Original nib article found here.
A good night’s sleep has host of health benefits. Not only does it recharge your body and mind, it also boosts your immune system, keeps your heart healthy, controls appetite and weight, and improves attention and memory.
Yet up to four in 10 Australian adults aren’t getting enough high-quality sleep. Dr Aliza Werner-Seidler, Associate Professor at nib foundation partner, The Black Dog Institute, shares her top sleeping tips.
Establish a sleep routine
“This is one of the most important components of getting a good night’s sleep,” says Aliza. “A regular wake and sleep time helps us maintain our sleep drive and synchronises our circadian rhythms. Having a consistent wind-down routine 30 to 60 minutes prior to bedtime can help prepare the body for sleep. Reduce light exposure and activities that are mentally or physically stimulating and try to engage in activities that bring comfort such as having a warm bath or putting on comfortable pyjamas. A wake-up routine that involves getting up and moving is also important.”
Circadian rhythms are the regular sleep-wake cycles our body runs off, which repeats every 24 hours or so, which involve regulating processes such as appetite, digestion and hormone release, in addition to sleep and wake cycles.
While some disruptions to your sleep routine are inevitable when you’re working late or travelling, Aliza suggests gradually returning to your desired routine. “Adjusting sleep by no more than 30 to 60 minutes per day will help your body cope with the changes,” she says.
Daily habits that help sleep
In addition to establishing a sleep routine, Aliza recommends the following five sleeping tips:
1. Expose yourself to natural light, especially in the morning
Being outside and getting exposure to natural light helps to decrease melatonin, which is important for alertness and keeps your circadian rhythms in sync, says Aliza.
“Melatonin is a hormone produced by your brain in response to darkness. Limiting light exposure at night helps to increase melatonin production and signal to your body that it’s time for sleep.”
If you needed another reason to move your body, here it is. “Regular exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality,” says Aliza.
Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week, and avoid exercising within two hours of bedtime.
3. Avoid napping
If you love an afternoon kip, you might need to cut back because it could be affecting your night-time sleep. “Naps can help increase alertness, but they’ll reduce the sleep drive later on which can have an impact on sleep onset,” says Aliza.
Ideally keep naps under 30 minutes, and not too late in the day.
4. Use your bed only for sleep and sex
Do you like to work, study, read or watch Netflix in bed? According to Aliza, this might negatively impact your sleep. “To reduce any unhelpful associations, keep your bed for sleep and sex only,” she advises.
5. Develop a device curfew
You’ve probably heard it before: devices are a no-no before bedtime. “The stimulation provided by screens can keep us up at night and should be avoided 30 to 60 minutes before bed,” says Aliza.
Foods and drinks to avoid for better sleep
Stimulants can leave us blinking at the ceiling for hours, so Aliza recommends limiting or avoiding these three substances.
“Caffeine is a stimulant that contributes to physical feelings of alertness,” says Aliza. “This can impact or delay sleep onset and contribute to night waking. Because caffeine can remain active in the body for three to six hours, it should be limited in the six hours before bed.”
“Alcohol may initially help with sleep onset due to muscle relaxation, but it will contribute to arousal during the night and result in sleep disruption and night waking,” says Aliza.
Aliza recommends avoiding nicotine entirely. “It contributes to wakefulness and can impact sleep onset and cause early-morning awakening,” she says.
Foods for sleep
Some foods can help promote sleepiness, including milk and sour cherries, which both contain melatonin. Find out more at our dedicated article: Foods for improving sleep
What to do if you have persistent sleep problems
“The most effective intervention for difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep is a psychological intervention known as cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia,” says Aliza. “It works as well as sleep medications but without the side effects or risks. This therapy can be delivered in person by a mental health professional or online using an evidence-based program.”
Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.