Six secrets to restorative sleep
By Allison Riehs | Naturopath
“I slept like a baby.”
Whenever I hear someone say that, I figure they’ve either never seen a baby sleeping, or they’ve spent the night crying and eating themselves to sleep.
But all jokes aside, sleep is vital to good health. And very few of us are getting enough.
It is estimated that four in ten Australians are suffering from inadequate sleep, resulting in reduced levels of alertness, concentration and emotional control.
The Sleep Health Foundation report ‘Asleep on the Job: Costs of Inadequate Sleep in Australia’ estimates the annual cost of inadequate sleep to be $66-billion, including health system and productivity costs.
Why we need sleep
As humans, we spend at least one third of our lives asleep.
Or at least, we’re meant to.
Excessive work hours, screens and blue light, poor sleep hygiene and restless leg syndrome are all common contributors to inadequate sleep.
New parents may have as little as one to three hours of uninterrupted sleep at a time, and studies have found parents experience six years of sleep deprivation after the birth of each child.
Whatever the reason, there can be severe consequences of inadequate sleep, and the resulting excessive daytime sleepiness.
Among them are an increased risk of congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes and depression, as well as reduced immunity, impaired memory, and more workplace injuries and motor vehicle accidents.
Ultimately, a lack of sleep may lead to a shorter lifespan, whether by increasing health risks, or impairing the body’s ability to heal and regenerate.
How much sleep do we need?
That depends on your age.
Their recommendations for sleep based on age groups are:
0 – 3 months: 14 – 17 hours
4 – 11 months: 12 – 15 hours
1- 2 years: 11 – 14 hours
3 – 5 years: 10 – 13 hours
6 – 13 years: 9 – 11 hours
14 – 17 years: 8 – 10 hours
18 – 25 years: 7 – 9 hours
26 – 64 years: 7 – 9 hours
65+ years: 7 – 8 hours
The time of day sleep happens varies among the age groups too.
Babies and young children under five will usually have several naps throughout the day in addition to a longer overnight sleep, whereas teenagers will have a tendency to stay up late and sleep in. Adults in the workforce are most likely to have their sleep times dictated by work schedules, while seniors commonly go to bed early, and wake earlier too.
Six Secrets to Restorative Sleep
While most of us have unavoidable sleep distractions like caring for children, or waking to alarms for work, there are steps we can take to improve our sleep.
- Switch Off: Did you know 90% of Americans admit to watching screens like televisions, computers and smartphones in the hour before bed. These devices emit blue light, which interrupts the circadian rhythm and interferes with the release of melatonin – the body’s natural sleep hormone. Aim to go screen free for one to two hours before bed. Perhaps try reading books with the family instead.
- Skip the Midnight Snacks: Eating shortly before bed, or in the middle of your sleep, can increase blood glucose levels and make the heart rate rise, leaving you feeling more alert. Instead, try to have a meal high in protein and healthy fats a few hours before bed, so you’re not tempted to snack and don’t get woken by a hungry tummy.
- Move Your Body: Hitting the gym is probably not high on your list if you’re feeling tired. But studies have found increased oxygenation from exercise can improve cognitive function in sleep deprived people. It is also believed the energy expelled during exercise can help people achieve a more restful sleep.
- Keep it Clean: The foods we eat can affect our sleep in more ways than one. There is the more obvious – like eating a deep-fried meal shortly before bed causing sleep-disturbing heartburn and indigestion, and more subtle changes, like a diet high in carbohydrates causing restless leg syndrome, which is a common cause for sleep disturbance. While there is no single food that can assure a good night’s sleep, having a nutrient-rich diet of wholefoods including healthy fats from fish, avocado and nuts, fresh vegetables and fruits, may promote healthy sleep.
- Consistency is Key: The reason shift workers experience such severe sleep deprivation is the inconsistency of their sleep cycles. The National Sleep Foundation recommends waking up and going to sleep at the same time every day, including weekends. Having a sleep-in on your day off might be tempting, but it can make it more difficult to spring out of bed when the alarm sounds on work days.
- Nourish and Nurture: For some of us, sleep disturbance is inescapable. Whether you have a demanding work schedule or you’re caring for young ones, there are steps you can take to optimise the sleep you do have, and support your health and wellbeing despite sleep deprivation. As a naturopath, I look to identify and address the cause of poor sleep, and help each individual with a personalised approach to nurturing the adrenals and nourishing the mind and body with herbal medicine and nutritional support.