Most people have been asked at some point in life, “Are you getting enough sleep?” Though some people sleep consistently well, for others a good night’s sleep may be a distant memory. I know as I progress through this pregnancy, I'm appreciating the ability to be able to sleep so much more! No matter where you fit on the scale of good sleep, it is important to consider both the quantity, but also the quality of your sleep. Sleep can affect how well you think, react, work, learn, interact with others, heal and restore, so it is important to everyone.
Nearly 50% of New Zealanders adults experience two or more sleep-related problems, including difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep and daytime sleepiness.
While the occasional night of poor sleep is annoying, ongoing sleep disturbances can lead to bigger issues including emotional difficulties, brain fog, poor job performance, and even accidents or injury. Even more alarming, long-standing insomnia is associated with many chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and mood disorders.
The good news is, catching more z’s may be as simple as changing your habits. For many people, bad habits in the lead-up to bedtime, also known as poor sleep hygiene, are a major contributor to a restless night.
Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself
Unfortunately, modern life predisposes us to poor sleep hygiene. A busy social calendar may keep you out late, high-stake stress at work can cause sleepless worry, and a burning desire to stay up late watching your favourite reality TV show (Masterchef, anyone?) may keep you on the couch into the wee hours. The occasional blowout is okay, but when these pastimes become regular patterns, it becomes harder to cement a consistent sleep schedule, making it difficult to sleep well.
If you spend every night struggling to sleep, you probably already know that your sleep habits need attention. However, if your issue is more subtle, or less frequent, you may be wondering whether it’s worth taking action. Using the checklist below may help you decide.
· It takes over 30 minutes to fall asleep after getting into bed
· You wake up more than once per night (exception if you're pregnant)
· You awaken for over 20 minutes during the night
· You spend less than 85% of your time spent in bed asleep
· You wake most mornings feeling unrefreshed
· You rely on caffeinated beverages to get you through the day (admit it!)
If you are fed up with moving through life like a character from ‘The Walking Dead’, these simple tweaks to your sleep hygiene may help you shake off sleepless misery. Incorporate the following habits to help you fall asleep faster, sleep soundly through the night, and wake feeling refreshed and rested:
* Go to bed when you feel sleepy. While this may seem like a no-brainer, climbing into bed when you feel alert can create a negative association between being in bed and struggling to sleep, making it harder for you to relax.
* Establish a sleep routine-which will help condition your body to feel sleepy at a regular time. This may be difficult initially, particularly if you don’t feel tired at the same time each night. However, you can help your body synchronize to a consistent schedule by going to bed at roughly the same time each night and waking at the same time each morning. I usually suggest to clients if possible to get to bed by 10 pm, as a second release of cortisol is released after that time which gives you a 'second wind'.
* Steer clear of electronic devices for at least 30 minutes before sleep and avoid using these in bed, (I know this is a tough one - even for me). Night-time exposure to blue light from digital screens is stimulating and can interfere with your brain’s production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for making you feel sleepy.
* Do not use your bed as an activity center. Your bed is for sleeping and not for deskwork. Avoid other pursuits, such as watching TV or working from bed, to train your brain to associate bed with sleep.
* Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and cigarettes, which can keep you awake or disrupt your sleep during the night.
* Create a pre-sleep ritual. Relaxing activities can help you unwind before hitting the sack and gradually transition your body from a wakeful state into a state of sleep. Your ritual may include stretches, breathing exercises, a hot bath, or sipping on a cup of caffeine-free tea (I love hot water before bed as I find it very soothing).
* Ditch the alcohol. Many people use alcohol to help them fall asleep faster. However, drinking alcohol inhibits restorative sleep and increases the likelihood that you will feel groggy the next morning.
* Get up. If you do not fall asleep within 20 minutes of lying down, get out of bed and perform a mundane activity until you feel sleepy enough to return to bed. There is nothing like a spot of ironing to bore you to sleep. Boredom is key; avoid activities that may stimulate you.
If you've tried all you can and nothing helps, then book an appointment to come see me so we can give you a thorough 'warrant of fitness' for the entire body. There may be other issues that need addressing such as hormonal imbalances, blood sugar irregularities, GI issues, etc. Remember, sleep is where a lot of detoxing processes take place, so you want to make sure you don't wait too long to address the issue.