To wake up at the end of a sleep cycle, decide when you want to wake up, then count backwards in 90-minute blocks to find the time you need to go to bed.
Ideally, you want five or six sleep cycles, so if you want to wake up at 7.30 am, you need to be going to sleep at either 10.30 pm or midnight.
We do this several times a night in sleep cycles, each lasting about 90 minutes.
You want to wake up at the end of a sleep cycle, while in REM sleep, because this lightest stage of sleep is closest to our natural waking state.
Once you’re getting the right amount of sleep — and yes, I’m afraid that means at least seven hours, ideally eight — you shouldn’t need one.
It’s fine to set an alarm as a back-up, but you should be waking up five to ten minutes before it goes off.
A lack of sleep is linked to all sorts of problems — from road accidents to mental health issues (and we’ve seen an explosion of those in recent years).
It can also raise the risk of obesity (sleep deprivation saps your willpower and drives up hunger hormones), heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. In my work as a psychologist I’ve sifted through decades of research into sleep and dreaming and come up with techniques to help people who struggle to get a good night’s sleep.
Some people suffer from ‘sleep maintenance insomnia’, waking up during the night and struggling to get back to sleep.
And even if you sleep pretty well, there are tricks to help you snooze even better.
You might think falling asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow is a good thing, but it’s actually an indicator that you’re not getting enough sleep.
Those trying to stay awake felt less anxious at bedtime and fell asleep quicker.
The problem with trying to relax in order to sleep is that you’re constantly monitoring yourself to see if you’re asleep yet, keeping your brain quite active. Another option is an exercise such as the alphabet game (pick a theme, such as animals or countries, and try to name one beginning with each letter of the alphabet) or counting backwards from 100 in threes.