It’s impossible to overstate the importance of a good night’s sleep. In his 2019 bestseller Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, Matthew Walker writes that sleep “enriches our ability to learn, memorize, and make logical decisions [and also] recalibrates our emotions, restocks our immune system, fine-tunes our metabolism, and regulates our appetite.” High-quality sleep can reduce stress, alleviate depression, and improve longevity: as Walker writes, “the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life span”.
There’s just one problem, and it’s a big one too. Most of us aren’t getting a good night’s sleep. According to the Sleep Health Foundation, inadequate sleep affects 33-45% of Australian adults, with nearly a quarter (23%) reporting that their typical weekday routine of work or home duties does not allow them to get enough sleep. The result? From poor mental health to fatigue-related injuries, the total cost of inadequate sleep in Australia was estimated to be $66.3 billion between 2016 and 2017. So, what can you do to get a better night’s sleep?
Here are six tips you can put in place tonight.
Increase bright light during the day, decrease it at night
Your body has a natural sleep cycle known as the circadian rhythm. This rhythm is modulated by a hormone called melatonin, the production of which is related to light exposure. Natural light (or sunlight) suppresses melatonin levels, which increase at a stable rate after the sun sets and the amount of light in our environment decreases. That is… unless we spend each evening in a brightly lit setting, like an office, sitting beneath fluorescent bulbs. So, to make sure you’re not overstimulated at night, limit your exposure to bright lights for at least an hour and a half before going to bed.
Go easy on the caffeine
Caffeine is the world’s favourite stimulant, with Australians consuming an average of two kilograms of coffee beans each every year. But, while coffee is undoubtedly delicious, it’s active ingredient can mess with your sleep patterns. As Matthew Walker writes:
“Caffeine has an average half-life of five to seven hours. Let’s say that you have a cup of coffee after your evening dinner, around 7:30 p.m. This means that by 1:30 a.m., 50 per cent of that caffeine may still be active and circulating throughout your brain tissue. In other words, by 1:30 a.m., you're only halfway to completing the job of cleansing your brain of the caffeine you drank after dinner.”
The lesson here is obvious. Coffee is a morning drink. If you’re serious about sleep, skip the after-dinner espresso and have a chamomile tea instead.
Consistency is key
Your circadian rhythm runs on a set loop that aligns itself with sunrise and sunset. A night owl isn’t somebody who can only be productive at night; it’s somebody who is in the habit of being productive at night. In the same way that your body can adapt to the sleep rhythms appropriate to a different time zone, it can adapt to the rhythms appropriate to a lifestyle change (for example, sleeping earlier in the evening and getting up for a jog before work). The critical ingredient is consistency.
Keep your bedroom cool
Body and bedroom temperature have a profound impact on sleep quality. Surprisingly, it’s harder to sleep in a warmer bedroom than a cool one, as anybody who’s struggled to sleep during summer can confirm. Research shows that increased body and bedroom temperature can decrease sleep quality and increase wakefulness. So, whenever possible, keep your room at around 20 degrees and use a blanket if you get too cold.
Relax in the evening
Research has shown that using relaxation techniques before bed can improve sleep quality and mitigate the symptoms of insomnia. So, whether you relax by meditating or by taking a long shower, give your mind a chance to decompress before you head to bed. That also means that you should...
Leave your electronic devices outside the bedroom
Okay, we know this one is harder than it sounds for most people. After all, what if you use your treasured smartphone as an alarm clock? Well, at the very least, consider using an application like Night Shift of Flux to reduce the amount of blue light produced by your phone or tablet screen. Let yourself get sleepy: you're supposed to! You’ll thank yourself when you wake up the next morning feeling refreshed.
It's also important to be aware of our energy levels whilst we are at work! It can definitely be connected to OHS. For more on workplace safety, click here.