Sleep – we all need it, and we all know how it feels when we don’t get enough of it. But it’s only been recently that researchers have discovered just how vital it is for our wellbeing. Not getting enough? Here is what you may be doing wrong.
Our pre-lightbulb Victorian ancestors enjoyed up to ten hours sleep a night – something that for many of us may seem like an unachievable luxury thanks to the foibles of modern life (the average person sleeps around 7 hours today). But what impact is this having on our overall health? According to the experts, a lack of sleep may be doing us more harm than we think.
“It’s detrimental to our health, wellbeing, happiness and quality of life,” says Dr Maree Barnes from the Australasia Sleep Association. “We know from our research that having inadequate sleep causes bad cognitive function. And inadequate sleep is associated with depression,” she said.
And that’s just the start of the bad news – poor sleep patterns and chronic sleep loss may speed the onset or increase the severity of age-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and memory loss, increased signs of skin aging and slower recovery from environmental stressors.
So, ready to get into bed? If you’re dog tired but still not sleeping, it may be that you’re doing it wrong. Here are ten ways you’re evading snorseville, and what to do about it.
1. Looking at the clock
There’s nothing worse than waking up, glancing over to see 3am on the clock, and not being able to get back to sleep, no matter how many sheep you count.
"[Looking at the clock] begins a more conscious thought process that is moving toward a wakeful brain than a sleeping brain," Dr. Nathanial Watson, president elect of the AASM and director of the University of Washington Sleep Medicine Clinic told Today.com
"You are thinking, 'Why did I wake up so early?' 'Am I going to go back to sleep?' If the hour is later you start thinking about what you have to do during the day."
If you need an alarm to wake up, Dr Watson recommends setting it early in the evening and covering it up or turning it away from the bed. And if you do wake up in the middle of the night and can’t sleep, the best thing to do is get out of bed.
"When a person stays in bed and they can't sleep, the bedroom can induce a certain level of anxiety," he says. "We say after 15 or 20 minutes, get out of bed, sit in another part of the house until you feel a little groggy, then go back to sleep," says Decker. "Staying in bed can condition you to become anxious in bed."
2. Sleeping in a light room
Our circadian rhythms are regulated by light and dark, so a deep darkness causes the brain to feel sleepy while the bright light wakes the brain up. But for many people, having a blacked-out room is easier said than done – especially if you’re dealing with mega-watt street lights. If that’s the case, then it may be time to invest in black-out blinds.
"The one thing I think can really affect people's sleep positively is to truly black out … the bedroom," W. Chris Winter, a sleep medicine expert at Charlottesville Neurology & Sleep Medicine in Virginia told Today.com
He recommends people go into their bedrooms at noon on a sunny day at noon and find where the light comes into the room. Then use black out shades and even rubber seals on the bottom of the door to prevent light from seeping into the room.
3. Keeping an irregular routine
We all have busy lives, but if you’re constantly going to bed and waking up at irregular times, then you can expect your sleep to suffer.
“Within weeks of keeping a regular sleep-wake schedule, you will begin to feel more alert than if you were keeping a variable sleep-wake routine,” Virgil D.Wooten MD tells Howstuffworks.com , http://health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/sleep/basics/how-to-fall-asleep6.htm>. “Not only will a stable rhythm of sleeping and waking improve the quality of your sleep, but it will probably also improve the quality of your life. Try it for six weeks and see the difference it makes in your energy and alertness.”
Dr Wooten also recommends establishing a bed time routine and perform those tasks in the same order every night.
“Establishing some type of bedtime ritual … provides closure to your day and allows you to go to bed and sleep with a more quiet body and mind.”
4. Drinking lots of caffeine
There are a few people that can happily drink a cup of coffee at 8pm at night and sleep soundly – but for most of us, the body takes a good eight to ten hours to process the majority of caffeine. So if you’re having trouble sleeping, make your last cuppa 12 noon.
5. Watching TV, getting on the tablet or phone
We’ve already learned how light can confuse our circadian rhythm, - but it’s not just lights and lamps – light emitting screens such as televisions, tablets, laptops and smartphones all interfere with our natural melatonin production. Added to that, if you’re watching something on TV that’s getting your natural stress levels up, such as a drama or thriller, than you can be assured you’re be staring at the ceiling for a few hours yet.
