Sleep: The secret to a good night’s sleep

Sleep: The secret to a good night's sleep

Sleep is an essential and crucial part of everyday life. Our quality of sleep has huge impacts on physical and mental health, quality of life, stress levels, work performance and overall happiness. If you are feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, focusing on getting a good night’s sleep can make critical differences to your mood and wellbeing. However, it is an aspect of life that many people do not consider as important.

Therefore, we are exploring how and why sleep is so important, and what you can do to improve your sleep hygiene to reap the benefits of a good night’s sleep

Sleep Facts

  • 1 in 3 people suffer from poor sleep
  • 8 ¼ hours is the average number of hours required for an adult
  • Research shows that Australians adolescents are only getting on average 6.5-7.5 hours sleep per night (the recommended hours of sleep needed for teens is 8-10 hours).
  • Adolescents have a biological tendency towards later ‘sleep timing’, meaning they naturally fall asleep later and sleep in.
  • We cannot make ourselves fall asleep, we can only create the right conditions for sleep in our mind, body and environment.

Why Sleep Important?

There is still a lot scientists don’t know about what happens during sleep and its function. However, research has found that sleep is essential to emotional and physical health.

A normal sleeper will cycle between REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and deep sleep every 90 minutes. Deep sleep is essential for producing physiological changes that help boost immune system functioning. REM sleep is the period of sleep where people dream. Research shows that REM sleep enhances learning and memory and contributes to long-term emotional health.

Key benefits of a good night’s sleep include:

  • Boosted immunity
  • Weight loss
  • Improved mental wellbeing
  • Prevention of diabetes development
  • Prevention of heart disease development
  • Reduced stress levels
  • Improved memory and learning
  • Improved work performance
  • Increased happiness levels

Sleep Difficulties

On the other hand, disrupted sleep significantly affects your wellbeing. Scientists believe that sleep disruption impacts the levels of neurotransmitters, stress hormones and chemicals in the brain that have detrimental effects on thinking and emotional regulation. Sleep is so influential on mental health, that insomnia has been shown to amplify the effects of psychiatric disorders.

More than 70 types of sleep disorders exist with the most common being Insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep), Sleep Apnoea (disordered breathing that causes multiple awakenings), and Narcolepsy (extreme sleepiness or falling asleep during the day).

Sleep problems are also very common amongst people struggling with depression and anxiety disorders, especially Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sleep difficulties are also common in people diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

What Causes Sleep Difficulties?

Sleep issues can be caused by a number of factors including:

  • Experiences: If people have experienced a distressing event such as grief, trauma, relationship breakdown or have high levels of stress
  • Psychological disorders e.g. Anxiety, Depression, PTSD, Bipolar Disorder, OCD
  • Substance use e.g. alcohol, caffeine, illicit drugs, medications
  • Medical causes e.g. diabetes, breathing issues, heart burn, chronic pain, breathing issues
  • Environmental causes e.g. light pollution, noise pollution, shift work, unhealthy food, electronic usage, young children, or stressful jobs.

Impacts of Sleep Deprivation

Anyone who has pulled an all-nighter or has had a young baby knows that lack of sleep can completely change how you feel and how you act. Continued sleep deprivation is also extremely negative for your physical and mental health. Research has linked inadequate/disrupted sleep or sleep deprivation to:

  • Tiredness during the day
  • Reduced work performance
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Mood changes including irritability
  • Aches and pains in muscles and bones
  • Weakened immune System
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Weight gain
  • Poor balance
  • Increases in anxiety and depression symptoms
  • Increased risk of developing depression and anxiety
  • Increased risks of accidents

How Much Sleep Do I Need?

Different people need different amounts of sleep due to factors such as lifestyle, genetics, location, and health. However, a multitude of research on sleep has discovered that different age groups generally require varying amounts of sleep.

The average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Below is table outlining the recommended hours of sleep for different age groups according to the US National Sleep Foundation. Interestingly, these findings show that the older you become, the less sleep you generally need.

Age Average hours of sleep needed
Newborn (0-3 months)14-17
Infant (4-11 months)12-15
Toddler (1-2 years)11-14
Pre-school  (3-5 years)10-13
School age (6-13years)9-11
Teen (14-17 years)8-10
Young adult  (18-25 years)7-9
Adult (26-64 years)7-9
Older adult (65+)7-8

Top 10 Tips for Improved Sleep

Given how important sleep is to our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, we have brought together findings from the multitude of sleep research to provide our top 10 tips on how to improve your sleep hygiene

1. Have a Regular Sleep Schedule

  • One of the best ways to help you get to sleep more easily is to set a regular sleep routine. Make sure you give yourself enough time to get 7-9 hours of sleep.
  • Try to wake up and go to bed at the same time each day as well as integrating a wind-down routine. Going to bed at the same time each night will help train your body to associate this time of day with sleep.
  • Try not to sleep in too late on the weekends as this can disrupt your sleep pattern.

