Why do we need sleep?
It’s been called the 3rd pillar of health, right up there with healthy food and exercise.1 So it’s important to get the right amount of good quality sleep every night.
Sleep is something we take for granted: until something stops us from getting it. Lack of it commonly results in daytime fatigue and slowed thought processes, but that’s not all. It’s also been linked to weight gain, susceptibility to colds and flu, high blood pressure, diabetes, and even a reduced lifespan.2
Poor sleep increases your risk of being involved in a car or work accident by 7 times.3
How to sleep well
Good habits are the key to improving the quality and quantity of your sleep. These habits, also called ‘sleep hygiene’ are proven to help people sleep better.
- Aim to go to bed at the same time each night. Try and have the same relaxing bedtime routine every night.
- Go out in the sun in the mornings as this will help keep your body clock working properly
- Finish dinner at least 2 hours before bed
- Make sure your bed is warm and comfortable
- Remove the TV, radio and phone from your bedroom
- Don’t let pets sleep in your room
- Dim the lights and avoid the blue light from computers and phones
- If you don’t fall asleep within 20-30 minutes, go and sit quietly in a darkened room. Don’t watch TV or do work. Go back to bed when you feel tired.
- See your doctor if your sleep problems persist
- Don’t rely on sleeping pills, unless a specific event is making it hard to sleep
- Don’t drink caffeinated drinks for at least 4 hours before bed
- Don’t smoke or drink alcohol near bedtime
- Don’t play computer games, watch TV or have arguments near bedtime
Common sleep disorders4,5
Sleep disorders are medical disorders that can have some serious affects on your health.
Snoring is a very common condition. About 30% of men and 9% of women snore habitually. It’s more common in smokers, people who are overweight, and those who drink alcohol. Snoring drives many partners of snorers from the bedroom and can cause relationship problems. Snoring can be effectively treated, so if your partner snores, don’t suffer in silence. Send your partner off to their doctor or dentist. Many people who snore actually have a condition called sleep apnea which can have serious consequences for their health if it’s not treated effectively.4,5
Sleep apnea is a condition where your breathing is interrupted when you sleep. It’s often associated with snoring. Effective treatment can help you sleep better and prevent the long-term health problems that it can cause.4,5
Insomnia can be induced by crying children, outside noises, body aches and pains, an uncomfortable bed, too much exposure to light at night, as well as dining late and drinking alcohol or caffeinated drinks in the evening.
Emotional stress, anxiety or worries are common causes of insomnia. Most people have experienced nights spent tossing and turning, trying to get their brains to turn off so they can go back to sleep. It’s catch 22 really, because the more you lie awake worrying, the more fatigued you’ll be next day, reducing your ability to solve the problems that have been keeping you awake!
Relationships can suffer when your bed partner can’t sleep, especially if their snoring and restlessness interrupts your rest.
To treat insomnia effectively, you first need to work out the cause.
If you have trouble getting off to sleep, or if you keep waking up in the night and can’t get back to sleep, you should see your doctor. In addition to the everyday causes of insomnia, there are some specific disorders that your doctor can help you explore, that may be preventing you from getting the z-z-z’s you need for good health.
Other sleep disorders
- Restless legs is a feeling that makes people feel like constantly moving or stretching their legs. It can make it very difficult to get to sleep and stay asleep.
- Periodic limb movements are involuntary movements of the legs, and sometimes the arms, that can interfere with sleep.
- Narcolepsy is a disorder in which a person’s night time sleeping pattern is abnormal. They’re very sleepy during the day, and can fall asleep or briefly collapse without warning.
- Nightmares, night terrors and sleep walking. Children are often affected by these disorders, but they tend to grow out of them without treatment. If an adult is affected, they may benefit from cognitive behaviour therapy.
With the help of your doctor, you can work out what’s causing your problem. The doctor may recommend an assessment to help pinpoint the cause.