Are your sleep problems normal?

Normal sleep patterns and how to improve sleep.

Sleep problems are very common, but they are NOT normal. Up to 45% of Australians reported they have disturbed sleep that affects their health in 2017. However, sleep is one of the most important factors in achieving and maintaining overall optimal health. For example, did you know that quality sleep is one of the most important variables in weight loss? Or that if you regularly have broken sleep patterns (because of shift work, a loud bed partner, kids waking at night, etc.), it affects your circadian rhythm – and in the long term, your life span?!

So why don’t we all sleep well or prioritise our sleep? I think a big part of it is to do with our 24/7 lifestyle. The majority of us are always working. The increased availability of internet means that many people literally never switch off (25% of Australia’s are on the internet right up to the moment they switch off and go to bed!). They are constantly plugged in and their minds and bodies don’t get much rest. And when rest finally comes, there are still screens in bedrooms, phones plugged in next beds, people doing emails late at night, just to name a few. Even kids are watching TV before bed in many families. These sorts of activities are not conducive to a good nights sleep. Poor sleep in a busy lifestyle is often compounded by a lack of exercise and healthy eating habits, further deteriorating good health.

There are also the physical components of getting a good nights sleep. What sort of mattress do you have? How old is it? Is your pillow older than 6 months? What is the temperature in the room? (Ideal room temperature is 21-24 degrees.) Do you have block out blinds?

How about electromagnetic considerations? Are all the power points switched off in the room? Is the Wi-Fi off in the house? Where are the beds situated in the room? (You want to make sure the head of the bed is not situated close to power boxes outside, for example!) These aspects are just the tip of the ice berg that can effect the quality of your sleep.

Lack of sleep doesn’t make us just feel tired, it affects our bodies ability to heal, lose weight, our mood, concentration, ability to digest food, and ability to perform complex activities, such as driving safely. In a 2017 sleep survey, 29% of people reported feeling drowsy regularly when they drive, with 19% of people saying they have had a micro sleep at the wheel! That’s scary stuff!

If you experience the following, changes are that your sleep needs some serious attention:

  • If you wake up tired
  • If you have energy slumps in the day
  • If you wake up during the night and can’t get back to sleep
  • If you grind or clench your teeth
  • If you wake up feeling stiff and sore

If you experience any of the above symptoms, there are some great articles and tips in this newsletter to help you with your sleep, and there is also information for those of you who are pregnant. I have a lot of clinical experience with helping clients increase their sleep quality as sleep is one of the first things I assess and address with my clients, so I have also included some of my top tips for improving sleep:

  • Go to bed and get up at the same time each day to support your circadian rhythm (our body’s rhythm that regulates our waking and sleeping periods)
  • Avoid overstimulation before bedtime (avoid TV, computers, phones, bright lights etc. If you need to work on your computer or phone at night, you can download F.lux – an app that blocks the blue light from your computer and phone screen or you can buy blue light blocker glasses)
  • Avoid sugar and stimulants, especially after lunch and never within 3 hours of bedtime
  • Ensure you have a good mattress and contour pillow (if your spine is not supported then it can create tension and wake you up)
  • Unplug all power points within 3 metres of the head of your bed, keep your mobile phone away and turn off the WiFi to decrease electromagnetic radiation disturbance
  • Make sure your room is as dark as possible, as blue light inhibits melatonin (your sleep hormone) secretion – use black out blinds or a face mask
  • Seeing the sun rise and set is a great way to reset / maintain your circadian rhythm and assist with sleep patterns
  • Minimise noise as much as possible – even if that means using ear plugs
  • Keep your sleeping quarters cool (21-24 degrees is believed to be ideal) but try not to have fans or air conditioners blowing directly on you
  • Exercise during the day, but not too close to bedtime. Prioritise activities like Tai chi and yoga that are relaxing rather than stimulating at night
  • Ensure you have positive thoughts and practice mindfulness activities, such as meditate, affirmations, gratitude list, praying, colouring in, stretching, taking warm baths, connecting with loved ones (but not on the phone!)
  • Try some nutritional and herbal remedies such as magnesium (to promote muscle relaxation), or valerian root, chamomile and passionflower (which are sleep inducing and relaxing). Metagenics make a wonderful stress relieving sleep formal called NeuroCalm Sleep)
  • Try meditation techniques, apps and music that promote delta brainwaves – brainwaves that are emitted in a state which induces deep sleep
  • Try the 4-7-8 TrickPioneered by Dr. Andrew Weil, 4-7-8 breathing is one of the simplest yet most effective tools you can use to access instant calm. Simply inhale through your nose for a count of 4, gently hold this breath for 7 counts and exhale slowly for another count of 8.

Every little change you make now affects your entire health and the quality of your life! So start small, feel better, make changes that are sustainable and watch your productivity and happiness soar.

Author: Kate Wood

Kate has represented Australia as an 800m runner, winning five Australian titles and competing on the international stage. She also lectured track & field at the Australian College of Physical Education. After being forced into an early retirement due to injury, Kate turned to helping others with their health and wellness, with a special focus on families, pre-conception, pregnancy and paediatrics.

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