Finding the right time to go to sleep is a matter of pure mathematics. Setting the alarm clock earlier in the morning will help you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow the following nightTurning in 10-15 minutes before planning to fall asleep is ideal for getting best sleep.

People who have trouble falling asleep may be going to bed at the wrong time, claim sleep experts. Finding the right time to hit the sack may help people with sleep problems to fall asleep faster and sleep through the night without waking up in the wee hours.

People have an in-built clock that determines the best time for them to go to bed, claims Professor Markku Partinen, a neurologist specialising in sleep problems.

"According to population studies, the natural time for people to go to sleep is between ten and midnight."

People who have difficulty falling asleep at night or staying asleep, often unwittingly make the same mistakes.

"Where people often go wrong is that if they can't get to sleep, they try to go to bed earlier."

Most adults need 6-8 hours of sleep at night to feel refreshed in the morning. Partinen says people should go to bed 10-15 minutes before planning to fall asleep, making finding the right bedtime pure mathematics.

"If you want to wake up at 7 and need seven and a half hours of shut-eye, you should be in bed at quarter past 11," calculates Partinen.

Trying to catch an early night may only make you toss and turn in bed as your body is not ready to go to sleep. Partinen recommends setting the alarm clock earlier in the morning, which will help you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow the following night.

Biological reasons

Partinen agrees with Professor Rafael Pelayo, a sleep expert at the Stanford School of Medicine, on the reasons behind people tending to wake up during the night. Speaking with Wall Street Journal, Pelayo said that problems in falling asleep and sleeping through the night stem from biological reasons as broken sleep has been beneficial in the course of human history.

People go through periods of lighter sleep during the night, with sleep consisting of 90-minute cycles with alternating stages of deep and lighter sleep. Pelayo says that this sleep cycle has evolved from the need to stay alert also during the night. People have stirred regularly to check that their surroundings are still safe, before falling back to sleep very quickly.

This ability to go back to sleep immediately explains why mothers can wake up to nurse a baby and then nod off again. When people feel threatened, they are more likely to wake up during the period of lighter sleep and feel unable to go back to sleep. The biological need to get some zzz's will help even a stressed and anxious person to fall asleep, but sleep often becomes disturbed early in the morning.

Put worries aside

Many people may fall asleep even if they start worrying about the front door being locked when they are already in bed, as snug as a bug in a rug, only to wake up in the early hours to check the door. Sleep is then disturbed and falling back to sleep becomes difficult.

Partinen says that one way to get a good night's sleep is to leave thinking about all sorts of niggling worries until the following day or write down any concerns on a piece of paper.

Pelayo remarks that adults should follow children's example and have a set bedtime.

The importance of having daily routines is also emphasised by another Finnish sleep expert, Henri Tuomilehto.

"We adults often don't set ourselves any rules or limits regarding sleep. The importance of sleep should be appreciated and adults should stick to a certain daily rhythm," says Tuomilehto.

Tuomilehto recommends that people figure out what is the best way for them to leave their worries behind for the night and find the right sleep pattern.

"For some people, a good book is the best way to relax. The main thing is to have a regular daily rhythm for both bedtime and waking up."

Tuuli Vattulainen – HS
Niina Woolley – HT
Lehtikuva / Sari Gustafsson