication, but it should be done gradually.
Many of us have more subtle and hard-to-shift tics that stop our sleep, such as Restless Leg Syndrome. This, Varghese says, "needs to be addressed by a physician". He suggests visiting your GP, who can then get you a referral to a sleep consultant.
With St Patrick's Day just around the corner, and just one bank holiday day off to recover our senses, many listeners would have been wondering how best to avoid their sleep being disrupted by a night on the town. One listener messaged in, saying they can only sleep four or five hours after drinking*, with broken sleep the following days.
"It's a very established fact that alcohol is not good for sleep", Varghese says. "It may put you to sleep quicker than normal, but once it is metabolised, you will wake up and you find it harder to get back to sleep. Even if you go back to sleep, you will be in a very light stage of sleep where you could be woken up quite easily.
While he's unsure whether there is any research on the quantity of alcohol and how it affects sleep, his standard advice would be to leave drinking three hours before bedtime.
Of course, it's often the most frequent habits that most affect our sleep, and these are typically so deeply ingrained in our days that it can be tough to wean ourselves off them. Enter: blue light.
Blue light, the light that radiates off phones, tablets, and laptops, "is very harmful to sleep, depending on the time of exposure, especially in the evening", Varghese says. "Blue light is generally good during the daytime because it stops the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, and it keeps us alert and awake during the daytime.
"But getting exposed to blue light closer to your bedtime can inhibit the production of melatonin. You may find it hard to fall asleep. It's very important that we master light to master our sleep."
A touch of mindfulness will go a long way when it comes to mastering our sleep, especially if - like one listener - you suffer from the Sunday night fear, finding yourself unable to drift off, even if you enjoy your job.
"In those cases, it's very important to do a bit of journaling before going to bed, maybe sometime in the evening", Varghese suggests. "Transfer all the thoughts in your brain about work or other stuff that you have in your mind to a piece of paper that will relieve or reduce the intensity of the particular thoughts that you have."
He also suggests some "distraction techniques" while in bed, to take your mind off sleep, or breathing exercises, such as Benson's Relaxation Response.
"You make sure that your muscles are all relaxed, you're sitting on a chair or lying down", he explains. "Take a breath in through your nose, breathe out and as you're breathing out you are pronouncing a word like 'one' or 'peace' or 'calm' or whichever word you like. You can do that for 15 to 20 minutes, and that seems to have been very very successful, as well."
While certain techniques can be honed to trick the body into sleep, such as the US military's alleged two-minute sleep hack, for the average person finding a sleep aid that lulls the mind to sleep takes trial and error.
"You've always heard about counting the sheep, and that's all distraction methods but the counting the sheep doesn't really work so well because it's not really engaging", Varghese says. "So one of the distraction techniques that have been proven to be very good is to count backwards from 300 in multiples of three."
So, we know what to do to help master sleep, but what should we avoid doing? If you're someone who gets up in the middle of the night for the bathroom a little too often, it might be that citrus fruits in the evening are a no-no.
Varghese notes that some research shows a link between eating citrus fruits in the evening and getting up in the night for the loo.
For more tips, tricks and myth-debunking about sleep, listen back to the clip above!