Welcome to 2019! Lucky you if you are still on holidays! For many of us, holidays means spending time with family and friends, relaxing and most importantly, sleeping in!! And when holidays are over, many of us go back to our old habits of staying up too late, and having to get up really early for work, which means getting less sleep than we may need.
Sleep is an important part of our daily lives. In particular, sleep is important for general physical health, restoring energy, repairing injuries or illness, muscle recovery and growth, psychological well-being and mood, concentration, memory, general performance, and getting along with others. Despite this, research suggests that we are sleeping less and less, especially when we are not on holidays. and we often don’t pay much attention to our sleep unless we are having problems with it.
People vary in terms of how much sleep they need – while the average sleep duration for adults is 7-8.5 hours per night, some people function well with 4-5 hours and others require 9-10 hours. Whatever your individual needs, lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can have detrimental effects including:
- Poor attention, concentration and memory
- Irritability and other mood disturbances
- Impaired judgement and reaction time
- Poor physical coordination and performance
- Hormonal changes that can lead to increased appetite and weight gain
- Immune system impairment leading to increased susceptibility to infection and illness
So, if you regularly have trouble sleeping, you need to do something about it. Here are some dos and donts to help get a better night’s sleep:
- Where possible, establish a regular bedtime and wake-up schedule to maintain your body clock. The ideal time to go to sleep is between 10 and 11 p.m, but if this is not possible, ensure you get an adequate amount of sleep. For adults, that means 6.5–8 hours of sleep.
- Develop a ritual like brushing your teeth, showering or reading before lying down to sleep. Your body will get used to it and will know that it’s time to sleep now.
- If caffeine affects you, leave at least six hours between going to sleep and drinking caffeinated drinks.
- Do engage in regular exercise but try to do this at least two to three hours before going to sleep. Why? Physical exercise stimulates the autonomic nervous system and until it settles down, you can’t sleep. So your body needs time to adjust.
- Try to spend some daytime outdoors or in natural light. Bright lights are important for the body to produce melatonin which is a sleep promoting substance.
- A hot bath, two to three hours before bed can also help by increasing your core body temperature. However, having a hot bath immediately before going to bed can have the opposite effect, it may actually stimulate you and prevent you from falling asleep.
- Make the bedroom as restful as possible. This means keeping the temperature cool (between 16 & 18oC), keeping noises and outside light to a minimum and leaving distracting things such as beeping watches or clocks outside.
- Be comfortable and relaxed. If you are cold in bed, warm the room or wear warm pyjamas. If you have uncomfortable pillows, mattress or bedclothes, get them fixed.
- Don’t nap during the day.
- Don’t watch TV, eat or drink in bed! Doing these things interfere with associating bed with sleep.
- Don’t drink alcohol to get to sleep – alcohol actually impairs the quality of your sleep patterns. Smoking nicotine can also contribute to sleep loss.
- Don’t allow yourself to worry in bed. If you find yourself worrying when you turn out the light allow yourself 15-30 minutes earlier in the day to ‘worry’. Write down these worries, then develop an action plan to overcome these worries.
- Don’t engage in stimulating activity just before bed as it may stimulate your mind and thoughts will overflow to the bedroom.
- Don’t expose yourself to technology – the blue light from your smartphone, tablet or computer 1–2 hours before bed can interrupt your sleep.
- Don’t stay in bed if you are awake and keep looking at the clock. If you do not fall asleep in a reasonable time, say 30 minutes, then get up, watch television or read a book but do this in another room. Try and keep the lighting fairly dim. When you are tired, go back to bed. If you wake up in the middle of the night and cannot fall back to sleep, do the same.
- Don’t rely on sleeping tablets to help you to sleep. Sleeping tablets have a role when you are temporarily having trouble falling asleep but if used long-term may cause you to be a bit sleepy in the daytime and when you stop taking them you may get a “rebound” effect and find it harder to fall asleep.
Remember, everybody, even the best sleepers, will have a night now and then when it takes them a long time to get to sleep or they wake more than usual during the night and find it difficult to get back to sleep. This may be triggered by recent stressful events or what you did the night before, however, if sleep is consistently a problem for you, try some of the above tips, particularly getting into a good exercise routine. If nothing seems to be working, seek some assistance from a professional.