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Good sleep habits: Simple ways to improve your sleep

Wednesday, October 08, 2014 by Chris Hocking

As a parent of young children, I am acutely aware of the adverse effects of insufficient sleep; on both kids and parents. Most parents would be familiar with the increased irritability, misbehaviour and tantrums characterising the sleep-deprived child. What many don’t realise is we as parents are affected too, although these effects are more serious than being a little grumpy.

Adverse effects of sleep deprivation

Lack of sleep has been shown to have adverse effects on alertness, concentration, cognition, learning, memory, mood, safety, performance and productivity. Over time, insufficient sleep is associated with a range of health problems including hypertension, type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, mental health issues and even death.

With the ever increasing demands of our 24-7 society, chronic sleep deficiency is becoming the norm. We are now sleeping on average 6.8 hours a day, which is 1.5 hours less than a century ago. According to the US National Sleep Foundation, it is recommended adults need to sleep between seven and nine hours per night.

Along with diet and exercise, sleep is essential for a person’s health and wellbeing. While sleep is the last thing we do each day, it is unfortunately one of the first things to be sacrificed in our busy schedules.

The greatest danger associated with sleep loss is the increased risk of drowsy driving accidents. Not getting adequate sleep in terms of quantity and quality will put anybody at risk of a drowsiness-related incident while driving, putting themselves and others on the road at risk.

Are you suffering sleep deprivation?

Do you find yourself tossing and turning through the night and being constantly grumpy and irritable during the day? Is stress, work, illness or family pressure interfering with your sleep? The solution could be to get better sleep. Ensuring good sleep habits could be just the thing to bring back the restful sleep you’ve been craving.

Here are some simple tips that can help you achieve better sleep.

1. Keep a regular sleep schedule
Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This will help your body get into a regular sleep-wake pattern so you can fall asleep and wake up more easily.
2. Try to relax and wind down before bed
Establish a calming bedtime routine by doing the same things each night to prepare your body and mind for sleep. These should be relaxing activities such reading a book or listening to music. For those who worry and can’t shut off their mind, try writing things down at the end of each day with possible solutions or actions – then put them aside.
3. Make sure you’re comfortable
Keep the bedroom dark, quiet and cool to facilitate sleep. A well ventilated room maintained at a comfortable temperature (around 20° C) is ideal. Ensure your mattress and pillows are comfortable and supportive. Keeping light out via blackout curtains or eye shades can help.
4. Switch off technology
Keep distracting technology out of the bedroom. Computers, video games, television, smartphones, tablets are all distracting. The bright light emitted from devices can actually reduce evening levels of melatonin production, a sleep-promoting hormone.
5. Don’t watch the clock
Watching the clock when you are trying to fall asleep or when you wake in the middle of the night can actually increase stress and anxiety, making it more difficult to fall asleep. If you need a clock for the alarm function, try turning it around so you can’t see it.
6. Avoid alcohol and caffeine
Avoid alcohol and caffeine prior to sleep, as these can disrupt sleep. Alcohol may seem to help you get to sleep, but will disrupt your sleep during the night.

Caffeine is a stimulant. It is found in chocolate, cola, coffee, teas and softdrinks and can keep you awake. Avoid caffeine for at least four hours before bed.
7. If you can’t get to sleep, don’t force it
If you don’t get to sleep within 20-30 minutes of going to bed or if you wake in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, try going into another darkened room and sit quietly or do something relaxing like reading. Don’t watch television or check emails! Return to bed when you feel sleepy again.
8. Don’t use your bedroom as a living room
The bedroom should be a place for sleeping and intimacy only. Avoid doing work, checking Facebook or watching television in the bedroom as these things weaken the association between the bedroom and sleep.
9. Watch what you eat and drink
Avoid going to bed on a full stomach by allowing at least two hours after your evening meal before bedtime. Eating large or spicy meals can cause discomfort from indigestion that can make it harder to go to sleep.
Drink enough to keep hydrated and avoid drinking too much before bedtime to avoid going to the bathroom overnight.
10. Avoid naps
Napping during the day can delay falling asleep and disrupt sleep during the night. If you need to nap during the day, keep it short and avoid napping late in the day.
11. Make use of daylight
Expose yourself to natural light during the day; it helps keep your internal clock in check.
12. Regular daily exercise
Any amount of exercise is good for you and can actually help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. However exercise has to be done at the right time, otherwise it can disrupt your sleep. Allow at least three hours after you have finished exercise before going to bed.
13. Persist
Try sticking to these tips and give them a chance to have an impact. For most of us, your chances of achieving a good restful sleep will improve.
However, if you implement good sleep habits and still suffer persistent sleep difficulties, you should consult your doctor.

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