Do you fall asleep immediately and feel refreshed in the morning or do you toss and turn for hours before dragging yourself from bed? Whatever your sleep hygiene habits, there’s always room for improvement, Below are the excerpts from a conversation with "WELLFEST" - Ireland’s largest health, fitness and wellness festival organsiers.
Why is sleep so important?
It goes without saying that getting enough sleep makes us feel better. We know we
function better after a good night’s sleep, but we also feel more alert, more energetic and
happier. A proper sleeping pattern also enhances our ability to remember things; helps us
become more efficient and improves our ability to focus. On the flip side, not getting
enough sleep can result in some serious health issues, including cardiovascular disorders.
Are there different levels of sleep?
Yes. Sleep can be broken down into four different stages, stages 1, 2, 3 and 4 (which is also
known as REM sleep), and all have their own functions, so it’s important for us to spend a
certain amount of time in each. For instance, if we have sufficient Stage 3 sleep we’ll feel
very refreshed. While if we have sufficient REM sleep, we consolidate our memory. It’s
worth noting that there are also different cycles of sleep, each lasting 90 minutes and
made up for the stages mentioned above. It’s important that we get at least 5-6 sleep
cycles, so in other words 7-9 hours of sleep.
What is sleep hygiene and what are its main principles?
Sleep hygiene is basically your habits around sleeping, but it is extremely important,
especially if you’re a difficult sleeper. Good habits include
Avoiding blue light
Light impacts our sleep / wake cycle so by limiting your exposure to light you can enhance
melatonin production and induce sleep. So, try to avoid the blue light from phones, tablets,
LED lights and laptops for at least two hours before bedtime.
Regulating your body temperature
Our body needs to be at a cooler temperature in order to fall asleep peacefully so try to
avoid anything that raises the body temperature before bedtime. In particular, don’t
exercise for three hours before bedtime and try not to shower for two hours before
bedtime. It’s also worth keeping your bedroom as cave like as possible – dark, quiet and
Maintaining a consistent bedtime and rise time
This includes at the weekends. Sleep has its own way of compensating for the lost sleep.
So, sleeping in is not a good idea as it will affect the sleep drive.
This is an obvious one, but try to avoid caffeine in the afternoons and evenings as it can
affect your ability to fall asleep.
What can people do if they struggle to sleep?
Accept you have a problem! Spending time in bed wide awake yet napping in the evening
can actually worsen the problem. It’s important to maintain the association of bed and
sleep. The mantra is sleep only in bed and do not stay awake in bed. If none of this helps,
then non-medication management like cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBTi) is
a very successful way to treat insomnia.
Likewise, if you snore heavily, stop breathing or wake up numerous times tossing and
turning and feel sleepy during the day, you may be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea has serious health consequences like any other sleep disorder and needs to
be treated by a specialist doctor.
Finally, any tips for shift workers?
Shift workers often complain about sleep problems. A couple of things to remember, avoid
or limit light exposure before bedtime. It is hard to avoid daylight on the way home, but use
dim lights once you reach home and avoid using blue light emitting devices. It is equally
important to expose yourself to good bright light when you wake up from sleep which will
stop the melatonin production and improve alertness.