April 2, 2014

Our need for sleep is so obvious that we barely think about it unless we’ve become deprived, but how much do we really need, and why?

Most people acknowledge that sleep is essential, yet many of us burn the candle at both ends as we attempt to fit more and more into already busy lives. And it’s not just busy schedules that cause poor sleep: issues such as stress, noise, pain, caffeine, alcohol, light, exercising too close to bed-time, and some medications can all have an impact.

Despite all these factors, we still manage to get through our day, meeting work and family responsibilities and seeming to be in control. Simply getting through the day is not desirable, though, as poor or insufficient sleep can have negative consequences for productivity and accuracy, learning, weight, and overall health.

Insufficient sleep causes problems such as reduced metabolism, increased hunger, weight gain, reduced capacity to make decisions, greater risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, lower energy, and increased blood pressure. It also contributes to making mistakes. This is fine if the mistake is as small as spelling a word incorrectly, but what if the mistake has larger consequences? What if you’re driving through a school zone at pick-up time and you make a mistake, or operating machinery, or performing a surgical procedure?

Despite what actually happens, most adults need between seven and a half and nine hours sleep per night. Unfortunately, cutting sleep short during the week and then trying to catch up at the weekend just doesn’t work so a long-term solution is needed. Developing a routine where your body knows that bed-time is close can help you to wind down in the evening in preparation for sleep.

The first step in establishing healthy and consistent sleep patterns is to think about the time you need to wake to start your day. Now count back eight hours and that’s the time you need to be asleep.

The next step is to develop a routine to prepare both body and mind for sleep. Here’s an example: Turn off electronic devices an hour before sleep time, have a warm shower, drink a cup of herbal tea, get into bed, turn your clock away from you, and read a chapter of a novel.

In time, this routine will see you falling into a natural sleep cycle where your eyes get heavy and you just know it’s time to turn off your light. Don’t fight the sleep cycle.

Following the same routine every night will see you nodding off, sleeping soundly and improving your health and well-being.

Tips for better sleep:

  • Sleep on your side for easier breathing.
  • The right pillow means greater comfort and no neck or shoulder pain in the morning.
  • Being too hot or too cold disturbs sleep. Ensure your linen is right for the temperature. In extreme heat, a fan or air conditioner might be essential. In the cold, warm pyjamas and socks can make a big difference.
  • If you’re not asleep within half an hour, don’t fight it: open your novel and read a little longer.