Ways to sleep better: World Sleep Day challenge - turn off the screen an hour early, you'll thank us in the morning

Photo: GIPHY.

Photo: GIPHY.

If turning out the lights isn’t working, combing through a handful of medical journals looking for a simple answer to “Why in the hell am I still awake?!” could do the trick.

Between complicated graphs with squiggly lines and words that could only be invented by people cheating at Scrabble, you’ll be out in no time.

The problem is wading through the endless data in the middle of the night will just as likely delay the the desired effect of drowsiness until around lunch time the next day when you’re balancing dangerously on the razor’s edge between full-blown caffeinated crazy-talk and suddenly falling nose-first on your desk for an impromptu power nap. 

It sure won’t help at 2pm when emails are blurring together and you’re seriously considering some kind of medieval contraption to hold your eyes open before someone from HR decides it’s time for a 45-minute Powerpoint presentation about increasing the productivity and workflow of the stationary cupboard.

You take to the internet for relief and guidance and somewhere between googling things like “Better sleep please” and “Does Powerpoint constitute cruel and unusual punishment” you’ve landed here.

The bad news is: there’s not much that’s going to help you right now. Short-term solutions to get you through the above-mentioned workplace conundrum include:

  • Faking extreme allergies,
  • Coffee delivered via IV drip,
  • Avoiding human contact at all costs, and
  • Sitting somewhere towards the back of the room during meetings.

The good news is: later tonight when you’re suddenly and frustratingly wide awake, there are a few things you can do to make tomorrow a better day.

Getting the sleep you need starts with this

The soporific powers of medical journals aside, the geniuses at Harvard sure know what they’re talking about. And when you burn through all the long and unpronounceable words, like “electroencephalograms”, sleep is actually one of the most interesting and mysterious things we humans do.

Sleep is all about rejuvenating and recharging the body and mind. But the mysterious bit is that sleep can do all sorts of things to our bodies, like partially paralyze limbs, and for the most part we still don’t know why.

The first stage is called N1 sleep – one of three stages of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleeping. It lasts a few minutes from when we start nodding off. That gives way to N2, a deeper level of NREM, and then finally N3 which is the deepest level of sleep. Each level leaves us less likely to wake up because of an external disruption, like light flicking on an off or a sudden explosion in tupperware drawer.

Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is when dreaming happens. It comes in gradually longer episodes during after N3, and usually makes up for about 25 percent of all the snoozing we do.

It’s during REM sleep that our arms and legs can be temporarily paralysed. Some experts say it’s our body’s way of making sure we don’t “act out” our dreams.

But the really interesting bit is that in all those hours (typically around eight each night for healthy adults), all the crazy dreamscapes and deep-sleep episodes go largely unnoticed and unremembered. As much as the experts have measured and observed sleep from the outside, we still don’t know that much about what it’s like to be asleep.

As the Harvard folks say: “Except in rare instances, we never contemplate and appreciate that we are sleeping while we are asleep. Thus, although everyone sleeps, most people would be hard-pressed to precisely define sleep.”

More than one study found that we tend to sleep less as we get older – about 10 minutes less per decade we age – and another study found that surveyed young people reported poor sleep quality, but it wasn’t because they were night owls. It was becasue they didn’t know enough about sleep to get a good rest.

With that, it was time to dig deeper to find out what makes a good night’s sleep:

1. Don’t sleep-in on the weekends

A study by The Journal of Biological and Medical Rhythm Research found that sleep problems in university students were pretty common. But the reason why they might be having trouble getting a good night’s sleep is becasue of irregular sleep patterns.

As it turns out, preferring the night time to the day time isn’t what stops us getting a good night’s rest. It’s how often we do get a few hours kip and how regular we are about it.

The advice from the folks in the think tank: Get into a regular sleep pattern. Go to bed and aim to wake up at the same time each day or night, even on Sundays. Sticking to a regular sleep pattern reinforces the body’s sleep-wake cycle and helps promote better sleep. 

2. If you can’t fall asleep, get up

Sounds counterproductive right? But there’s a trick. Agonising over getting to sleep can make the prospect of it happening even less likely.

One report says if you don’t nod off inside of 15 minutes of tucking in, it’s best to get up and do something until you feel tired.

3. Turn out the lights and don’t look at screens

Thursday, March 17, is World Sleep Day and the challenge in 2017 is to tear ourselves away from the screen at least an hour before we go to bed. It’s a good idea.

Before we had nice things like electric lighting, iPhones and that annoying blinking clock on the microwave oven, the sun rising and setting did a lot to regulate our sleep patterns.

Our internal body clock – which is an actual thing; a pair of “suprachiasmatic nuclei at the base of the hypothalamus” to be exact – helps regulate our body temperature, hormone secretion and feeding cycle.

Exposure to light and melatonin ingestion can adjust the body clock depending on when and how much we are exposed to.

Natural light can still have a considerable effect on our body clocks, which could explain why we might wake up early without an alarm if we leave the curtains open.

The advice on this one: flick the lights off and avoid the screens and TV before bedtime. Your body clock will thank you.

4. Watch what you eat and drink

That coffee keeping you going at work could also be keeping you up and night. And that glass of wine before bed can suppress REM sleep, muck around with sleep cycles and wake you up during the night.

Also, being comfortable is a basic one, but it’s super important for getting to sleep. It’s best not to go to bed on a full or empty stomach – feeling hungry or stuffed can make getting to sleep a proper task.

5. Create a bedtime routine

Try doing the same things every night before bed. Creating a routine that’s relaxing can ease the transition between being awake and being asleep. Dim the lights and try listening to a relaxing playlist or reading a book.

It could also pay to do the same thing after getting up each morning. From all my midday, pre-lunch, meeting-avoiding reading on sleep patterns, the most important thing seems to be about establishing a routine and sticking to it. It seems sensible that if relaxing and reading a book before bed can help you get to sleep, waking up with a routine could help you get going as well.

6. Make your space ready for a good night’s sleep

Oftentimes the best sleep environment is cool, dark and quiet so create a space that makes you comfortable that generally fits that bill. The experts say your mattress and pillow can affect the quality of your sleep, so best to choose the one that works best for you.

The hardest part will be waking up

Follow these steps and you’re bound to get a better night’s sleep in the long run and even transition into being full-morning person.

There are heaps of tips and tricks for waking up in the mornings feeling refreshed and ready to go, and many of them start with getting a good night’s sleep.

Throwing open the curtains and letting in heaps of natural light is a great place to start. One Wiki reckons you could even have all your morning jobs organised the night before to free up some time – but if that sounds a bit too advanced, there’s nothing a strong morning coffee won’t fix.

The story Six reasons why you’re not getting the sleep you need first appeared on The Northern Daily Leader.

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