Sleep, along with nutrition and exercise, is becoming increasingly recognised as one of three pillars of health, all of which are fundamental to well-being. Sleep gives our bodies time to rest, restore, grow, and strengthen. When we have healthy sleep, we wake up feeling refreshed in the morning and we feel, think and function better during the day.
Healthy sleep allows our bodies to maintain a strong immune system, improve creativity, assists in regulating appetite and allows our brains to create and store memories. It also helps us to complete tasks quickly and accurately and plays a big part in balancing our emotions. So how do you get healthy sleep and wake up energised?
Three steps to healthy sleep
Most adults need 7–9 hours of healthy sleep per night to function at their best the next day. This varies among individuals with some people needing a bit less and others a bit more. Most of us have a sense of how much sleep we need, but it’s very easy to function at a lower level during the day and think that it’s normal — so it’s important to re-evaluate how much sleep we need from time to time.
If your ‘sleep tank’ is low, there are two strategies you can use to keep it topped up:
- Aim to spend longer in bed at night, as this is when your body is programmed for sleep
- If night-time catch-up sleep is difficult, look for other sleep opportunities, such as daytime naps
These two strategies might seem obvious, but we can all be guilty of putting sleep at the bottom of our priority list — often it just gets squeezed into our busy work, family and social schedules when time allows. If we want our mind and body to be healthy, we need to plan and prioritise our sleep; just as we might plan and schedule other facets of our lives. It’s a way of signalling to ourselves, and those around us, that sleep in important.
Sleep quality looks at how refreshing your sleep is — and it takes into consideration the whole sleep picture – sleep duration, how long it takes to get to sleep, how often you wake during the night and how you feel during the day. This impacts your ability to wake up refreshed. A good way to improve your sleep quality is to make your bedroom sleep-friendly.
- Because light is a strong alerting signal to your body, try to keep your bedroom as dark as possible. Also try to keep your bedroom as quiet as possible so that you are not easily roused from sleep if you are in a light sleep stage. Turn your phone notifications off (or use the do not disturb function) or try using pink/white noise apps. Avoid turning any lights on when you get up at night to go to the toilet, as this sends wake signals to your brain; but make sure the path to the bathroom is clear to keep it safe! A non-LED nightlight in the hall or bathroom can be a good solution.
- Making your bedroom feel comfortable and peaceful will help you feel relaxed and ready for sleep, giving your body a well-earned break after a busy day. Try to make your bed as inviting and cosy as possible.
- Make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable and supportive. Expect a lifespan of around 8-10 years for a good quality mattress, and pillows should be changed every 1-2 years.
- Generally, people get a better night’s sleep in a cooler room, at around 16–19ºC, so before you go to bed, think about the temperature in your bed and bedroom. This could include the seasons, weather, bedding, clothing, partner’s body heat, heating, or cooling. If you are waking during the night from overheating (even in winter), you could use a fan in the bedroom, keep a window slightly open, wear summer nightclothes or swap the duvet for a lightweight blanket.
Regular bed and wake times (even on your days off!) send important signals to your circadian clock, helping you to fall asleep when you want to and feel more alert when you wake up. When your body is prepared and expecting to sleep and wake up at consistent times, it transitions in and out of sleep more readily. When we use bed for sleep, the process of climbing into bed will naturally start the brain thinking it’s time for sleep, so try to avoid working onscreen or watching television in bed. If you enjoy reading before bed, try sitting in a comfy chair rather than in bed.