With countless distractions and entertainment just a few clicks and swipes away, ensuring a good night’s sleep is an act that, for many, has to be practised with diligence.
The problems associated with poor sleep hygiene are well documented. It can affect a person’s state of mind and work productivity, leading to a difficult cycle where poor sleep inflames everyday stressors.
According to Sleep Health Foundation CEO Moira Junge, inadequate sleep can lead to detrimental health outcomes.
“Lack of sleep can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, dementia and an overall decline in cognitive function,” Dr Junge said.
These are fairly well known and discussed side effects, but Dr Junge said there were some side effects that were not such common knowledge.
“One under-discussed aspect of bad sleep is weight management,” she said. “People who don’t get enough sleep are at a greater risk of obesity, because the hormones we release relating to hunger are negatively affected by a lack of sleep.
“This is something that needs to be considered if you are trying to lose weight.”
Know what works for you
Dr Junge said while sleep was a modifiable habit, there was no one-size-fits-all solution.
“For example, one person may be able to drink a coffee and still be able to sleep, whereas others can’t have a coffee after 12pm,” she said.
“The sleep world is full of a lot of individual differences and it’s really important to point that out.
“There’s not one, single thing that everyone needs to take hold of – it’s more about general principles and what works for you.”
A good first step when it comes to getting better rest is to think about the conditions of your day that lead to troubled sleep and restless nights.
“The right approach is to think about the whole 24 hours and how that affects your night,” Dr Junge said.
“For example, if you have a day where you keep your alcohol and caffeine intake in check and manage your stress, you’re off to a good start.
“One good way to manage stress is to go to bed with a completed to-do list.”
Another strategy to reap some of the rewards of a refreshing sleep is taking a power nap in the afternoon.
“The good thing about a power nap is by definition it is less than 20 minutes, so it won’t interfere with your night,” Dr Junge said.
“If you take a nap after around 4-6pm, however, that can certainly interfere.”
Power off before you power down
As far as sleeping apps go, Dr Junge said no one app was superior to another and that it was just a tool among many.
However, Dr Junge was adamant on the importance of switching off before bed.
“The stimulation and busyness the phone offers can impact sleep,” she said. “It’s important to switch off an hour before bedtime, preferably longer.”
Where to go from here
Dr Junge said there was still a lot to do in terms of aiding people with insomnia.
“Australia has a lot of clinical and research expertise, but we have a long way to go in terms of resources available to people experiencing insomnia,” she said. “We’re doing our best at Sleep Health Foundation but we need more funding to improve our offerings.
“A big problem for people with sleep problems is knowing where to turn and what to do next, and we definitely need to get good-quality, accurate and affordable solutions, resources and support out to the general public.”