There is a reason we spend approximately one third of our lives sleeping. It is a very important aspect of life and affects just about every biological system of the human body in one way or another. With that in mind it is still amazing how many people still deprive themselves of it. According to the Geneva Convention, sleep deprivation can be interpreted as a form of torture. So, it begs the question, why do we knowingly do it to ourselves?
It has been reported that up to 45 % of Australians suffer from inadequate sleep. With 24/7 nature of life today, the time we would normally allocate to sleep is now taken up with other “more important” activities such as studying for an exam, working late to earn that promotion or just partying. As a consequence, both sleep quality and quantity are being affected which is having a bigger impact than we think on our health.
Loss of sleep affects our ability to function at optimal efficiency. It can affect physical performance such as reaction time, tissue recovery and aerobic endurance as well as cognitive performance such as alertness and ability to perform complex problem-solving tasks.
In addition to the obvious and more noticeable and immediate side effects of sleep deprivation. There are many invisible yet serious consequences that affect our immune, hormone and metabolic function. They can subsequently increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, depression, chronic pain disorders, developing the cold/flu and even increase the risk of sustaining sporting injuries by nearly 2-fold.
So how much sleep do i need?
Age and genetics play a key role in this. However generally:
· Infants need around 16-18 hours of sleep
· Teenagers need around 9 hours
· Adults need between 7-8 hours
Research has shown that both deprivation of sleep quantity and continuous sleep interruption (waking throughout the night) may have very similar effects. Therefore, not only getting an adequate amount of sleep is important but also sleep without regular waking is required for good sleep health.
Can I nap during the day?
Having an afternoon nap can help offset the negative effects of sleep deprivation. Research have also shown It can also have a positive effect on sporting performance although only for people who have had reduced night time sleep. Napping can be an effective way to improve sleep health. Just be mindful not to nap too late in the afternoon or for too long which may impact the quality of night time sleep. Napping/sleeping more than 30 minutes can lead to “sleep inertia” which is a physiological state where you feel less alert and drowsier when waking.
How can I achieve good sleep hygiene?
Good sleep environment
Numerous studies have shown a relaxing environment has a significant impact on sleep. A dark and quiet bedroom will help optimise sleep. Additionally, the temperature of the room can also play a big role with research showing a bedroom temperature of 18-22 degrees appears to best for a good night’s sleep. If you are still struggling to reduce external stimuli, the use of earplugs and eye masks can be helpful.
Get off the grid and unplug before bed
Limit use of devices such as phones, tablets, laptops at least 1 hour before bed. The use of these devices will make it difficult to relax prior to bed due to an increase in brain activity. Blue light also has a suppressive effect on production of the hormone melatonin which assists the body in falling asleep. If you must use a device close to bed Night Shift setting on devices or applications that filter blue light are recommended.
Avoid stimulants too close to bedtime
Avoid taking stimulants such as caffeine (within 5-8 hours before bed) and alcohol before bed. Although alcohol may seem to assist in getting to sleep faster it can actually affect the quality of sleep throughout the night
Food and drink
Avoid large meals and large quantity of fluids immediately before going to sleep. This has shown to have a negative effect on sleep. Try to aim to eat approximately 2-4 hours prior to sleep.
Have a routine
Try to have a consistent night time routine before going to bed each day. Additionally, try going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. This consistency will help regulate your body clock allowing for better quality sleep
Get out and exercise
Regular exercise is an extremely effective way to help manage stress and ensure you are tired enough to get to sleep at the end of the day.
Additionally, exposure to natural light during the day can help normalise your body clock and hormone levels and in turn assist in good sleep health.
Wind down before sleep
Try to reduce any physical, emotional and cognitive stressors. Activities that increase physical or mental alertness will make it difficult for the body to switch off when it’s time to go bed. If you are the type to have an active mind before sleeping, techniques such as mindfulness/meditation and journaling has shown to help switch off a racing mind.