Do you struggle to get to sleep each night? Do you toss and turn in to the early hours, trying to find a comfortable spot? Or maybe you fall immediately into the sleep of the dead, only to wake at 3am and lie there, frustrated, until the sun comes up?
You are not alone. Singaporeans are among the most sleep-deprived people in the world. A 2014 study by Jawbone maker of a digitised wristband that tracks how its users sleep, shows that Singapore is amongst the cities in the world getting the least hours of sleep, clocking an average of 6 hours and 32 minutes a night. This puts Singapore as the third most sleep-deprived city in the world, behind Tokyo and Seoul. A 2016 study by SingHealth Polyclinic published in the International Journal of Medicine backs these findings up showing that 44% of Singaporeans sleep less than 7 hours a night on weekdays and 26% fail to sleep long enough at weekends too.
It is widely recognised amongst medical practitioners that lack of sleep is fast becoming a world-wide public health concern with wider implications, not just for the individual, but for society as a whole. In response, a new term; “sleep hygiene” has been coined to refer to the practices and habits necessary to enable you to have a good night’s sleep. Sleep is the key to your physical and emotional health. Good sleep hygiene can help you get the sleep you need.
So if you want to improve your quality of sleep or you need to get more sleep, follow these sleep hygiene tips and a peaceful night’s sleep can be yours.
- Sleep for the right amount of time
It is important to sleep for the right amount of time. If you are currently sleep deprived you may not believe it, but to sleep for too long is as bad for you as to consistently have too little sleep. Following a two year world class study the National Sleep Foundation concluded that the amount of sleep needed varies not only from person to person but also over the same person’s lifespan.
Nevertheless there are clear guidelines for the amount of sleep required and it was found that individuals who habitually sleep outside of the healthy range may be exhibiting signs of serious health problems or compromising their well-being. A full chart showing the amount of sleep recommended to promote health in individuals (and children) of various ages can be found here. In short however, the recommendation for adults is between 7-9 hours a night.
- Stick to a sleep schedule
There is nothing worse for your sleep than chopping and changing your sleep pattern. Ask any shift worker the havoc caused by changing day and night work shifts. Experts tell us that in order to sleep well every night we need to go to bed and get up at roughly the same time every day – even at weekends! For good sleep hygiene it is important therefore to set yourself a regular bedtime and stick to it. Then set your alarm to get up at a consistent time each morning. Of course, there will be the odd late (or early) night and the occasional lie-in; but, on the whole, consistency is the key to feeling sleep satisfied.
- Curb daytime napping
Our bodies need night-time sleep to recover from the physicality of today and prepare for tomorrow. Our brains need overnight to process the stresses and experiences of the day. Not enough or poor quality night time sleep leaves us both physically and mentally exhausted. Whilst a power-nap may improve immediate mood and alertness it is no substitute for good night-time sleep and can, in fact, prevent you from the reaping the benefits of your night sleep.
Experts recommend that adults try to avoid all day-time napping but understand that sometimes it is necessary to help us just get through the next couple of hours. If you need a day time nap the advice is therefore to limit it to no more than 20-30 minutes and not to nap within 3 hours of your bedtime.
People who exercise daily, sleep better. Whilst vigorous exercise is best, any aerobic exercise such as power walking or cycling can improve your ability to nod off at night. It might seem a challenge to fit daily exercise into busy days, but even as little as 10 minutes exercise a day has been proven to bring about positive benefits to quality of sleep.
- See enough daylight
With more and more of us working in offices or in malls there is a daylight deficiency epidemic. It is imperative to see sunlight to promote good health (did you know that even in Singapore many children and adults are suffering from vitamin D deficiency) and to enable good sleep.
Experts advise that everyone spend at least an hour outside each day and that in doing so this it will assist us to sleep at night. In particular try to see bright sunlight early in the morning to set you circadian rhythm. If possible take your work breaks outside, eat lunch in the park or take steps to allow as much natural light in to your work space as possible.
- Choose evening meals carefully
Firstly, don’t eat anything too close to the time you want to fall asleep. A heavy stomach and a digestive system that is working flat-out to digest are not conducive to sleep. If you have to eat late avoid heavy, rich and fatty food as this is the most difficult food to digest. Avoid acidic or spicy food and carbonated drinks which can trigger heartburn and cause indigestion. Finally – in case you were wondering whether there is any truth in the old wife’s tale about cheese giving you nightmares? Well, a study by the British Cheese Board concluded that no, eating cheese before bed does not increase your chance of having a nightmare but interestingly different cheeses may invoke different types of dreams!
- Avoid stimulants close to bedtime
Caffeine, nicotine and sugar too close to bedtime will prevent you from getting to sleep. Avoid all three stimulants for at least 2 hours before you turn in for the night.
If you drink alcohol just before bed, it can help you to fall asleep faster as your body will be more relaxed. However, over the course of the night alcohol actually disturbs sleep, especially if not consumed in moderation. As your body processes the ethanol in alcohol, which occurs in the 2nd half of the night (in general it takes your body an hour to process one unit of alcohol), this will disrupt your sleep cycle. You may also be more likely to wake in the night needing the loo or needing a drink caused by alcohol dehydration.
- Create a relaxing bedtime ritual
At the end of a busy day we all need time to wind down and to get ready to sleep. There are many things you can do to de-stress and to bring your body and mind to a place of relaxation. Take a warm (not hot) bath, use essential oils, play music softly (interestingly the genre is not as important as the volume), read or listen to the radio.
Avoid watching television or looking at electronic devices such as phones, tablets or computers for at least 1 hour before you wish to sleep. Not only does the artificial light from such devices promote wakefulness the mental stimulation will make it difficult for your brain to switch off.
Finally, if you are worried or stressed or there seems to be just too much to do to sleep, then you need a mechanism to ‘park’ your worries until tomorrow. Try writing a list of your concerns or a ‘to do’ list for tomorrow. Research has shown that in putting your thoughts on to paper they are removed from your mind, thus allowing it to switch off.
- Make your bedroom a sleep-inducing environment
It is essential to create the right kind of sleeping environment. Your bedroom should subconsciously trigger signals which tell your body that it is time to sleep. First and foremost, make sure that you have blackout curtains or blinds. A fully dark room will aid peaceful, deep and long sleep. Secondly, make sure your bedroom is the right temperature. For optimum undisturbed sleep a temperature between 18 and 24 degrees Celsius is advised. Keep your room free from noise and electronic devices (even a digital clock lit up all night has been proved to disturb sleep). Finally, try to keep your bedroom tidy and free from clutter.
- Sleep on the right mattress
When it comes down to it, you will only fall asleep if you are comfortable. And, you will only stay asleep if your body remains supported and relaxed throughout the night. Only sleeping on the right mattress can provide the environment you need to optimise your time in bed.
If you are regularly woken in the night by pain or wake up stiff in the morning then, without a shadow of a doubt, it is time to invest in a new mattress. If your mattress is over 7 years old then you should also be looking at replacing it (unless it is latex in which case you should be good for another 5 years at least). Even if neither of these apply, your mattress may still not be right for you and may be hindering your sleep.
A good mattress will actively promote sleep – enabling you to sleep longer and better. Look for a mattress which supports your body and excels at pressure relief. Some mattresses further boast anti-allergy properties, repel dust mites and other bed-nasties and can help you keep cool. For the full low-down on what to look for in a good mattress, click here.
Good night, sleep tight!