Right alongside eating well and being active, good sleep is essential to our health and longevity. It’s a no brainer - when we sleep well, we tend to have more energy, feel happier and more on the ball.
But despite this fact, recent studies have shown that we are collectively getting worse at sleep. In fact, according to the 2016 Sleep Health Survey of Australian Adults, almost a quarter of respondents say that their typical routine doesn’t allow them to get enough.
What is a good sleep?
Individuals vary in the precise amount they need but the Australian Sleep Health Foundation recommends that adults between 26 and 64 years-of-age have 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep per night. (Ten hours max, but not less than 6).
Beyond the duration, good sleep is also about quality. Our bodies need time to move naturally through different sleep stages - from the slow wave, deep sleep that happens earlier in the night through to more rapid eye movement (REM sleep) near morning.
The perils of poor shuteye
Interruptions to these natural sleep stages can have a range of impacts on our wellbeing. The abovementioned health survey reported that nocturnal wakefulness has far-reaching consequences during daylight hours, with 33-45% of adults interviewed experiencing a range of poor sleep-related issues, from reduced productivity in the workplace to fatigue while driving.
A lack of quality sleep also plays havoc with our bodies, including affecting our metabolism and reducing natural immune function. Sleeping fewer than 6 hours per night over the long-term may also increase the risk of a range of health issues, including obesity,Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
From a mental health standpoint, a 2007 Healthwatch survey of 1,200 Australians also discovered that sleep-deprived people reported feeling more stressed, sad, angry, mentally exhausted and less optimistic.
Good sleep habits
Never fear, there are a few simple tweaks you can make to your routine that will pave the way to better sleep.
- Switch off your device - A staggering 90% of people use their phones in the hour before bed according to this US study. Give yourself at least an hour of screen-free time to allow your brain to unwind.
- Stick to a routine – Try to hit the hay at roughly the same time each day, so your body can settle into a rhythm.
- Get some exercise during the day – Feeling a healthy amount of fatigue in your muscles is a great way to promote sleep, but don’t exercise within two hours of bedtime.
- Limit caffeine or alcohol before bed – Tea, coffee, sugary drinks and booze are stimulants and will keep you wide-eyed if consumed too close to bedtime. If you must have a pre-bedtime beverage, go for a calming, caffeine-free tea with chamomile or lavender.
- Share the load - This study by the University of Michigan found that women are more than twice as likely to interrupt their sleep to care for others. If you have children who wake during the night, try alternating turns between parents.