Running on empty? Here’s how to get a good night’s sleep

3 min read

Feeling less than sparky when the alarm goes off? Nodding off during meetings with your manager? You’re not getting enough shut-eye. Here’s how to fix it.

Is social media making you tired? Evidence collected by Sleep Health Foundation shows the internet and social sites are eating into the hours we should be sleeping. The Foundation’s chair Professor David Hillman says statistics reveal as many as a third of us are running on dangerously low levels of restedness: dangerous when operating machinery, including vehicles, and for our concentration, work performance and relationships. No one likes a can-kicking grump – and you won’t get that promotion.

Professor Hillman says the effects of not getting enough sleep impact normal functions on a near daily basis. These may seem subtle, ranging from being less empathetic to others’ feelings or less productive at work to simply making mistakes. They become much more serious when tiredness results in failing to meet required expectations or you actually start to snooze when you need to be awake, when driving for example.

You won’t look your best either. We’re all familiar with the baggy-eyed look after pulling a late one, but it doesn’t stop there. Professor Hillman says there is good evidence to show that consistent sleep deprivation impacts your immunological system, making you more prone to inter-current illnesses such as colds and flu. “There is also evidence of it increasing the risk of some cancers,” he says, because the lack of sleep disturbs the interrelated systems that regulate the body.

While some people’s sleep problems are due to conditions such as sleep apnoea, restless legs and insomnia, for twice as many it’s their family, work and social lives that are keeping them up after hours. And the blue light from the screens on our personal devices affects levels of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin more than any other wavelength, keeping us awake and engaging when we should be catching zeds.

So what should we be doing to ensure we get a good night’s sleep of seven and a half to eight hours? Here are Professor Hillman’s five basic tips for a good kip.

1.       Actually plan enough time for sleep instead of leaving it until you’ve crammed everything you can into your waking day. “Sleep is absolutely essential for human existence,” Professor Hillman warns. “Make enough time for it.”

2.       Go to bed and get up at the same times: getting about the same amount of sleep for about the same length of time each night. Your sleep cycle thrives on regularity.

3.       Make sure your bedroom is actually conducive to sleep. Minimise distractions such as having a desk or television set in your room, and put electronics away. Make sure your bed is comfortable and you are warm or cool enough, and use an eye mask if necessary to make sure it is dark enough. It helps if your house is quiet too.

4.       Have a wind-down routine. Don’t engage in exercise immediately before going to bed, or viewing stimulating content.

5.       Assign worry time well before bedtime. Take the time to write a to-do list or discuss any issues that are on your mind and then set the matter aside until the morning. That way you won’t toss and turn thinking about it.

“You’ll have better quality of life,” Professor Hillman says, “and it’s cheap, and healthy and anyone can do it!”

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This information is current as at 15/08/2016.

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