With long hours of work, pushing to meet deadlines, and long hours of commuting, practicing good sleep hygiene is important for managing fatigue.
Australian research has found that being awake for 17-19 hours is equivalent to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 – the legal driving limit. What’s more, a study in America found volunteers who slept only four hours per day for six days straight had increased blood pressure and stress hormone readings. Additionally, these volunteers had reduced antibodies for influenza and showed signs of insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes). Once the volunteers were able to make up for lost sleep, the negative changes to sleep deprivation were reversed back to normal. Our bodies are amazing!
Occasionally catching up on lost sleep over the weekend, waking naturally without an alarm, and having vacations can help repay sleep debt. However, maintaining a healthy sleep pattern during the working week is important.
Here are a few tips to get make sure you’re nailing your sleep habits:
- Set your internal clock by going to bed at the same time every night.
- Routine is your friend. Start a sleep routine the hour before you go to bed. Consider a warm shower or bath, read a book, brush your teeth (and go to the toilet to avoid unnecessary waking through the night).
- Say no to caffeine approximately four hours before bed time. Caffeine can be found in coffee, teas, cola. It is important to note even tobacco can make it difficult to go to sleep.
- Don’t stimulate your mind in the hour before trying to sleep. Reduce activities such as moderate exercise, computer games and important discussions in this time. Blue light from computers and phones and brightly lit environments can reduce melatonin levels, the sleep promoting hormone.
- Try not to fall asleep on the couch as it makes it harder to fall asleep when you go to bed.
- Be goldilocks. Make sure your mattress, pillow and blanket/sheet scenario are just right for you. Your hands and feet should be kept warm.
- 'The bedroom is for sleeping'. If you have trouble sleeping try removing televisions, computers and telephones from your room. Clocks should be either covered or analogue to avoid clock watch in the middle of the night. Remember, the brain likes to link the bedroom with sleep so if your bedroom is where you study, live and eat, it will make it harder to sleep.
Lack of sleep can make you less productive and more prone to accidents through impaired judgement and reaction times. Remember, along with good diet and exercise, sleep is an important element to good health - particularly for performance and mental health.