Sleep – The essential ingredient

Cheerful young woman waking up in her hotel room, stretching her arms.
One of the best things we can do for our mental and physical health is free and has no negative side effects. A good night’s sleep improves our well-being, productivity and performance.  Yet sleep problems are becoming a national epidemic, with over one third of Australians not sleeping well.

The cost of our sleep epidemic

Poor sleep is associated with low productivity, missing work, falling asleep on the job, making more mistakes, and putting ourselves and others at greater risk of harm. Almost one third of people have driven while drowsy, and one in five have nodded off while driving And the problem is only getting worse, with more Australians reporting sleep issues now compared to 2010.

Sleep and mental health

There’s a close relationship between sleep and mental health. While mental health issues can affect how you sleep, poor sleep may also contribute to mental health problems. Sleep helps us recover from stressful experiences and build mental resilience. When we don’t get quality sleep, our coping capacity is diminished, and this can set the stage for negative thinking, depression and anxiety.

Sleep and physical health

Poor quality sleep also carries risks to our physical wellbeing. Research has shown that people who don’t get enough sleep each night may have an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Poor sleep can also weaken our immune system, making it easier for us to get sick with infections.

Top tips for a good night’s sleep

  1. Get some sunlight during the day

Light helps regulate the body’s ‘sleep’ hormone, melatonin. Sunlight early in the day is especially helpful in synchronising your body clock.

  1. Unwind before bed

A hot bath or shower can help you relax from your day and make it easier to sleep. Give yourself at least an hour to wind down before bed, and remember to go to sleep as soon as you feel tired. This is your body’s ‘sleep cue’ so don’t ignore it.

  1. Switch off and put away the devices

To get to sleep, you’ll need to switch melatonin back on – and that means dimming all the lights. The stimulating content from your devices can also make it hard for your brain to wind down, so it’s a good idea to make your bedtime a technology-free zone.

  1. Stick to a regular sleep pattern

Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day can help your body clock work out a healthy sleep routine.

  1. Watch what you eat and drink

Caffeine can keep you awake so avoid drinks like coffee, tea and energy drinks before you sleep. A light snack before bed is fine, but it’s best to avoid large meals about 2-3 hours before you go to bed.

  1. Create a sleep haven

Make your bedroom as dark and quiet as possible, and wear earplugs if you need to. Adjusting the temperature is also important – a slightly cool bedroom is best to induce sleep.

And if you still need some inspiration to prioritise sleep, think of Ernest Hemingway – “I love sleep. My life has a tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?”

Adams R Appleton S Taylor A et al. Report to the Sleep Health Foundation: 2016 Sleep Health Survey of Australian Adults. Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health, University of Adelaide [Online] 2016 [Accessed May 2017] Available from: www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au

Chane AM Aeschbach D Duffy JF et al. Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing and next-morning alertness. PNAS. 2015; 112(4): 1232-1237.

Harvard Health Publications. Sleep and Mental Health [Online, last updated July 2009, accessed May 2017] Available from: www.health.harvard.edu

Sleep Disorders Australia. Sleep hygiene [Online] 2006 [Accessed May 2017] Available from: www.sleepoz.org.au

Sleep Health Foundation. 10 tips for a good night’s sleep [Online, accessed May 2017] Available from: www.sleepfoundation.org