Do you feel tired?
Find yourself forgetting more easily or experiencing lack of mental clarity?
Do you take unplanned naps during the day (or feel the need to)?
All of these may be a sign that you are not getting enough sleep. And you wouldn't be alone. Poor sleep is a problem affecting 33-45% of Australian adults (Adams et al. 2017).
Lack of sleep is affecting how Australians perform across the country, at schools, workplaces and even on the roads.
Importance of sleep
Needless to say, sleep is important.
In fact, sleep disorders have been reported to underlie 9.1% of work related injuries, 7.6% of traffic accidents, 8.3% of depression and even play a role in diseases such as diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure) .
Lack of sleep not only affects one's physical health, but also their mental and emotional health. Just ask someone who woke up on the wrong side of the bed this Morning (at your own risk). So, how much is good enough?
How much sleep do you need?
How much sleep you need varies from person to person and changes as we get older.
Generally, 7-9 hours are recommended for most adults while 6 hours, but no less, may be appropriate. For older people (over 65 years of age), 7-8 hours are recommended while 5-6 may also be appropriate.
Did you know? Not all sleep is equal. There are in fact different types of sleep. Through the night, we generally cycle through different phases of sleep. I won't get into the details of REM and NREM sleep (can't risk anyone falling asleep while reading this post).
If you would like more information, please refer to Sleep Health Foundation website [link below].
Therefore, sleep is not simply about quantity but also quality.
Reasons for poor sleep
There are many reasons for not getting restful sleep. Here are a few reasons I commonly come across in my clinical practice:
Pain - usually joint, muscle or nerve related
Stress and anxiety
Toilet runs - particularly common amongst some older clients
Shift work - clients that work at different hours during the week or those who do evening shifts
Poor sleep hygiene behaviours - engaging in certain behaviours during the day or right before going to bed
Specific sleep conditions (such as sleep apnoea)
While some of these reasons need specific medical attention or treatment, others can easily be addressed, leading to better sleep.
How well do you sleep?
Now you know how important sleep is, and how long you should be sleeping. The question to ask yourself is, 'how well do I sleep?'
You may simply give yourself a rating from 1-5 (1-very poor to 5-excellent). However, if you are serious about better understanding your sleeping pattern, you will need to keep track of it. I often recommend to my clients to maintain a sleep diary. You have 2 options:
Option 1 - paper/pen
Put a piece of paper on your bedside table and for the next 7 days, record the following:
Time to bed
Time to wake
Sleep duration (hours and mins)
Number of interruptions through the night
Rate how refreshing you found the sleep on a scale from 1-10
You can download the template from holisticep.co/resources.
Option 2 - using your phone
Many clients prefer to use their phones to track their sleep. Once we get past the irony, using your phone can be a more convenient and secure way of keeping this information. The best part is, you have it with you when talking to a doctor or other healthcare professional.
There are several paid and free apps which can help you to track your sleep. Chances are you already have one installed. For Android users, look for Samsung health. If you have an iPhone, you will likely find this feature within your Clock app.
How to improve your sleep?
Maintain a consistent bedtime
Exercise - regular exercise during the day, or a gentle walk in the evening. Avoid vigorous exercise before bed.
Stretches - particularly if they were prescribed to relieve pain
Avoid napping in the late Afternoon
Avoid screen time before bed
Avoid other forms of mental stimulation such as coffee
Avoid eating a meal before bed
Don't try too hard - if you can't fall asleep, get up, do something else and try again later
What to do?
If you do experience poor sleep, a good place to start is by better understanding your sleeping pattern. You can do this by picking one of the two options above. Then, see if making simple changes to your evening routine changes the quality of your sleep.
If you are still concerned about your sleep, speak to your doctor. They may recommend you for a sleep study, which can reveal lots about how well you sleep and particularly how well you breathe while asleep.
If you have found this post interesting and useful, feel free to share.
Adams, Robert J., Sarah L. Appleton, Anne W. Taylor, Tiffany K. Gill, Carol Lang, R. Douglas McEvoy, and Nick A. Antic. 2017. “Sleep Health of Australian Adults in 2016: Results of the 2016 Sleep Health Foundation National Survey.” Sleep Health 3 (1): 35–42.
Great resource - https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hassan Qureshi is the founder and owner of Holistic Exercise Physiology. He believes educating and communicating good science to the wider public is not only important but is the responsibility of every clinician. For this reason he started the Holistic blog.
For more blog posts, subscribe now!