How To Get The Best Night’s Sleep, Ever
“Contrary to common belief (that we live in a ‘24/7 society’ with the stresses of the modern age), average total sleep times have not decreased over the last 50 years in most countries,” says Gunther Klobe, a researcher modelling sleep/wake dynamics in the human brain at the University of Sydney. So why are we so damn tired all the time?
The omnipresence of glowing electronics, tempting us with their dopamine-inducing social rewards, and our lengthy time spent at work are both disruptive to quality sleep. All that screen time exposes us to artificial light, which suppresses melatonin; the hormone the body secretes at the onset of darkness to make you sleepy.
You can’t cheat your body of sleep
Klobe explains that sleep deprivation has major negative impacts in both the short and the long term: “People think that sleep is a necessary rest phase where the body just pauses and does nothing useful, when in reality, sleep is essential for many processes.”
Our body is an amazing feat of natural engineering. A lot happens while we sleep. If you’re not convinced, Klobe says, “sleeping just one hour less than usual impairs cognitive performance, especially attention and working memory.”
If you continue along the path of sleeping insufficiently, it may lead to “an increased risk of cancer, obesity, cardiovascular disorders, an impaired immune system, depression, schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders. Sleep disorders are also linked to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s or Huntington’s.” Clearly, having a good snooze is important.
As a sleep expert, how does Klobe get horizontal? “Long, very well, and with good grace”, he says, with a winky emoji. Impressively, he wakes up without the aid of an alarm clock and reckons it’s the best way to start the day.
Identifying poor sleeping habits can be difficult, but Klobe outlines a couple: “often feeling tired during the day; sleeping at very irregular hours; and requiring much more sleep on free days (due to ‘sleep debt’).” He advises to watch how you sleep on weekends – “if you are sleeping significantly longer, it’s a sign that you’re not sleeping enough through the week.”
His best tip for improving sleep? “Although every individual’s sleep needs are different, a lot of people tend not to sleep long enough. So my advice would be to get more sleep.” Yes well that sounds lovely, so how do we actually do this?
By practicing good sleep hygiene, of course! Which includes the following:
#1 Banishing electronics from the bedroom
In an ideal situation, the temptation of tech should be left outside the bedroom – the bluish light of screens can mess with your circadian rhythms. However, that’s not always a viable option (especially in a share house), so make sure your phone is on aeroplane mode and pop your laptop into a drawer before sleeping.
If you have to use your computer, try installing f.lux; an app that regulates your screen light depending on the time of day, dimming and altering the colour in the evening to match the lights indoors.
Hard as it is, a total screen ban from an hour or two before sleep is your best bet. It helps you switch off and, importantly, allows your melatonin to multiply happily.
#2 Creating your sanctuary
Think of your bedroom as a sanctuary from the world, and make sure the whole room is primed to send you into a peaceful slumber.
If your sleep environment is lacking, invest in some aids to help you out. If you can’t get blackout curtains, use a serious sleep mask (not a flimsy airline one). You can’t help noisy neighbours or traffic, but ear plugs make a huge difference. If you don’t like wearing them, try a white noise app or the brilliantly boring Sleep With Me podcast. Try and keep the temperature around 18 degrees – it’s usually cited as the optimal sleeping temp.
A clean bedroom and bedding is also recommended – getting rid of dust and other allergens helps on the physical side, and the less clutter you have, the easier it is to relax (now’s the time to start trying out that KonMari method you’ve read so much about). If your mattress and pillows are uncomfortable, it’s worth saving up to replace them.
#3 Routine, routine, routine
Klobe cites irregular sleep hours as a sign of poor sleep habits, so if you find that your sleep time varies a lot, it’s the first thing to adjust. Create a routine your body can adjust (and look forward) to and go to bed at a similar time on the reg.
But if your work or study schedule necessitates irregular hours, you may look to other kinds of routines to help you slow down before bed, such as meditating or reading. A hot bath won’t necessarily work, since your body temperature needs to drop for sleep to occur.
#4 Avoiding stimulation too close to bedtime
That means food, caffeine, sugar, emotional or upsetting conversations, exercise, alcohol, nicotine and Game of Thrones.
#5 Using your bed for bed-related activities
Experts advise only to use your bed for sleep and sex – it’s a way of signalling to the brain that when you’re under the covers, it’s either time to get down or get some shuteye. So, no working, gaming or watching TV – even reading isn’t great.
If you’re lying awake more than 15 minutes, get up and read in dim light until you feel tired.
However, some sleep problems are deeper and need more intensive fixes:
#6 Sleep clinic monitoring
For extremely heavy snorers, sleep apnoea could hinder restful sleep. If you snore badly and feel consistently tired, it might be time to visit the GP who may refer you to a sleep clinic, where they’ll hook you up to a series of monitors and then watch you while you sleep.
Awkward, but worth it: in the worst cases of sleep apnoea, people might stop breathing over 30 times an hour. In those cases, sufferers might be fitted with a CPAP machine or prescribed surgery to remove obstructions.
#7 Cognitive behavioural therapy
If your sleep problems are more serious than just putting away your phone, Klobe explains that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT, has been known to help with issues such as insomnia.
Everyone’s felt the panic of not getting enough sleep, and the worry only exacerbates the issue of insomnia – CBT can correct these thought patterns.
Vivienne is a travelling freelance writer/editor, feminist, Harry Potter nerd and co-founder of Taylor Hermione & Co, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes safe relationships, consent and gender issues to teenagers in Australia. Find her on Twitter @VivEgan41 and Instagram @vivalogue