The importance of sleep and sleep hygiene.
Did you know that getting 7 to 8 hours of good quality sleep a night is an important factor in weight management and maintaining a healthy lifestyle? In some circles sleep is considered to be a major factor in keeping us young and vibrant.
Good quality sleep is important to us because it is during this time of rest and recuperation that our bodies and brains recuperate from the day’s activities, both mental and physical. And this is where most people go wrong when they jump into a new Health and Fitness regime.
In an ideal world, we’d all be in bed by 10 to 10:30pm and up at 6 to 6:30am. Throughout the night, your body undergoes mostly physical repair between 10pm and 2:00am and then focus moves to mental or psychological repair between 2:00am and 6:00am or until we awaken. So if you don’t get to bed until midnight and wake up around 6 during the week, it’s no wonder come the weekend you feel exhausted and just want to crash on the couch and catch up on that 10 hours of lost sleep!
Similarly, if you’re regularly up during the middle of the night tending to children or stressing about work, no wonder you find it hard to concentrate and focus on your daily activities.
So if you’ve been feeling a bit sleep-deprived of late, we have some tips on improving your sleep hygiene and getting a good night’s sleep.
So what is Sleep Hygiene? “Sleep Hygiene” refers to the habits that determine whether you to have a good night’s sleep – or not! Common sleeping problems can often be attributed to bad habits that have been reinforced over years or even decades. If this sounds like you, fear not, you can dramatically improve your sleep hygiene and quality by making just a few minor adjustments to lifestyle and attitude.
Tips for “Good Quality” Sleep
Now that we know what happens during sleep, how do we get it?
Establish a Sleep Routine
• Ensure regular sleep patterns by going to bed at the same time each evening and get up at the same time every day – even on the weekend. This helps to train your body when to sleep
• If you’re having trouble sleeping, don’t force it. The harder you try, the more awake – and anxious – you’ll become. Get up and read a book or magazine for a short time – or my personal tip, try a hot milk with a little honey (optional) and a few minutes of reading
Learn how to relax
• Stress is a major cause of insomnia so find a relaxation technique that works for you
• Try relaxation or meditation exercises. You could consciously relax every part
of your body, starting with your toes and working up to your scalp. Or you could think of a restful scene, concentrate on the rhythmic rise and fall of your breathing, or focus on a mantra (repeating a word or phrase constantly)
• Take a warm bath before heading to bed
• If you are a chronic bedtime worrier, try scheduling a half hour of ‘worry time’ well before bed. Once you retire, remind yourself that you’ve already done your worrying for the day
Improve your sleeping environment.
Good sleep is more likely if your bedroom feels restful and comfortable
• Make it dark, quiet and comfortable (including the temperature)
• Hide the clocks in your bedroom to avoid checking the time obsessively
in the middle of the night
• Make sure your mattress is giving you the right support and comfort you need. Many mattresses become saggy after five to seven years
• If you can’t control noise (such as barking dogs or loud neighbours), buy a pair of earplugs
• Only use your bedroom for sleeping and intimate activities. If you treat your
bed like a second lounge room – for watching television or talking to friends on the phone, for example – your mind will associate your bedroom with activity
Avoid Caffeine and Drugs
• Avoid caffeinated drinks (tea, coffee, cola, chocolate) close to bedtime. Caffeine has a half-life of 6 hours so a standard 300mg of coffee at 3pm means that at 9pm there’s still 150mg of caffeine in your blood stream. Another six hours later, in the middle of psychological repair, there’s still 75mg of caffeine floating around in your system, stimulating cortisol release (a waking up hormone)
• Limit alcohol just before bed time. Alcohol slows the workings of the nervous system. Drinking before bed may help you doze off initially but it also disturbs the rhythm of sleep patterns, you won’t feel refreshed in the morning
• Avoid cigarettes before bed. Many smokers claim that cigarettes help them relax, yet nicotine is a stimulant. The side effects include an accelerated heart rate and increased blood pressure and are likely to keep you awake for longer
• Avoid sleeping pills and drugs. They don’t address the cause of the sleeping problem. Side effects can include daytime sleepiness and the ‘rebound’ effect – after a stint of using sleeping pills, falling asleep without them tends to be even harder. These drugs should only be used as a temporary last resort and under medical advice
• Resist the temptation to nap during the day
• Get enough sunshine. Exposure to light during waking hours (especially morning sunlight) helps to reset your body clock
• Exercise every day, even if just a short walk, but not close to bedtime and try not to overheat yourself – your body needs time to wind down
• Try not to engage in mentally stimulating activities close to bedtime. Use the last hour or so before sleep to relax your mind
• Breathing through your nose, rather than through your mouth, this improves respiratory function and hormone balance contributing to more refreshing sleep
• Exercise is a great tool to improve sleep
• Afternoon exercise should ideally be approximately 3-4 hours before going to bed and at roughly the same time every day
• It could be in the form of aerobic exercise (e.g. walking, running, swimming, etc.), a gym workout or stretch and flexibility exercises
• The amount of time spent exercising is an individual thing. If you’re not already exercising, try 30 minutes/day and if this provides limited success, try 45 minutes/day or 60 minutes
Whether it’s a challenge to get to sleep, stay asleep or a challenge to get out of bed in the morning, poor sleep hygiene can contribute to the quality and quantity of your sleep and ultimately how you feel throughout the day so test out our tips for a restful night’s sleep.