A lack of quality sleep affects up to 4 in 10 Australian adults. Like cricket or sausage sizzles, getting a good night's sleep has become a national obsession.
A lack of quality sleep at night can make you cranky the next day. And over time, skimping on sleep can mess up more than just your morning mood. Studies show getting quality sleep on a regular basis can help improve all sorts of issues, like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and more. Lack of sleep also affects mood, motivation, judgment and learning.
We devote around 7 to 8 hours to sleep each night in adulthood and ten to 12 hours in childhood. This amounts to around 200,000 hours in our first 60 years of life. Not getting enough sleep does a disservice to our brain and physical health. But how can we improve our chances of getting a good night’s rest?
According to a systematic review by the University of Texas at Austin, bathing 1-2 hours before bedtime in water that's 40-42°C in temperature can significantly improve your sleep. It also speeds-up, by an average of 10 minutes, how long it can take to fall asleep.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to take a full bath at night, simply bathing your feet in hot water can help you relax and improve sleep.
Getting better sleep after you start exercising may also be explained by improved psychological functioning. Exercise promotes well-being and self-esteem, and decreases anxiety and symptoms of depression.
One study in older adults determined that exercise nearly halved the amount of time it took to fall asleep and provided 41 more minutes of sleep at night.
Exercise reduced time to fall asleep by 55%, total night wakefulness by 30%, and anxiety by 15% while increasing total sleep time by 18%.
Although daily exercise is key for a good night’s sleep, performing it too late in the day may cause sleep problems.
This is due to the stimulatory effect of exercise, which increases alertness and hormones like epinephrine and adrenaline.
Exercise is one of the best science-backed ways to improve your sleep and health. However, some studies show no negative effects, so it clearly depends on the individual.
Your body has a natural time-keeping clock known as your circadian rhythm.
It affects your brain, body, and hormones, helping you stay awake and telling your body when it’s time to sleep
Natural sunlight or bright light during the day helps keep your circadian rhythm healthy. This improves daytime energy, as well as nighttime sleep quality and duration.
A similar study in older adults found that 2 hours of bright light exposure during the day increased the amount of sleep by 2 hours and sleep efficiency by 80%.
While most research involves people with severe sleep issues, daily light exposure will most likely help you even if you experience average sleep.
Try getting daily sunlight exposure or — if this is not practical — invest in an artificial bright light device or bulbs.
Caffeine has numerous benefits and is consumed by 90% of the people.
A single dose can enhance focus, energy, and sports performance.
However, when consumed late in the day, caffeine stimulates your nervous system and may stop your body from naturally relaxing at night.
In one study, consuming caffeine up to 6 hours before bed significantly worsened sleep quality.
Caffeine can stay elevated in your blood for 6–8 hours. Therefore, drinking large amounts of coffee after 3–4 p.m. is not recommended, especially if you’re sensitive to caffeine or have trouble sleeping.
If you do crave a cup of coffee in the late afternoon or evening, stick with decaffeinated coffee.
While short power naps are beneficial, long or irregular napping during the day can negatively affect your sleep.
Sleeping in the daytime can confuse your internal clock, meaning that you may struggle to sleep at night.
In fact, in one study, participants ended up being sleepier during the day after taking daytime naps .
Another study noted that while napping for 30 minutes or less can enhance daytime brain function, longer naps can harm health and sleep quality.
However, some studies demonstrate that those who are used to taking regular daytime naps don’t experience poor sleep quality or disrupted sleep at night.
If you take regular daytime naps and sleep well, you shouldn’t worry. The effects of napping depend on the individual.
Long daytime naps may impair sleep quality. If you have trouble sleeping at night, stop napping or shorten your naps.
Apart from the relaxing environment, bed quality can also affect sleep.
One study looked at the benefits of a new mattress, revealing that it reduced back pain by 57%, shoulder pain by 60%, and back stiffness by 59%. It also improved sleep quality by 60%.
Other studies point out that new bedding can enhance sleep. Additionally, poor quality bedding can lead to increased lower back pain.
The best mattress and bedding are extremely subjective. If you’re upgrading your bedding, base your choice on personal preference.
It’s recommended that you upgrade your bedding at least every 5–8 years.
Your bed, mattress, and pillow can greatly affect sleep quality and joint or back pain. Try to buy a high quality bedding — including a mattress.
Sleep plays a key role in your health. One large review linked insufficient sleep to an increased risk of obesity by 89% in children and 55% in adults. Other studies conclude that getting less than 7–8 hours per night increases your risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
If you’re interested in optimal health and well-being, it’s recommended that you make sleep a top priority and incorporate some of the tips above.