Sleep is essential for life. Sleep is so significant for health and yet many of us try to get by with so little. Studies show that up to 1 in 3 Australians consistently do not get a good nights sleep or quality sleep.
So what can you do to get a good night’s sleep?
Make sure your room is cool, dark, and quiet – around 18–22 °C is considered the ideal, temperature as is a room that is pitch black, which encourages maximal melatonin production. A room that is quiet is also permissive for undisturbed sleep. If your partner snores consider using ear plugs to reduce noise exposure.
- Remove electronic devices from the bedroom – the light emitted from these devices disrupts the production of melatonin.
- Do not turn on the bathroom light in the middle of the night. Consider buying a dim night light to help you see where you are going.
- Do not take work to bed with you – this increases stress-hormone production, which in turn reduces melatonin production.
- Reduce the time you spend co-sleeping with children and pets.
- Wind down in the evening by dimming the lights, keeping a peaceful environment and stopping work 1–2 hours before bed.
- Avoid caffeine and drinking excessive liquids 3–4 hours before bed.
- Avoid excessive alcohol before bed – although a sedative, alcohol disrupts quality of sleep by causing you to wake when blood-alcohol levels start to fall.
- Practise relaxation techniques regularly e.g. meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing.
Further to this, going to bed earlier is better than going to bed later, even if we get the same amount of sleep. This is because sleep quality has been scientifically shown to be best in the early hours of the evening.
Are you getting Good Quality Sleep?
We sleep because of a hormone called melatonin. This hormone is released from a part of our brain called the pineal gland when we are exposed to darkness. Hence we can disrupt melatonin production by being exposed to bright lights. Melatonin starts to rise about two hours before bedtime and regulates our sleep cycles.
Sleep is actually not one long period of unconsciousness but, rather, consists of different states of sleep that move through a cycle during the night. These sleep cycles are regular alternations between deeper sleep and lighter REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Each cycle takes about 90 minutes to complete, and the cycle repeats 4–5 times across a normal sleep period. This cyclic nature of sleep is present at all ages. How you feel when you wake, and if you remember your dreams will depend on where you wake within the cycle. If you wake shortly after REM sleep you will recall your dreams vividly, even if you recall them only transiently and then forget what you dreamed about. You are also likely to feel disoriented and drowsy. There are personal devices and phone apps now available that allow you to monitor your quality of sleep. Although these have not been fully tested for accuracy, many of my patients have found them helpful in gauging their sleep quality.