As part of the ‘mentally healthy’ lifestyle series, Paula Orlandi, Wellbeing Coordinator at The University of Newcastle shared with us some awakening research on sleep.
According to Access Economics, over 1.2 million Australians experience sleep disorders like sleep apnoea, restless legs syndrome and insomnia. Sound familiar?
Given the current situation, now is a great time to consider the 7 day sleep challenge inspired by ‘Balance 2 Life’ and create a reset.
This is your chance to create healthy new sleep habits and improve your overall wellbeing and mental resilience.
All you need to do is one simple challenge each night. Follow along, and by the week's end, you will hopefully be on your way to the land of slumber:
Day 1 - Find out where you stand on sleep.
It's not just about how many hours of sleep you get each night; it's about maximising your sleep cycles and getting that very key REM sleep that allows you to feel rested and ready to face your day. Each sleep cycle lasts roughly 90 minutes, and you should pass through five or six of them each night. Waking up mid-cycle can leave you feeling grumpy and tired; rising in between phases will help you start the day feeling refreshed.
Daily challenge: Calculate your ideal bedtime.
Instead of shuffling off to sleep once the dishes and laundry are done, or you've caught up on your email, download the Bedtime Calculator and use it to set your ideal bedtime tonight.
Day 2 - Remove distractions
So now you know your ideal bedtime; what do you do to relax in those precious few hours before going to bed? If it's working your way through your DVD line-up, trying to catch up with all your emails or even spending time on social media, you could be sabotaging your chance for a goodnight's sleep. Studies show that watching TV, checking emails and using the computer right before bed can significantly affect your body's internal sleep clock, making you more alert rather than calming your mind and body to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Daily challenge: Break away from electronics
Turn off your TV and shut down your computer at least one hour before bedtime. Even the glare from your alarm clock can contribute to lost sleep. Instead, grab a book (a real one with pages) and clear your mind of any distractions. You'll be amazed at how much quicker your eyelids begin to feel heavy.
Day 3 - Create a calm sleep ritual
Any parent can vouch for the importance of establishing a simple sleep routine to help young kids settle down. Here's what's great, it works for adults too. Establishing and following a solid sleep ritual will help cue your body that it's time to settle down and relax.
At this point in the Challenge, you've determined your optimal time to go to sleep, and your electronics are turned off and tucked away. So now...
Daily challenge: Find a calming ritual that gets you relaxed and sleepy.
Run yourself a bath or have a nice hot shower before you settle down for bed. Then give yourself permission to read one chapter from your book or listen to a mindful mediation audio if that's more your speed, and then turn off the lights and enjoy your zzz's.
Day 4 - Create a positive sleep environment
Your bedroom should be your sanctuary. A place of peace and tranquillity where stress fades away, and you drift off to sleep at your leisure.
Daily challenge: Make your bedroom a sleeping sanctuary.
To start, ensure the temperature in your bedroom is cool and consistent. Your body temperature naturally drops as you drift into sleep, so cooling down your bedroom can jump-start the process and make it easier to doze off. Then make your room dark. Dim the lights while you get ready for bed, turn off bright overhead lamps and switch to a soft bedside lamp. Your body is programmed to sleep when it's dark, so you can encourage that rhythm by easing into night-time.
Sounds are important to most people when sleeping, and unusual noises can easily wake you. Do you seek a silent room? Do you need to hear some noise? Do you sleep near a busy highway or airport? These types of things can make a bigger difference than you think, so consider the sounds in your bedroom to ensure they are right for you. Remove clutter and give your things a proper place. Too many people’s bedrooms look like an out-of-control cupboard. Now with your electronics already removed, your bedroom will be the sleeping sanctuary you need
Day 5 - Relax and recharge
Studies have found that individuals who intensely focus on their emotions and anxiety during high-stress periods are more likely to sleep less than those who don't replay stressful events in their minds. Taking steps to manage stress by calming your body and mind can help you sleep better.
Daily challenge: Melt that stress away.
Try adding essential aromatherapy oils to your bath before bed to soak away stress. Body and mind-focusing practices such as meditation and yoga can also help. Taking deep, cleansing breaths causes oxygen to rush into the brain, which decreases stress hormones (also known as your fight or flight instinct), almost immediately. If your mind is still whirring or you are overwhelmed by your to-do list, take a few minutes to write it all down. Putting pen to paper transfers all that mental energy out of your mind and parks it so that you can let it go. Finally, brew a cup of herbal tea to enjoy before bed.
Day 6 - Get your exercise
As if you needed another reason to exercise.
Did you know that getting more exercise can help you sleep better? Combined with a regular bedtime routine, exercising may increase your overall sleep time. But as with most things, timing is everything.
So, try not to exercise too close to bedtime, it will be energising you, and that's not what you want right before bed.
Daily challenge: Exercise for at least 30 minutes today.
Try walking during your lunch break, playing outdoors with your children, or take an evening stroll to enjoy the sunset. The fading sun will also help cue your body that the day is ending, making sleep that much easier.
Day 7 - Make time for you.
Today is the last day of the Sleep Challenge. If you've followed along with this far, you have adjusted your bedtime, reduced distractions, and created a restful sleep environment.
You have found ways to relax and enjoyed exercise and sleep-inducing food and drinks. Now it's time to reflect and evaluate your current sleep situation.
Day seven challenge: Start a sleep journal
Keep track of what works best for you going forward.. Remember sleep journals can be incredibly useful for discovering patterns —but they’re not meant to sleep-shame you. And keeping one shouldn’t stress you out. Try not to hyper-focus on timing, watching the clock is not the goal here.
Bottom line: Don’t stress out too much about your log. A good sleep journal is about helping you find and improve inconsistencies and potential problems with your slumber. That should make you rest easy.
Now, sleep tight.