At least one-third of the adult population in Australia experiences significant sleep problems, according to Dr. Maree Barnes, President of the Australian Sleep Association. A study by Deloitte Access Economics called Re-awakening Australia found that around 8.9% of the population has sleep disorders such as insomnia, which is a wake-up call to the need to make better sleep a priority. In order to feel truly refreshed and energetic upon waking up, taking steps such as establishing a bedtime routine, making your bedroom and your bed and mattress comfortable, and battling stress proactively throughout the day, is key. In this post, we discuss the physical and mental consequences of poor sleep, and suggest ways to keep insomnia and sleep deprivation at bay.
Optimal Sleep Quality and Quantity are Key
Most adults required between seven and nine hours of sleep a night, though many try to get away with less, or are kept away at night by stress. Quantity isn’t where it’s all at, however; quality is also key. Good sleep quality involves waking up no more than once a night, falling asleep within half an hour of getting into bed, and spending the majority of your sleep time in bed. It also involves enjoying enough deep (or delta) sleep, since it is at this stage that the body produces Human Growth Hormone (which is key to fat burning, bone building, growth and muscle repair, and many more important functions).
What does Sleep Deprivation or Poor Quality Sleep Do to our Health?
Chronic sleep deprivation does so much more than merely make us feel fatigued or sleepy during the day. It can increase the risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, motor vehicle accidents, and workplace injuries. It also serves as a powerful trigger for mental conditions such as anxiety and depression. In a report called Asleep on the Job: Costs of Inadequate Sleep in Australia, the Sleep Health Foundation notes that “the health system costs attributed to inadequate sleep were estimated to be $350 million in Australia in 2016-17.”
If you are stressed in the daytime, it can be hard to avoid tossing and turning at night, as you think of your problems. Face stress proactively every day, through meditation and self-reflection. You can rely on yoga, Tai Chi or meditation to do so but many people find their own way to instil a calm state; some rely on card symbols for self-reflection, while others use progressive muscle relaxation. Still, others use apps such as the award-winning Calm app, which offers pranayamic breathing and other calming exercises which are ideal for practice at bedtime. Try to get out into the Great Outdoors more; numerous studies have shown that nature has a powerful ability to lower levels of stress hormone, cortisol.
Practising Better Sleep Hygiene
In order to sleep well every night, it is important to set a sleep schedule and to try as much as possible to sleep in line with your body’s circadian rhythms – i.e. aim to sleep at night rather than during the day. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon, go easy on alcohol prior to bed, and consume a healthy diet, avoiding overeating at dinner time. Ensure your bedroom is dark and quiet, and invest in a good bed that is the right firmness for your sleeping position. Make sure you replace your mattress when recommended by the manufacturer, since an uncomfortable bed can be a big obstacle to quality sleep.
When it comes to sleep, quality is as important as quantity. If you are getting up frequently at night, spending over 20 minutes in a wakeful state after initially falling asleep, or spending a considerable amount of time sleeping on the sofa or at work, chances are, you need to practice better sleep hygiene. Battle stress proactively through exercise and mindfulness practice, set a routine and stick to it, and ensure your bedroom is so inviting and your bed so comfortable, that you look forward to bedtime as one of the highlights of your day.