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Sleep is an important factor in maintaining optimal physical and mental health. In our busy society, there are many of us not getting the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night.
Sleep and wellbeing go hand in hand, with your body using this time to initiate some very important functions. If you don’t get enough good quality sleep, over time, this can impact on your overall health.
What is a healthy sleep cycle and how do I incorporate a good sleep hygiene routine into my life?
The following sleep tips are brought to you in collaboration with Western Sydney Integrative Health at NICM Health Research Institute. The Author, Dr Carolyn Ee, is a current Research fellow at NICM Health Research Institute (opens in a new window).
Why is sleep important?
Getting enough sleep is a vital part of keeping ourselves well and healthy. Sleep is believed to have a wide range of important functions including keeping us physically healthy, helping our brains work well, and promoting emotional wellbeing. If we are not sleeping well, this can lead to problems with memory and learning, metabolism and immune function, and emotional and behavioural control. Apart from being less productive at work, poor sleep may also cause you to crave unhealthy foods and gain weight, develop high blood pressure, suffer from frequent infections, and has also been linked to depression, anxiety, heart disease and stroke.
Sleepiness can also lead to motor vehicle accidents and accidents with machinery or at work, which can have devastating consequences.
Who is at risk of poor sleep?
- have limited time available for enough sleep (e.g. caring for others, working long hours)
- have a schedule that interferes with your normal body clock (e.g. travelling between time zones, working night shift)
- use substances that can interfere with sleep (medications, caffeine, alcohol, drugs) or;
- have an untreated medical problem such as anxiety/depression, suffer from stress, or from sleep disorders
If you have any concerns about your sleep, please make an appointment to see your GP to discuss, as it may have a negative impact on your physical, mental and emotional health.
How do I know if I’m getting enough sleep?
Your sleep needs are individual and also change with time.
If you are waking up naturally without needing an alarm, and feel refreshed when you wake, it is likely you are getting enough sleep*.
- are needing an alarm to wake you up
- do not feel refreshed when you wake
- are sleepy during the day or;
- need to catch up on sleep on weekends or when you don’t have to wake at a certain time
you may not be getting enough sleep.
If you’re not getting enough sleep you accumulate a “sleep debt” during the week, which you can “pay back”, but the irregular hours that you are sleeping and waking may upset your body clock.
To check if you are at risk of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea, a serious medical condition that causes poor sleep and is linked to heart disease, heart failure and stroke, you can complete the validated screening questionnaire below. If you are at intermediate or high risk, please make an appointment to see your GP immediately.
How do I get a good night’s sleep?
First, make sleep a priority, and value it for its amazing restorative qualities. Sleep is as important as eating and drinking water.
During the day:
- Wake up at the same time every morning
- Get some sunlight (that means get outdoors!)
- Get some physical exercise
- Avoid excessive caffeine especially in the afternoons (remember that cola and energy drinks contain caffeine)
- Limit smoking or quit
- Practise relaxation techniques to manage stress, for example deep breathing, yoga and meditation
- Avoid naps or limit them to 20 minutes maximum (set an alarm)
In the evenings:
- Our bodies need darkness in order to create ideal sleep conditions. Two hours before bedtime, avoid or limit screen time, and keep lighting low
- Create a calm and quiet ritual in the hour before bed. You might like to do some meditation, write in a journal, have a bath, or listen to a relaxing podcast or music
- Avoid drinking alcohol in the evenings if you are having trouble sleeping. Alcohol interferes with REM sleep (the type of sleep that brings restoration to your body and mind)
- Go to bed at the same time each day
So if you want a simple and effective way to reduce your risk of chronic disease, maintain a healthy weight and eat healthily, improve your moods and brain function, and keep your immune system healthy, make sleep a priority today!
*Some people wake early in the morning due to depression, or suffer from insomnia. If this sounds like you, please see your GP straight away.
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