Sleep is vital for learning and memory, and lack of sleep impacts our health, safety and longevity. Sleep plays a critical role in our immune system, metabolism and many other crucial functions. It curbs inflammation that can lead to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis and premature ageing. It can spur creativity, improve athletic performance, sharpen your attention span, and help control weight.
Even though the benefits of sleep are obvious and plentiful, many of us don’t manage to get enough of it. In fact, research conducted by Westin Hotels and Resorts suggested that 94 percent of Aussies aren’t getting enough quality sleep to feel at their best.
So what can you do to ensure you get more?
The importance of good sleep habits
Good sleep habits are often referred to as good ‘sleep hygiene’. Good sleep hygiene is the best way to ensure you get adequate sleep each night. Most adults require 7 – 9 hours of sleep; if you’re not getting this, then it’s time to look at your own sleep hygiene patterns.
Good sleep hygiene comes from a whole range of practices, and there are many things you can do to improve sleep.
Too often, the focus is on what to do and what not to do at night, but you should be concentrating some of your sleep hygiene energies on what you do in the day. It starts from the moment you wake.
1. Wake at the same time every day
Bad news for lovers of the weekend lie-in: sleep ins do not help us sleep well. According to a National Geographic documentary, the simple answer to getting a better night’s sleep lies in banishing lie-ins altogether (plus those extra snooze minutes), and waking up at the same time every day, seven days a week. Our circadian timer runs on a rhythm which functions optimally when it works to a regular routine.
2. Eat breakfast first thing
According to Dr. Nerina Ramlakhan, author of Tired but Wired, eating breakfast first thing in the morning calms and reassures the part of your brain that still thinks you’re a cave person, living day-to-day on slow-running game and avoiding predators. Eating breakfast early tells your body there is ample food and that it’s okay to fall into sleep mode when it needs to.
3. Limit caffeine
Caffeine has been called the world’s most popular drug, and with good reason. It is found naturally in over 60 plants and all over the world, people consume caffeine on a daily basis in coffee, tea, cocoa, chocolate, some soft drinks, and some drugs.
Because caffeine is a stimulant, most people use it to wake up in the morning and to remain alert throughout the day. It does this by temporarily blocking sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain and increasing adrenaline production. It takes about six hours for half a cup of coffee to be eliminated. To avoid sleep disruption, restrict your caffeine consumption primarily to the morning hours.
4. Rely on natural light
Research tells us that more natural light exposure during the day will result in more restful sleep at night. In a study that focused on 49 day-shift workers (27 in windowless workplaces and 22 in workplaces with windows), researchers found that those with more natural light exposure slept on average 46 minutes more than those without natural light exposure. The study revealed that not only did those in windowless offices get less sleep at night, they also had more physical ailments and lower vitality.
Ideally you should try to get out in the sunshine (or at least to a sunny window) within minutes of being awake. The sun will cause your internal timer to reset, telling your body to go to sleep in 14 to 16 hours time.
People who get at least 150 minutes of exercise in a week sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day. A study published in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity suggested that 150 minutes of exercise accounts for a 65 percent improvement in sleep quality. As exercise has the benefit of keeping you alert for long periods, however, aim to perform exercise in the earlier parts of the day.
6. Don’t nap
As tempting as a nap may seem, a nap can make going to bed at night more difficult. If you really feel your productivity slowing in the day, close your eyes for 10 – 20 minutes only – the optimal rest for daytime snoozing. Any longer and you won’t get the quality 7 – 9 hours you need come night time.
7. Stay out of the bedroom
Your bedroom should be a place for night time sleeping only, so find somewhere else to catch up on your paperwork, phone calls or television. If you bring other activities into the bedroom regularly, your brain will no longer link your bed with sleep.
8. Schedule in ‘worry time’
If you’re constantly finding yourself lying awake while you think of all the concerning elements of life, try rescheduling your worry time to earlier in the day. By setting aside fifteen minutes to write down any worries or concerns you might have, you get them out of your head to prime yourself for a better night’s sleep.
9. Avoid a hot bath or shower
Your body needs to lower its temperature in order to fall asleep, so taking a hot bath right before bed is a bad idea. Keep baths and showers at a tepid temperature, or if you love a hot soak, aim to have it earlier in the day.All information presented on the Herron website is meant for general knowledge and never meant as a diagnosis of prescription. Please always contact your doctor for health related matters.