Quality rest is an important part of getting through the daily grind, yet nearly 50% of Australian adults experience two or more sleep-related problems, including difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep and daytime sleepiness. Find out how a sleep hygiene overhaul may help you secure a blissful date with your pillow…
Do you yearn for a good night’s sleep, only to find that sleep does not yearn for you? Quality rest is an important part of getting through the daily grind, yet nearly 50% of Australian adults experience two or more sleep-related problems, including difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep and daytime sleepiness.
While the occasional night of poor sleep is annoying, ongoing sleep disturbances can lead to bigger issues including emotional difficulties, brain fog, poor job performance, and even accidents or injury. Even more alarming, long-standing insomnia is associated with many chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and mood disorders.
The good news is, catching more z’s may be as simple as changing your habits. For many people, bad habits in the lead-up to bedtime, also known as poor sleep hygiene, are a major contributor to a restless night. Read on to find out if a sleep hygiene overhaul may help you secure a blissful date with your pillow, and a solid night’s sleep.
Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself
Unfortunately, modern life predisposes us to poor sleep hygiene. A busy social calendar may keep you out late, high-stake stress at work can cause sleepless worry, and a burning desire to stay up late watching your favourite reality TV show (Keeping Up With the Kardashians, anyone?) may keep you on the couch into the wee hours. The occasional blowout is okay, but when these pastimes become regular patterns, it becomes harder to cement a consistent sleep schedule, making it difficult to sleep well.
If you spend every night struggling to sleep, you probably already know that your sleep habits need attention. However, if your issue is more subtle, or less frequent, you may be wondering whether it’s worth taking action. Using the checklist below may help you decide.
Regularly experiencing one or more of the following may be a sign of a disrupted sleeping pattern:
✔ It takes over 30 minutes to fall asleep after getting into bed.
✔ You wake up more than once per night.
✔ You awaken for over 20 minutes during the night.
✔ You spend less than 85% of your time spent in bed asleep.
✔ You wake most mornings feeling unrefreshed.
✔ You rely on caffeinated beverages to get you through the day.
Adapted from the National Sleep Foundation
When Counting Sheep Doesn’t Work, Try This
If you are fed up with moving through life like a character from ‘The Walking Dead’, these simple tweaks to your sleep hygiene may help you shake off sleepless misery. Incorporate the following habits to help you fall asleep faster, sleep soundly through the night, and wake feeling refreshed and rested:
- Go to bed when you feel sleepy. While this may seem like a no-brainer, climbing into bed when you feel alert can create a negative association between being in bed and struggling to sleep, making it harder for you to relax.
- Establish a sleep routine, which will help condition your body to feel sleepy at a regular time. This may be difficult initially, particularly if you don’t feel tired at the same time each night. However, you can help your body synchronise to a consistent schedule by going to bed at roughly the same time each night and waking at the same time each morning.
- Steer clear of electronic devices for at least 30 minutes before sleep and avoid using these in bed. Night-time exposure to blue light from digital screens is stimulating and can interfere with your brain’s production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for making you feel sleepy.
- Do not use your bed as an activity centre. Your bed is for sleeping and sexual activity only. Avoid other pursuits, such as watching TV or working from bed, to train your brain to associate bed with sleep.
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and cigarettes, which can keep you awake or disrupt your sleep during the night.
- Create a pre-sleep ritual. Relaxing activities can help you unwind before hitting the sack and gradually transition your body from a wakeful state into a state of sleep. Your ritual may include stretches, breathing exercises, a hot bath, or sipping on a cup of caffeine-free tea.
- Ditch the alcohol. Many people use alcohol to help them fall asleep faster. However, drinking alcohol inhibits restorative sleep and increases the likelihood that you will feel groggy the next morning.
- Get up. If you do not fall asleep within 20 minutes of lying down, get out of bed and perform a mundane activity until you feel sleepy enough to return to bed. Getting out of bed for a walk to the kitchen and a glass of water allows your mind to ‘switch off” and your body to cool down. There is nothing like a spot of ironing to bore you to sleep. Boredom is key; avoid activities that may stimulate you, such as watching TV, and avoid the use of bright lights, which suppress melatonin production.
A Quick Fix for the Meantime
Changing your habits can take time, particularly if they have been months or years in the making. While you make changes, sleep-supporting herbs can fast track your journey to snoozeville. Remedies such as California poppy, passionflower, zizyphus, Jamaica dogwood, and lavender can enable you to fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.
These herbs achieve their sleep-inducing effects by stimulating your body’s production of gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA). This neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) is made by your brain and sends signals to your brain cells that reduce their activity. It also carries signals to other cells in your body, such as your muscles, helping them to relax. GABA is involved in your body’s sleep cycles, with increased levels during the evening reducing stress, promoting calmness and relaxation, and helping ease you into sleep.
As an added bonus, unlike many pharmaceutical sleeping agents, herbal sleep remedies are unlikely to make you feel jet-lagged the next day.
Make Like a Log and Sleep
Straightening out your sleep hygiene can help you say “goodbye” to clock-watching and “hello” to a great night’s sleep.
While you work on changing your habits, herbal remedies can help you quickly get the rest you need. For more advice on how to achieve sound sleep, or for guidance around which herbs are best suited to your needs, make a time to see me.
Dr Peter Holsman
Integrative Medical Doctor