Sleeping well is at the heart of our physical and mental wellbeing. When we don’t sleep well (5hrs or less/ night, or frequent waking), we experience:
• Changes our appetite hormones so that we crave high energy foods;
• Increased blood sugars;
• Reduced activation of our executive control centre in our brain, making it harder to think clearly, make sound decisions and carefully consider consequences;
• Reduced control over our emotions and increased emotional sensitivity;
• Reduced coordination and ability to process incoming information equivalent to having a blood-alcohol level above 0.05 – which means a significantly increased safety risk.
How much sleep we need is individual, although most of us should shoot for between 7.5 – 8.5 hours of good quality, uninterrupted zzzzzzz’s. We understand that sometimes, this can be particularly challenging.
Top Tips for improving sleep :
• Put away your digital devices at least an hour before bedtime. Digital screens activate the brain, which makes it harder to fall asleep.
• If you have a neck circumference greater than 38 cm (women), or 43 cm (men), snore, and feel constantly tired despite apparently sleeping well, consider a sleep study test for sleep apnoea. This is a serious medical condition, which requires treatment.
• Develop a sleep schedule and as far as possible, stick to it: Go to bed and get up at the same time each day.
• Exercise. At least 30 minutes/ day to encourage sleep. However, exercise increases our thyroxine, which increases energy levels – so for some people morning exercise is best, even when it means getting up super early.
• Avoid stimulants (caffeine and nicotine being the most common) after 3.00pm.
• Avoid alcohol before bed: while having a drink might encourage you to fall asleep, you usually experience poor quality, disturbed sleep.
• Eat small amounts before bed, and include some complex carbohydrates in your evening meal.
• Some prescribed and over-the-counter medications impact your ability to sleep well. Consult your GP regarding the effects of any over-the-counter medications.
• Keep a notebook by the bed: Sometimes thoughts about particular issues, or things to do, interferes with sleep. For some people, jotting these ideas down can be helpful to ‘get it out of your head’ and allow sleep.
• Take a hot shower before bed: Dropping body temperature promotes sleepiness. Many people find that the ritual of a hot shower is relaxing, while the drop in temperature post-shower assists with falling asleep.
• Have sunlight exposure: Daylight is the key to regulating sleep patterns. Get outside into the sunlight for at least 30 minutes a day – preferably in the morning when the sunlight is at its strongest.
• Use your bed for sex and sleep only: Avoid watching TV, reading, or any other activity in bed.
• Have a good sleeping environment: To sleep well, your room needs to be dark, cool, and free from distraction (such as noises or lights). Flashing mobile phones can be distracting, as can a computer that is left on. Also, ensure that you have a comfortable bed and pillow.
• Keep your sleeping environment cool: About 19-23 degrees C suits most people.
• Put any digital clocks out of the line of sight: Clock watching is exacerbated when the clock is in easy view.
• Don’t lie in bed awake: If you have not fallen asleep in approximately 20 minutes, get up and do something that is relaxing. When you feel sleepy return to bed.
If your sleeping problems persist consult your GP.
Questionnaire – SLEEP WELL
The questionnaire is designed to be a quick self-assessments in relation to sleeping well. It is not designed to be diagnostic but will give you a simple indication of your strengths and opportunities for change.
(1 always or almost always, 10 never or almost never)
|It rarely takes me longer than 30 mins to fall asleep?|
|I usually get 7.5hrs actual sleep or more each night?|
|I rarely wake up more than once for longer than 15 mins each time?|
|I am a comfortable temperature during the night – rarely too hot or too cold?|
|I rarely experience bad dreams?|
|I don’t have problems with pain waking me up while I’m asleep?|
|I rarely have trouble staying awake during day to day activities such as during meetings, driving the car, watching TV or reading a book?|
|I don’t need to take over the counter or prescribed sleeping medication to help me sleep?|
|In general, I feel as though I have enough energy and enthusiasm to get things done?|
If you scored …
9-27 Awesome!! You are doing really well in terms of your sleep. Look for any high scores to specific items for an opportunity to improve, otherwise, keep it up and look to the other 5 A Day pillars for opportunities to improve your wellbeing.
28-46 Well done!! You are doing lots of things well in terms of your sleep AND there are some opportunities to improve. Review the Sleep Well Tips and identify simple steps you can take to strengthen this pillar.
47 + You need sleep! How are you still awake? Your sleep quality shows lots of room for improvement, and will certainly be affecting your general health, performance, mood and a general sense of wellbeing. Review your responses and the Sleep Well Tips and review what could be causing some of your sleep difficulties. If your sleep and energy don’t improve within the next couple of weeks consult your GP for assistance.
A side note – Am I at risk of sleep apnoea?
Sleep apnea is a disorder in which breathing is completely disrupted during sleep. Sleep apnea can only be diagnosed by a Sleep Physician or Dr; with a sleep study being the most common tool used for diagnosis. While there are two principal types of sleep apnea (Central Sleep Apnea and Obstructive Sleep Apnea – OSA), Obstructive sleep apnea is by far the most common and is made worse by weight problems and heavy drinking. The following is a list of risk factors identified for OSA. If you answer Yes to a number of the questions below, see your GP to discuss whether you are at risk of Sleep Apnea – sleep apnea can have a significant impact on your health and wellbeing
|I often feel tired during the day, no matter how much I have slept the night before?||Yes/ No|
|My BMI is >30?||Yes/ No|
|My neck circumference is >40cm/ 16 inches if I am a woman, or 43cm or 17 inches if I am a man?||Yes/ No|
|I snore?||Yes/ No|
|I have a family history of OSA?||Yes/ No|