World Health Day: Neuroscientist’s Tips for Healthy Sleep

by | Apr 7, 2021 | Culture/wellbeing

We all know sleep matters, but would you say you’ve got enough sleep this past month? If the answer is “no”, you aren’t alone: Two-thirds of adults do not get the recommended eight hours of shut-eye.

Research has associated sleep deprivation with a number of troublesome workplace effects ranging from less work engagement and more unethical behaviour to meaner bosses. This doesn’t come as a surprise if we look into the cognitive and emotional consequences of poor sleep — missing a few hours here and there doesn’t look like a big deal but it impairs you in several ways. For example, sleeping six hours a night for ten days impairs cognition as much as not sleeping for twenty-four hours straight. Sleep deprivation also amplifies your brain’s emotional reactivity, making it easier to “just snap”. Essentially, poor sleep stresses both your brain and body and increases your risk of poor cardiovascular and gastrointestinal health, immune suppression, and fertility problems. And the pandemic? It isn’t helping.

Today — amid broken routines and ongoing uncertainties — we are struggling with serious sleep issues. Some of us have changed our sleep schedule, some get much less sleep than before the pandemic, and others sleep more. Unfortunately, even those of us who sleep more, aren’t necessarily better off — new research suggests that while we do sleep more in lockdowns, our sleep quality is worse. So, how do we get more healthy sleep?

Here we bring you four quick tips from the world’s leading sleep expert — Matthew Walker.

1. Have a sleep schedule and stick to it.

In this past year, our habits and routines have been undeniably disrupted. However, the truth is that many of us haven’t had a healthy sleep schedule even long before. We are creatures of habit, and having a consistent sleep schedule is absolutely vital for good sleep hygiene. To decide what works for you, determine a realistic sleep schedule, and then set an alarm for both bedtime and awakening every single day.

2. Avoid caffeine and nicotine.

If a good friend shares their sleep troubles and asks you for a piece of advice, would you advise them to go to bed calm and soothed or stimulated and electrified? If you sincerely care about your friend’s wellbeing, you will likely suggest they should go to bed relaxed rather than pumped up. Why not do the same yourself? Coffee and certain teas contain stimulant caffeine that lingers long after you sip the cup, and having them in the late afternoon can make it hard to fall asleep at night. Similarly, nicotine is a stimulant that can cause you to either sleep lightly or wake up too early. Be mindful (of the timing) of your habits.

3. Create a sleep sanctuary.

Constant noises, bright lights, and warm temperatures should not be how you describe your bedroom. If you are serious about getting a good night’s sleep, try to get rid of anything that stands in your way. Distracting gadgets in your bedroom? Move them to another room. Warm temperature and bad air? Keep your bedroom on the cool side with fresh air regularly breezing in. Your bed leaves you tossing and turning all night long? Make a comfortable mattress and pillow your next health investment.

4. Don’t lie in bed awake.

Insomnia, a sleep disorder characterized by feeling “tired but wired” often includes long hours of lying awake in bed. This time not spent sleeping is the time spent anxiously wondering “Why can’t I sleep?” Disastrously, this anxiety makes it harder for you to fall asleep. So, if you find yourself awake after trying to sleep for twenty minutes, give up and get up. Move to another place and engage in something relaxing (not stimulating!) such as reading, meditating, or stretching. Return to bed only once you feel sleepy. With your eyelids getting really heavy, you will likely drift into sleep easier.

So on #WorldHealthDay why not focus on making one small change to improve your sleep habits.  Our recommended reading is Matthew Walker’s book “Why We Sleep:  The New Science of Sleep and Dreams”.

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