Do you rely on an alarm clock to wake up each morning? Do you need a coffee to stay awake during the day? Do you try to catch up on sleep during the weekends?
If you answered "yes" to any of the above, you are probably among the tired majority of Australians that don't get enough sleep.
The amount of sleep we require varies from person to person. However, studies indicate that most of us require between 6 to 8 hours.
Below are eight key principles to help you achieve that perfect night's sleep and to feel totally refreshed throughout the day:
Principle one: make sleep a priority
Even though we spend around a quarter of our lives asleep, few recognise its impact on almost every aspect of our lives. Contrary to public perception, sleep is not a luxury but a necessity that is equally important to achieving a healthy lifestyle as a balanced diet and regular exercise. Sleep has the power to restore, rejuvenate, and energise your body and brain to enhance other important aspects, such as alertness, energy, mood, body weight, perception, memory, thinking, reaction time, productivity, performance, communication skills, creativity, safety, and good health.
Principle two: regularise your sleep schedule
Sleeping and waking at the same time each day is crucial to keeping your body rhythms in sync. Research has shown that even a small change of a few hours in your sleep schedule can significantly impair your mood. That is why shiftworkers are more prone to anxiety and depression than people who sleep regular hours.
To determine how much sleep you require, try going to bed fifteen minutes earlier than usual and waking at the same time for a week. Then assess whether you feel more alert and refreshed. If you do, repeat this process until you feel totally energised and are able to sleep soundly, and awaken spontaneously in the morning without an alarm clock.
Principle three: don't go to bed unless you're sleepy
As intuitive as this may sound, it is a common problem for people who feel stressed, depressed, or bored. Elderly people with medical conditions often have this problem too. Instead of improving sleep, lying in bed for too long can lead to more shallow and fragmented sleep. The maintenance of a regular bedtime schedule and the avoidance of long naps go a long way in promoting deeper and longer sleep.
Principle four: manage your stress
Winding down physically and mentally is essential to good sleep. For this reason, avoid stressful activities such as paying bills, watching a murder mystery on TV, or thinking about a stressful event in your life. Instead, engage in relaxing exercises or rituals just before bedtime.
Principle five: keep a relaxed atmosphere within the bedroom
Maintain the bedroom for relaxation and rest, not stress and tension. The room should be used only for sleep and sex.
To maintain a relaxing atmosphere keep the bedroom dark and quiet, as this sends a signal to the brain that it is time to sleep. Room temperature is important as well. An overly warm room can disrupt sleep. Alternatively, a cool room promotes a decline in body temperature, which is critical for restful sleep. Keep in mind, however, that cold feet may slow, rather than speed this process, by turning up your internal thermostat. Therefore keep your feet warm!
Principle six: watch what you drink
Avoid caffeine within six hours of bedtime, as it can delay sleep onset and disturb deep sleep. Similarly, the intake of alcohol is not good for sleep either. While it may help you to sleep faster, alcohol causes sleep fragmentation, which means constant awakenings throughout the night, sometimes with a hangover. A drink before or during dinner should be fine, however, avoid consumption within three hours of bedtime.
Principle seven: stop smoking
Apart from its carcinogenic properties, nicotine is an even stronger stimulant than caffeine. This combined with nicotine withdrawal symptoms, which can start two or three hours after the last puff, can lead to difficulty falling and staying asleep. Research has shown that "two-pack-a-day" smokers who quit cut the time they lay awake in bed by almost half.
Principle eight: exercise before dinnertime
Regular exercise improves sleep for two reasons. Firstly, it raises your endorphin levels which in turn reduces pain, relaxes muscles, suppresses appetite and produces a general feeling of well being. This does wonders in promoting deeper, more efficient and restful sleep.
Secondly, exercise elevates your core body temperature. Five to six hours following a good workout, your body's temperature will drop, inducing drowsiness and deeper sleep. The ideal time for exercise is noontime or late afternoon. Morning exercise does little to improve sleep. Remember to avoid strenuous exercise within three hours of bedtime, as the release of adrenaline can increase alertness making it more difficult to relax enough to sleep.