2. Create Sleep Rituals  

  • It is helpful to have certain rituals that you do every night before going to bed that help train your brain associate this ritual with winding down for sleep
  • 30 minutes before you go to bed, try:
    • drinking a relaxing herbal, caffeine-free tea
    • putting on relaxing candles or essential oils in a diffuser
    • doing a mindfulness meditation or breathing exercise 
    • doing a light stretching routine 
    • listening to an audiobook 
  • 1-2 hours before you go to bed, try:
    • having a bath as it raises your body temperature, which will then cause you to feel sleep as your temperature naturally drops. This temperature drop mirrors the physiological process of falling asleep and can help prompt your brain to sleep.
3. Don’t Force Sleep
  • If you haven’t fallen asleep after 20 minutes get up and do something relaxing. Studies show that spending too much time awake in bed can make it harder to get to sleep as it can increase your stress around sleep.
  • Try reading a book, drawing, writing in a journal or listening to music then returning to bed when you feel sleepy.
4. Avoid Napping
  • Try to avoid taking naps in the day time to ensure that you feel tired at bedtime.
  • If you really need a nap try to ensure it is before 3pm and is no more than 20 minutes in length.
5. Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, and Nicotine
  • Caffeine, alcohol and nicotine all have huge effects on your sleep quality. Try not to consume any of these substances 4-6 hours before falling asleep.
  • Caffeine (in coffee, chocolate, tea, cola drinks, and some medications) and nicotine (in cigarettes) are stimulants for the brain that make you feel more awake and interfere with your ability to fall asleep.
  • Many people believe alcohol helps relax them and aids sleep, however alcohol use 4-6 hours before bedtime reduces your quality of sleep, often causing you to wake up regularly in the night and disrupting how deep you can sleep. In particular, alcohol disrupts your ability to access Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep that is an essential part of getting a good night’s sleep.

6. Limit Screen Time Closer to Bedtime

  • Try not to use any electronic devices 1-2 hours before you want to fall asleep.
  • Research has found that the blue light of electronic devices significantly impacts your body’s internal clock (your circadian rhythm) and suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin. This results in difficulties falling to sleep and can make you wake up more in the night.
7. Keep your Bed Reserved for Sleep
  • Try not to use your bed for anything other than sleep or intimacy.
  • This will help your brain associate your bed with sleep, making it easier for your brain to switch off and for you to fall asleep.
  • Avoid using your bed to watch TV, eat, work, or study as your brain will not learn this connection between your bed and sleep.
8. Exercise and Eat Well
  • Regular exercise is significantly linked to improved sleep as it ensures that your body and mind are tired by the end of the day. Exercise is also a stress-reliever which can mean your mind is less busy at night, and you are able to fall asleep more quickly.
  • However, try not to do strenuous exercise 4 hours before wanting to fall asleep.
  • Make sure to eat a healthy, balanced diet as this can help you fall and stay asleep. Although, try not to eat a heavy meal under 2 hours before bedtime as the digestion process can disrupt your sleep. Also try to avoid sugar close to bedtime as this can act as a stimulant.
9. Create a Calming Sleep Environment
  • Making sure that you have a relaxing sleep environment is key to a good night’s sleep.
  • Ensure your bed is comfortable and soothing, that you are not too hot or cold while sleeping.
  • Make sure you have black-out curtains or an eye-mask so that your sleep routine is not disrupted by early sunrises. Turn off as many lights as possible or dim them before trying to get to sleep as too much light can interfere with your melatonin production.
  • Invest in some ear plugs if where you sleep is noisy.
10. Track your Sleep
  • Track how many hours you are sleeping either through a sleep diary or a sleep tracking app such as Sleep Cycle, Sleep Bot or fitness watch apps such as Fitbitor Apple Health
  • Tracking your sleep can help to paint a picture of your current sleep hygiene to see if the positive changes you implement are making a difference. It can also act as a prompt to seek support if you are continually struggling to get enough sleep.
Getting Support

These are all effective ways you can improve your sleep hygiene and get a good night’s sleep. However, if you have attempted to implement some of these strategies and are continuing to struggle with sleep, it is important to reach out for support.

Sleep difficulties can be a sign of physical or mental health problems as well as acute stress in your life. Seek support from your GP to investigate your sleep difficulties who may refer you to a sleep specialist. In addition, call your EAP, Acacia Connection, to gain support, advice and/or counselling to explore whether psychological or emotional difficulties may be underpinning your sleep struggles.

SLEEP SCIENCE WORKSHOPS:

The Workshop Lab is the Acacia Group workplace well-being training specialist. Employees can attend an eye-opening and informative Sleep Science workshop to help gain a deeper understanding of the importance of sleep; what happens when we sleep; and simple yet powerful strategies for improving it.

These sessions are delivered by experts in this field and can be delivered face-to-face or via webinar.

Duration: 1 – 3 hours
Format: Face-to-Face or via webinar

P: 1300 390 366 | E: info@theworkshoplab.com | W: www.theworkshoplab.com

If you or someone close to you needs support, contact Acacia Connection for an appointment.

P: 1300 364 273 | Text or Live Chat: 0401 337 711 | W: acaciaconnection.com

"The safety and wellbeing of our clients and staff is always our top priority. Acacia EAP is currently operating under normal conditions. Due to the pandemic status of COVID-19, some locations may move from face-to-face counselling to secure video or phone. All counselling services are able to be provided 24/7, as always. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and act quickly on the advice of health authorities."