You’ve crawled into bed after a long day and you’re so tired you can barely keep your eyes open. But somehow, even though you’re exhausted, you have a lousy night’s sleep. This problem is more common than you might think. According to research conducted by the Sleep Health Foundation, between 33 and 45 per cent of Australians either struggle to sleep well or don’t sleep for long enough—and it’s impacting on our health and how we function through our days.
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When we don’t get enough sleep, everything is more difficult. It affects our mood, how we feel about ourselves and our lives, the food choices we make (say hello to that 10 am muffin and coffee and 3 pm chocolate biscuit binge!) and how we speak to those we love most in the world. Lack of sleep can increase inflammation in the body, which in turn is a risk factor for type-2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and poor digestive health and it adds another layer of stress to the body since it doesn’t have sufficient time to repair and restore. We can’t fight our biology. Sleep is essential to our very being and getting quality sleep at the recommended 7-9 hours each night can make the world of difference to our energy and vitality.
So, if you’re that tired, why is it you can’t get the sleep your body is craving? Dr Libby Weaver author of Women’s Wellness Wisdom shares some things you might be unwittingly doing that could be impacting on the restorative power of your sleep.
Drinking too much caffeine
If you battle to fall asleep, unable to switch your brain off, and you’re an afternoon or evening coffee drinker, this might be the reason behind your struggles. Caffeine stays in our system for around eight hours so it could be impacting on your ability to wind down enough to fall asleep easily. Find your time threshold on caffeine consumption through the day—typically it is around midday. Reducing coffee consumption to one per day or omitting it for a while can also be incredibly helpful.
Too many screens before bed
There is a lot of evidence that blue light, emitted by smartphones, tablets, laptops and many other electronic devices, is impacting on the quantity and quality of sleep we are getting. Darkness is a natural cue to our bodies that it’s time to sleep, allowing melatonin (our sleep hormone) to be produced. Yet many people are circumnavigating this by staring at bright screens for hours after the sun has gone down and habitually checking their social media or email before they go to bed. Create a new habit of not using backlit devices for 90 minutes prior to sleep if sleep quality is a problem for you. If you must sleep with your phone near you, switch to airplane mode or equivalent to prevent any notifications or noises in the middle of the night.
Asking your body to switch to sleep mode without winding down
If you’re go go go from the moment you wake up in the morning until you turn off your light of an evening, you’re asking a lot of your body to flip into sleep mode immediately. We need to give our bodies and our minds a chance to slow down. Incorporating an evening ritual that allows us to wind down from our day can mean the difference between lying in bed with our minds racing, tossing and turning because we can’t get to sleep and easily drifting off to sleep. Breath work, meditation, gentle stretching, reading a book or even a cup of herbal tea, when done as part of a daily ritual, can signal to the body that it’s time to prepare for sleep.
Keeping the lights bright through the night
Similar to the light emitted from electronic devices, bright lighting can interfere with the signals our body gets that it’s time for rest. Opt for lamp or dimmed lighting at least two hours before bed. If you have street lights visible from your windows, try to block them out with curtains or a blind.
Explore your perception of pressure and urgency
Many people have restless sleep as they mentally review to-do lists and what still needs to be done at night. This can lead to adrenalin production, stimulating the fight or flight response. Adrenalin does not want you to sleep deeply as it communicates to your body that your life is in danger. Keep a pen and paper handy to capture your thoughts for the next day and commit to long, slow diaphragmatic breaths before bed, as the latter helps to decrease stress hormone production and calm the mind.