Dr. Matthew Mingrone, lead physician for EOS Sleep Centres in California says, "Artificial light can actually inhibit the release of melatonin. It’s more than just the stimulation of the light, it's some physiological changes that are going on." Try making your bedroom a ‘no technology zone’, and if you need something to help you wind down and get to sleep try colouring in. Yes, colouring in!
“It slows the mind down taking the brain from beta mode (highly stimulated) into the alpha-theta states which are almost meditative, this enables and calms the nervous system preparing the mind/body for deep restorative sleep,” she told the Daily Mail.
But if you really can’t do without the TV or the iPad in the bedroom, you could try wearing orange or amber tinted glasses in the hours leading up to bedtime – researchers have found that these allow you to block out the blue light that is produced by these devices and, in turn, help you fall asleep easily.
6. Having a nightcap
It doesn’t take long to fall into a slumber after a night on the grog, but don’t be fooled into thinking you’re getting a good night sleep.
"In sum, alcohol on the whole is not useful for improving a whole night's sleep," study researcher Chris Idzikowski, who is the director of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre, said in a statement to Huffington Post.
"Sleep may be deeper to start with, but then becomes disrupted. Additionally, that deeper sleep will probably promote snoring and poorer breathing. So, one shouldn't expect better sleep with alcohol."
Instead, try an bicarbonate bath – just add two mugs of of sodium bicarbonate to a bath of comfortably hot water. Immerse yourself completely for 20 minutes. The bicarbonate neutralises the skin’s acidity, softens dry skin and is a good aid in detoxification. Don't use soap or shampoo as the chemicals will reduce the effect. Rinse off and go to bed soon afterwards. “You will feel very tired,” Silentnight sleep expert, Dr Nerina told The Daily Mail.
7. Eating a late dinner
Don’t postpone dinner too long or indulge in late night snacks – especially protein because it’s tough to break down.
If you do, you could risk staying away (or experiencing a disrupted sleep) while your body is trying to digesting it. Protein is particularly tough to break down, and may therefore keep you up even later.
NLP Practioner Pat Duckworth instead recommends chowing down on Bananas (contain the muscle relaxants magnesium and potassium) Almonds (rich in magnesium, and tryptophan) kale (calcium which helps to turn the amino acid in the brain into melatonin) or some cherry liquid concentrate, which increase the levels of the sleep sleep-inducing neurotransmitter melatonin.
8. Sleeping with noise
It doesn’t matter if its traffic noise, a crying baby or noisy neighbours – exposure to noise at night can suppress immune function even if the sleeper doesn’t wake, according to abc.net.au. http://www.abc.net.au/science/sleep/facts.htm
If you are having trouble sleeping because of external noise, you may want to invest in some ear cancelling headphones. But not all noise is bad – soothing music – in the range of 60 to 80 beats per minute, can help put you to sleep. A 2005 study found that older people who listened to 45 minutes of soft tunes before hitting the hay reported a 35 per cent improvement in their sleep problems.
9. Cranking up the heat
Are you turning up the heat in winter or sleeping with an electric blanket? Although there’s nothing nicer than sliding into a warm bed, you may be doing yourself a disservice. A cooler bedroom is actually more conducive to sleep with experts recommending between 15 to 19 degrees is the sweet spot.
10. Hitting snooze
There’s nothing more tempting than hitting snooze in the morning to try and squeeze a few more hours of sleep in. But an alarm will disrupt your natural sleep cycle, likely during the REM stage which means those extra five minutes could be doing more harm than good! Robert Rosenberg DO told the Huffington Post that fragmented sleep is worse than no sleep because if you interrupt REM sleep with an alarm, it could lead to an inability to process memories from the previous day.
There are many apps on the market now that track your sleep and wake you up gently
Yes, you'll get a few additional minutes of sleep. But the alarm disrupts your natural sleep cycle, and likely during the crucial REM stage. Essentially, those five extra minutes are doing more harm than good.
Do you have any tips for a sound night sleep? Let us know by commenting below.