Why it’s time to pay attention to sleep – and how to ensure yours is restful and restorative.

By Bonnie Bayley

You know you should probably be getting more sleep. It makes you a happier, more energised person. But what you may not realise? Sleep has far-reaching effects on your overall wellbeing. For starters, a lack of shut-eye is linked to a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Skimping on sleep can also trigger hormonal changes in your body that affect appetite and can lead to weight gain, finds a Pennsylvania State University review.1 Other research shows that people who get between six and nine hours of pillow time a night rate their quality of life as higher and have lower self-reported scores for depression severity, compared to their sleep-deprived peers.2
Its clear that sleep is vital to our health – but as a nation, we’re missing out. According to the Sleep Health Foundation, 23.7% of Australians report that they don’t get enough sleep, 19.6% have trouble drifting off and 34.9% wake frequently during the night.3 The good news? There are things you can do to promote healthy sleep patterns, to give your body the restful shut-eye it craves.

Find your sleep sweet spot
On average, adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night to feel refreshed and function properly during the day. To work out how much sleep you need, pay attention to how you feel in the afternoon. If you hit an energy wall, that’s a sign you’re not getting sufficient slumber.

Keep it consistent
Try to get to bed and wake up at around the same time every day, even on weekends. Your body’s internal circadian biological clock (which regulates the timing of periods of sleepiness and wakefulness during the day) thrives on routine. Regular sleep-wake times don’t just make it easier to drift off, they’ll make that morning alarm more tolerable too!

Create a sleep sanctuary
Set up your bedroom so that its quiet, dark and a comfortable temperature (generally, a little cooler is better). Turn your alarm clock facing away from you (or if you use your phone, have it face-down) so you’re not tempted to clock watch at night.

Get regular exercise
Regular moderate aerobic exercise such as walking reduces the time it takes to fall asleep and improves sleep duration and quality, according to a Brazilian study of insomniacs.4 As a general rule, its best to avoid rigorous exercise too close to bedtime, as it can have a stimulating effect.

Have a wind-down ritual
Ideally, you should have a ‘buffer zone’ before you head to bed, to help your body and mind shift into sleep mode. Dim the lights and do some gentle stretching, read a book, have a warm bath or a cup of herbal tea. Try to avoid using your computer, tablet or smart phone in the hour before bedtime, as the bright blue light emitted by screens suppresses melatonin, the hormone that makes us sleepy.

1. Shlisky JD, Hartman TJ, Kris-Etherton PM, et al. Partial sleep deprivation and energy balance in adults: an emerging issue for consideration by dietetics practitioners. J Acad Nutr Diet 2012;112(11):1785-1797.
2. Science Daily. The good life: good sleepers have better quality of life and less depression. 2011. Viewed 2 February 2017, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110614101120.htm
3. Hillman DR, Lack LC. Public health implications of sleep loss: the community burden. MJA 2013:199(8)S7-S10.
4. Passos GS, Poyares D, Santana MG, et al. Effects of moderate aerobic exercise training on chronic primary insomnia. Sleep Med 2011;12(10):1018-1027.

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