You can’t put a price on a good night’s sleep, yet with everything that’s been going on, you may have noticed that the quality of your sleep has been impacted. It’s hard to turn off on a normal day, let alone when we’ve got a pandemic to worry about. And with an increase in businesses working from home, it can be difficult to wind down and resist the urge to work overtime.
There are a lot of misconceptions that to be highly successful, you must be some superhuman who only needs three hours of sleep. However the likes of Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates have built their fortunes without sacrificing their seven to eight hours of sleep per night. But for some, this may not be so easy.
Understanding the basics
Sleep is an extremely important aspect in our lives, but many of us don’t pay much attention to it until it becomes an issue. Just like we prioritize eating and exercising, it’s important that we do the same for sleep. We are all creatures of habit and routine. By making sleep a priority in your schedule, you can reduce your risk of sleep deprivation which can affect both your cognitive and physical abilities as well as lead to more serious issues like insomnia.
Insomnia impacts around one third of Australians at some point in their lives. It’s a vicious cycle that can impact energy levels, mood, physical health and your performance at work. How much sleep we need can vary from person to person, but most adults need seven to nine hours a night. Symptoms of insomnia can include difficulty falling asleep, waking up in the middle of the night as well as ongoing worries about sleep. The good news is that you can fix this. If you find that you’re struggling to switch off at night, here are five helpful strategies to improve your quality of sleep.
1. The bedroom is for sleeping
The first tip is simple — the bedroom is for sleeping. Only get into bed if you’re tired, even if you’ll only get four hours of sleep. Having a nighttime routine can help you unwind and signal to your brain that it’s time for a good ‘ol snooze. But that doesn’t mean spending long periods of time doing things like reading, watching TV, following up on emails or working in your bed. Keeping these sorts of materials out of the bedroom will help strengthen your brain’s association between your bedroom and sleep.
As humans, we learn by association. An easy example is to look at how our brains learn to associate food with certain hours of the day. If you eat at the same time each day, your body will then learn to release digestive enzymes and send signals to the saliva glands to prepare itself for food. Sleep works much the same. If we only get into bed to go to sleep, our brains will learn to develop a similar association and release the right chemicals so we can get some shut eye.
2. If you can’t get to sleep after 20 minutes, get up
If you’re following step one, this shouldn’t be too hard. If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and go do something else until you start to feel sleepy. Just don’t do anything stimulating like watching TV or scrolling through your newsfeed. Screen time will only make it harder for your brain to produce the sleep hormone melatonin. Instead, try reading a book in a comfortable area outside your bedroom or taking a bath. Lying awake for too long can further impact our brain’s association as discussed in strategy one.
3. Don’t count how many hours of sleep you’re getting
We’ve all been guilty of watching those precious hours of sleep go down. Yet when has this countdown done anything but make you more anxious about falling asleep? The answer is never. The more we focus on falling asleep, the less likely it’s going to happen. To reduce this temptation, try removing clocks from the bedroom. And if you need to use an alarm, make sure you can’t see the time from your bed.
Source: Penn Medicine
4. Make time to get out and see the light
Working to improve your quality of sleep doesn’t just start at nighttime. You have to also think about the pregame steps you can take earlier in the day that will help you drift off later on. This includes taking the time to go outside and expose yourself to light. Whether it be for exercise or just to get some fresh air, there’s been evidence that shows a correlation between sunlight and sleep.
Natural light has always been a powerful guide for our body-clocks. Light rays influence chemistry that keeps us in sync with our day to night cycles including metabolism, body temperature and going to sleep. Like most things sleep related, the importance of sunlight and sleep lies in the signals that it sends to our brain. Exposure to sunlight is linked to increasing the level of serotonin released into our bodies, which is the hormone associated with increased moods as well as higher levels of focus. Darker light is linked to triggering the release of melatonin, the hormone that tells your body it’s time to sleep.
An easy way to fit in your sun exposure can be as simple as keeping blinds open during the day or enjoying your morning coffee outside. If you want to take it one step further, go for a walk during the day. By planning ahead, you’ll be able to improve your quality of sleep from the moment you wake up.
5. Resist the urge to nap
As hard as this may be, try to resist the urge to nap for more than 20 minutes even if you’ve had a sleepless night. There are benefits to napping, such as increased alertness, enhanced reaction time as well as a general sense of feeling rejuvenated. However if you’re already having a tough time falling asleep, naps probably aren’t the best idea for you.
Napping for longer than 20 minutes can end up leaving you with sleep inertia — that groggy, disoriented feeling you get after waking up from a deep sleep. This can last longer if you’re sleep deprived and end up making you feel worse than you did before. But if your body is telling you that it needs to rest, listen to it. Just aim to nap before 3pm and remember to set an alarm. This way you’re least likely to interfere with your body’s routine and overall quality of sleep later on in the night.
The Bottom Line
Improving your quality of sleep isn’t something you can do overnight (no pun intended). Like most healthy habits we incorporate into our lives, you’ll need to commit to a routine. So be patient with yourself, and remember that practice makes perfect.
A poor night’s sleep can be mentally and physically debilitating, impacting both your world at home and at work. So getting enough rest should be a priority. If you’re finding that lack of sleep is becoming a serious issue, speaking to a medical practitioner may be the best option for you. The Australian Sleep Association has their own sleep services directory, or simply reach out to your GP to kickstart your journey to improve your quality of sleep.