Can you remember the last time that you woke up in the morning feeling refreshed, rested and revitalized for the day ahead? Unfortunately, with the demands of modern day living or raising a family, a restful nights’ sleep seems like a long lost dream.
Yet, sleep studies have revealed that people need seven to nine hours per night. This allows the body enough time to regenerate the energy stores, repair the body, consolidate memories and learning, improve our ability to think clearly, and maintain an emotional balance.
In a recent study by the Sleep Health Foundation, it was revealed that approximately 9% of the adult population suffer from a sleep disorder. While the most common sleep disorders include obstructive sleep aponea, insomnia and restless leg syndrome, there are over 80 identified sleep disorders. The Re-Awakening Study has estimated that these conditions are costing the Australian Economy $5 billion per year in health and other indirectly related costs.
Long-term impact of poor sleep
Poor sleep patterns and sleep disorders can be debilitating and have been shown to lead to significant health and relationship problems for the sufferer, as well as diminished productivity in the workplace and at home. Physical conditions such as sleep aponea can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, and strokes – all of which can be become life threatening.
Given sleep is a restorative function, it is not surprising that sleep disorders contribute to other diseases and injuries. While many people experience difficulty with their sleep, there is a lot you can try yourself to improve your sleep. Below are some suggestions to help you create better sleep habits and (hopefully) have you feeling refreshed in the morning.
10 simple steps to achieving a better night sleep
- Go to bed and get up at the same time each day
The body has its own internal clock which is run by our hormonal system, and our body clocks are most effective when we maintain a sleep routine. Your body will tell you when it is sleepy and when it’s alert and ready for the day. Pay attention to these cues as otherwise you might miss your window of opportunity to fall asleep. Aim to get roughly eight hours in bed, and no less than seven and generally no more than nine.
- Meal times
It is important to not go to bed hungry but also not to go to bed too full either. Try to have a large meal two hours before bed time and avoid sugary and highly caffeinated foods. As eating increases body temperature and metabolism, and then sleep is associated with a decrease in these bodily functions which results in mixed messages.
- Goldilocks Rule
Is your bed too soft, too hard or just right? It is important to be comfortable – your bed, pillow, body temperature and the temperature of the room. It is often better for the room to be cool and then use blankets, as this allows for better temperature management.
- The multipurpose room
The bedroom is slowly becoming a multipurpose room – living room, study, games room, child and pet hangout. As a general rule, it is a good idea to only use the bedroom for sleep.
- Let’s get physical!
Regular exercise is great for sleep, but not right before trying to go to bed. Exercise is best in the morning or before your night time meal. If it is possible try to exercise out in the sunshine as this will help the body clock and increase your melatonin levels.
- 30 minute rule
If you have been resting in bed for 20 – 30 mins or more and are yet to fall asleep then it is best to get up and move into another darkened room and sit quietly. Try to avoid stimulating yourself with television, computers or other electronics. When you are tired again, then go back to bed. This starts to provide the connection between being tired and falling asleep in bed.
Within the last four hours before going to sleep avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine. Caffeine is a stimulant which can disrupt your sleep by making it harder to fall asleep, stay asleep, and it may also make you wake in the night to go to the toilet. Similarly, nicotine is also a stimulant and may make it difficult to fall sleep and stay asleep. Whereas alcohol, which is a depressant, may make it easier to fall asleep but it damages the sleep quality. The use of computers should also be avoided as the bright light can keep you awake while the blue light suppresses the production of melatonin. Melatonin is an important hormone in the regulation of the body’s sleep and wake cycle. Finally, important discussions and conflict should also be avoided late at night or if you are tired.
- Calming a busy mind
Often people find it difficult to shut off their mind when they are trying to fall asleep. If a busy mind is keeping you up at night, set aside time specifically for writing a list of everything that is on your mind, consider a solution and then place it aside until the morning. Try to maintain the hour before you go to bed as wind-down or relaxation time – warm shower, lavender scented body products, restful, calming music, or meditation. If you find your busy thoughts continue to enter your mind, let them, sit with it and then replace these with calmer thoughts.
- Daytime napping
Everyone experiences a lull in their circadian rhythm in the afternoon. If you have the time and it is not effecting your night time sleep then a daytime nap is fine. If you find that you are having difficulty falling asleep in the evening then it is probably best to avoid a midday nap until your sleep quality improves.
- Nightmares and Trauma
A commonly reported symptom for people who have experienced a traumatic experience, recently or many years ago, are nightmares. This can take the form of a re-experience of the traumatic event or a flashback during their sleep. These nightmares can be accompanied by a physical reaction to the feelings such as fear, pounding heart and sweating.
If however, you find that you are still experiencing difficulty sleeping it may be useful to seek professional advice from your GP or Psychologist. A Psychologist can provide assistance through cognitive behavioural therapy and provide useful suggestions in how to manage health and lifestyle factors which can be impacting on your sleep, stress and anxiety management, and establishing treatment for co-morbid disorders.
Sleep Health Foundation. (2011), Good Sleep Habits. Retrieved from http://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/files/pdfs/Good%20Sleep%20Habits.pdf
Mastin, D., Bryson, J., & Corwyn, R. (2006). Assessment of Sleep Hygiene Using the sleep Hygiene Index. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 29.223-227. doi: 10.1007/s10865-006-9047-6
Sleep Health Foundation. (2012), Re-awakening the Nation. Retrieved from Sleep Health Foundation