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Dream the impossible dream: 7 sleep hygiene hacks for better health

August 2018 Print
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Seven sleep hygiene hacks supporting better health and wellbeing

Staring at the ceiling at 3am is no fun for anyone and when the call of deep slumber seems like an impossible dream, it can take a huge toll on your mental, physical and emotional health.

Four in 10[1] Australian adults suffer some form of inadequate sleep[2] and its more than just tiredness

There are three main causes of inadequate sleep: disorders such as insomnia, restless leg syndrome and sleep apnoea; other health conditions such as obesity, anxiety, depression, pain, breathlessness and side effects of medications; while lifestyle and behavioural factors such as study, work, partying, shift work and circadian interruption like jetlag may also contribute to inadequate sleep.[3]

This lack of adequate sleep can affect judgement, mood, learning, retention of information and may increase the risk of serious accidents and injury. Chronic longer-term deprivation may also lead to a host of health problems including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early mortality.[4] Sleep is essential for effective mental and metabolic functioning[5] with studies showing people who regularly sleep less than six hours per night more likely to have a higher than average body mass index (BMI) while those who sleep eight hours have the lowest BMI[6].

Researchers have also found that even a single night of inadequate sleep in people with hypertension can cause elevated blood pressure throughout the following day while chronic sleep issues have been correlated with depression, anxiety, and mental distress[7]. And sleep disorders such as insomnia, restless legs syndrome and obstructive sleep apnoea may lead to heart disease, obesity, depression and a range of other serious health conditions.[8]

The cost to Australia’s health system attributable to inadequate sleep is estimated at $1,816 million[9]

There are other financial costs of inadequate sleep too – workplace productivity declines through absenteeism and presenteeism, there are costs such as aids and modifications, legal costs and insurance costs attributed to motor vehicle accidents and workplace injuries, etc.[10] 

In fact, researchers found that the total cost of inadequate sleep in Australia in 2016-2017 was estimated to be $66.3 billion – equating to approximately $8,968 per person in both financial and loss of wellbeing costs combined.[11]

Around half[12] of people suffering inadequate sleep can take better steps towards their sleep hygiene

For 52 per cent of us, it’s not caused by a medical conditions, rather is driven by factors that, in most cases, we have some form of control over. For example, a quarter[13] of all adult Australians use the internet most or every night of the week before bed[14] and this may contribute to frequent sleep difficulties or daytime impairments[15].

 Our lifestyle choices are something we do have a greater level of input into – we can switch of our screens and eat better and get more exercise – here are seven[16] simple hacks towards a better night’s sleep and overall better health and wellbeing.

  1. Watch what you eat: Avoid stimulating foods and drinks and large meals in the afternoon and evenings. Remember, caffeine, alcohol and nicotine can all disrupt sleep.
  2. Do a digital detox: Say goodnight to screen time and blue light at least one hour before bed and stop using all your tech (phones, computers and TV) too.
  3. Sleep in a sanctuary: Ensure your bedroom is cool, dark and quiet; put some drops of lavender oil on your pillow, and try white noise, calming music meditation or breathing practices to help you relax.
  4. Get moving outdoors: Regular exposure to natural daylight and regular exercise are both imperative, so why not combine them.
  5. Try and set a sleep schedule: A consistent sleep-wake routine as is avoiding the daytime nap. However, if you are suffering the effects of lack of sleep, a 20-30 minute nap may help to improve your mood and alertness.
  6. Seek assistance from a sleep practitioner: Don’t put up with prolonged sleep deprivation. There are techniques that professionals can support you with that may aid a better night’s sleep. Also see you GP to check for underlying conditions that may also be driving sleep disorders.
  7. Supplement with a natural remedy: Herbs such as kava, lavender and withania may help reduce restlessness and nervous tension and relieve mild anxiety, sleeplessness and insomnia symptoms. Lavender oil can have a sedating effect and may relax certain muscles[17]; kava is coveted for promoting relaxation, elevating mood and its sedative effects[18]; while withania improves your body's ability to adapt to stress, improves wellbeing and aids sleep[19]. But, please seek professional medical advice first— as a healthcare practitioners recommendation can help guide you along your health journey.

Sleep disturbances may be caused by serious medical conditions and you should consult your healthcare practitioner to discuss your particular needs to optimise your health. 

[1] 39.8 per cent

[2] Sleep Health Foundation and Deloitte Access Economics, Asleep on the job, Costs of inadequate sleep in Australia, August 2017, viewed 16 April 2018

[3] Sleep Health Foundation and Deloitte Access Economics, Asleep on the job, Costs of inadequate sleep in Australia, August 2017, viewed 16 April 2018

[4] Division of Sleep Medicine, Consequences of Insufficient Sleep, Harvard Medical School, viewed 14 April 2018

[5] Sleep Health Foundation and Deloitte Access Economics, ibid.

[6] Division of Sleep Medicine, Sleep and Disease Risk, Harvard Medical School, viewed 14 April 2018

[7] Division of Sleep Medicine, Sleep and Disease Risk, ibid.

[8] Sleep Health Foundation and Deloitte Access Economics, ibid.

[9] In 2016-2017. Sleep Health Foundation and Deloitte Access Economics, ibid.

[10] Sleep Health Foundation and Deloitte Access Economics, ibid.

[11] Sleep Health Foundation and Deloitte Access Economics, ibid.

[12] 52 per cent. Sleep Health Foundation and Deloitte Access Economics, ibid.

[13] 26 per cent

[14] Adams, S Appleton, A Taylor, D McEvoy, N Antic, Report to the Sleep Health Foundation

2016 Sleep Health Survey of Australian Adults, The University of Adelaide - The Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health, viewed 16 April 2018

[15] Adams, et al, ibid.

[16] National Sleep Foundation, What is sleep hygiene, viewed 16 April 2018

[17] WebMD, Lavender, viewed 23 May 2018

[18] Victoria State Government, Better Health Channel, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/kava

[19] R Goldman, Ashwagandha: Health Benefits and Side Effects, Healthline, https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/ashwagandha-health-benefits

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