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I Asked A Sleep Doctor What I’m Doing Wrong; Here’s What I Discovered

Avoid using your bed for anything other than sleep or sex.

If the best kind of nap is the one where you wake up unsure what year it is, the best kind of sleep is the one where you wake up actually feeling prepared to throw off the covers—a rare sensation for most of us. As a double espresso connoisseur and an early adopter of the ‘zombie chic’ look, I thought I would consult a professional to see if my tardy ways could be countered.

Fortunately for my self-esteem (but rather unfortunately for Australia), I’m not alone: recent statistics show that an estimated 1.5 million Australians aged 20 years and over have sleep disorders.

And as sleep medicine specialist and national spokesperson, Dr Justin Hundloe, told me, with life getting increasingly busier for the modern-day Aussie, it’s ever more important that we get enough sleep—and have the tools to do it.

According to Justin, many sleep disorders are also strongly connected to cardiovascular disease (CVD), with poor sleep quality potentially causing or contributing to CVD, and CVD also potentially disturbing sleep—a vicious, yawn-inducing cycle.

“More than 50% of patients with heart failure have sleep abnormalities.”

Suffice to say: getting enough quality z’s is crucial. But you can’t just decide to get a good night’s sleep—you have to set yourself up for it. Luckily for you (and me) Justin was kind enough to spill his top 13 tips for getting a better night’s sleep, in honour of World Sleep Day.

Have at ’em.

Go To Sleep At The Same Time Each Night (& Get Up At The Same Time Each Morning)

As a passionate weekend lie-in advocate, I was quick to pull the doc up on this claim. “Surely it’s better to catch up on the sleep you missed Monday to Friday than not do it at all?”, I asked. However Justin—a medical professional—had different ideas: “Yes, this does include the weekend. A regular sleep schedule needs to be consistent for the body’s internal clock to work at its best.”

How’s that? As Justin explains, “A consistent sleep schedule is required to promote melatonin production and release, a hormone which regulates the sleep cycle.” Thus, although the ideal sleep and wake times vary depending on the person’s age, level of daily activity and overall health, the one constant is that the schedule should be… constant.

“As we cannot suggest a ‘one size, fits all’ sleep schedule, it is best to set a schedule that works best for the individual and promote consistency.”

Oh and before you go radically changing your nocturnal patterns, remember this: if the sleep schedule needs to be adjusted, it is best to be done slowly: “When the sleep pattern is disrupted, it may result in increased daytime tiredness or difficulty getting to sleep.”

Don’t Take Naps During The Day

Although you may have seen the recent study, which suggested napping can be beneficial for your health (potentially even lowering your blood pressure), Doctor Hundloe says that further research is required to validate these findings, and that you should treat napping as an occasional indulgence (or avoid it altogether) rather than rely on it to get you through the day.

“It is not that we encourage people not to nap; rather, we emphasise that if overnight sleep is regular and without interruption, there should be no need for a daytime nap.”

When daytime tiredness resulting in the need for a nap becomes a regular occurrence, Doctor Hundloe recommends you consult your GP.

Go To Bed Only When You Are Drowsy

According to the doc, one of the best things you can do to help get a good night’s sleep is to wait until you are drowsy to go to bed. You should also avoid spending too much time on your phone, computer or TV in the hour before bed, “As this can have a negative effect.”

However, if it is getting late and you still aren’t feeling drowsy, there are a number of things you can do to help yourself relax before hitting the sheets: “Try reading a book, listening to calming music, taking a bath or making a to-do list, this will take away any lingering stresses you have about the next day and prevent ‘worry time.'”

Avoid Caffeine & Alcohol Within Six Hours Of Bedtime

To help ensure you are in the optimal condition to get a good sleep, Justin says you should avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and strenuous exercise in the hours leading up to bedtime. So preheat the decaf’s and chuck that dark chocolate out, quick smart…

“It takes about six hours for one half of the caffeine intake to be eliminated from the body.”

How do you determine if you are a “heavy” caffeine user? “Heavy use of caffeine is classed as approximately four or more cups of coffee a day,” says Justin, “So determining when to stop drinking coffee would depend on a number of factors, such as how much caffeine has been consumed from all sources—not just the obvious caffeine intake in your daily cup of coffee.”

Avoid The Use Of Nicotine Close To Bedtime Or During The Night

Forget your lungs—nicotine is not a smart option for your sleep cycle, either.

Obtain Regular Exercise, But Avoid Strenuous Exercise Four Hours Before Bedtime

Start hitting up the gym in the morning, and who knows—the bags under your eyes could just disappear.

Avoid Eating A Heavy Meal Late In The Day

Unless you’re on holiday in Spain (and have had a lengthy siesta to process that seven-course lunch), try and have an easily digestible meal before bedtime, and keep the sirloin steaks for lunchtime.

 

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Minimise Light, Noise & Extreme Temperatures In The Bedroom

Unless you’re one of those weirdos that can only fall asleep to the tune of a top volume TV and vacuum cleaner (if you are; seek help immediately), try to make your sleep cave as conducive to sleep as possible.

Follow A Routine To Help You Relax Before Sleep

“Read a book, listen to music, or take a bath.”

Avoid Using Your Bed For Anything Other Than Sleep Or Sex

What’s not to love?

Try Making A To-Do List Before You Go To Bed

This will prevent what the doc calls, “Worry Time.”

Avoid Clock Watching

If you’re not sleeping, don’t make it worse by stressing over the fact you’re not sleeping (granted, this is easier said than done). Maybe try taking another bath?

If You Have Ongoing Sleep Issues Seek Professional Medical Advice

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, it’s necessary to call in the big guns. After all: a quick consultation could save you oodles of time (and sleep) in the long run.

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