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With more and more people suffering from poor sleep, here are some expert-approved ways to help give you quality shut-eye night after night.
Ever experienced that groggy, grumpy feeling after a poor night’s sleep? Experts warn it’s happening now more than ever. “Modern society appears to be chronically sleep deprived,” remarks Alon Y. Avidan, Professor of Neurology and the Director of the Department of Neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, Los Angeles and member of the global network of Best Doctors specialists.
While one bad night can cause a depleted physical and mental state, the cumulative effects can be more dangerous. “Studies have shown that sleep deprivation causes impairments in performance, concentration, and memory, and that chronic poor sleep can be a risk factor for obesity and hypertension,” says Professor Avidan.
So how can we avoid this epidemic, and make sure we sleep right every night? Firstly, we need to know this: “Sleep onset is not something we can control. We can only create the right conditions for sleep, both in our minds and in our environment,” says the Sleep Health Foundation.
Thankfully the topic is heavily researched, with many recommendations to try, including consistency of sleep-wake cycles - that’s going to bed and waking up at the same time each day - and prioritising sleep. Here are a few more proven methods.
In a recent review of 34 studies published in Advances in Preventive Medicine (October 2017) that researched the link between physical activity and sleep, it was found that in 85 per cent of cases exercise was beneficial for both sleep quality and duration. “Vigorous exercise should be done in either the morning or late afternoon, and aim for 40 minutes each day,” advises Professor Avidan. “Try relaxing exercise, such as yoga, before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep,” he adds.
Some sleep experts recommend spending a few minutes each day writing down any worries and plans for how to address them. Even just jotting down your next day’s to-do list can help. Even if you’re not particularly anxious, thoughts can whirr in your mind the minute your head hits the pillow, making it difficult to fall asleep, but if you’ve ticked this off earlier in the day, you may find you’re more relaxed come bedtime.
What and when we eat can also affect slumber. “It’s best to eat two to three hours before bedtime, so your body isn’t digesting food,” says Accredited Practising Dietitan Skye Swaney.
And a word about the type of meals: “Avoid heavy meals and spicy dishes, especially if you have heartburn,” says Professor Avidan. “Steer clear of stimulants including caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime, too,” he adds. “While alcohol is known to speed the onset of sleep, it disrupts the second-half of sleep as the body begins to metabolise the alcohol, causing sleep arousal.”
How comfortable you are in bed can of course make a difference. “Regardless of sleep position, a pillow should keep your head, neck and shoulders aligned with the spine,” says Professor Avidan. He recommends the following for different types of sleepers. If you sleep on your back, look for a pillow that nestles your head at a neutral height; side sleepers should go for firm, contoured pillows with a wave shape to cradle the head; and if you sleep on your stomach, try pillows that compress and flatten as you sleep to help reduce stress on your back.
Ideally your bedroom will be dark with light-blocking window coverings, cool – about 18 degrees Celsius is best, low tech (with no TVs, computers and phones), and for sleep and sex only. To help induce sleep, try these relaxation techniques every night. “Limit bright screen exposure preferably two hours before bed and follow a wind-down ritual of muscle relaxation, music, and breathing,” says Professor Avidan.
“Adequate sleep duration is 7.5-9 hours for adults, and 10-12 hours for children,” says Professor Avidan.
With an eligible policy from MLC Life Insurance, you and certain of your family members can access Best Doctors – a service which connects you with a network of more than 50,000 leading medical specialists from Australia and around the world for a second medical opinion when you need it most, helping to ensure you have the right diagnosis and treatment plan. Learn more about Best Doctors.
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