Improving & Increasing Sleep
Like exercise and good nutrition, adequate sleep is essential to health and peak performance.
Rest and sleep can be achieved and organised in many ways.If it is not working these suggestions can help and can also help improve the efficiency of your sleep. If you break all or some of these suggestions and are happy with your sleep then ignore what I am saying.
- If you do not value sleep then it is hard to commit to having good sleep.
- Understand the value and importance of sleep – for functioning well in life.
- Sleep is the recovery time for a good life.
- It is like fertilizing and watering a vegetable plant – both necessary for the plant to be productive.
- None of this applies – or at least you have no choice – if you have young children or other special circumstances.
- Success in life comes from the right balance between doing and not doing, of activity and recovery, which helps you return to effective activity. Many people understand and value doing but not recovery, thus they undervalue sleep. Then, their sleep difficulties may not be difficulties with sleep but a failure to value it. Value sleep and sleep is more likely to happen.
- Make the time for sleep.
- Commit 8 hours each day to sleep — only sleep.
- Commit 8 hours x 7 days each week to sleep = 56 hours a week.
- Commit 8 hours x 7 days x 52 weeks each year to sleep = 2,912 hours a year.
- Commit 8 hours x 7 days x 52 weeks x the number of years you will live to sleep.
- Eight hours before the alarm goes off – lights out, mobiles off, computers off, music off, television off — sleep time.
- 1/3 of each day; 1/3 of each week; 1/3 of each year; 1/3 of your life — committed to sleep.
Study and sleep
Study and learning are more efficient when you are well rested. It is, mostly, a false economy to reduce sleep, to do more study. When you reduce sleep to study, what usually happens is that you get less efficient at learning and then you need more time to study; then you reduce your sleep time even more, so that you can have more study time, and so on it goes – a dangerous vicious cycle. Now, if what you are doing is producing good grades then keep doing it. However, if it is not producing good grades or is exacting a very high price psychologically from you, then change it!
Many activities can be done while you are tired: sometimes manual work can be done with less sleep; surfing the internet; chatting online; face booking; texting; speaking to friends; watching television; socialising. You just need more willpower to keep pushing yourself. Study, however, needs a well-rested mind.
Do a realistic number of things in your life
What are you trying to fit into your life? Some people cannot sleep because they have committed themselves to so many other things that there is not enough time left for proper sleep. Or there may be just enough time for sleep and their commitments but not enough time to think about things, so they do their thinking in bed and do not get enough. These people need to reduce their other commitments if they want better sleep.
The biological rhythm of sleep
The biological rhythm of sleep involves shifts in the depth of sleep so that, often, people either rise out of deep sleep and move close to wakefulness or even wake up. If we accept the naturalness of these shifts, they will not disturb us as much so we can then sink back down into deep sleep, rather than our thinking mind waking us up even more by worrying about waking up.
One activity at a time
- Many sleep problems are caused by trying to do two things at once — sleep and thinking (problem solving or worry). Of course, if you do this you will have trouble sleeping.
- The bed should be for sleep — nothing else.
- You should not bring study to bed.
- If you make the bed a space that is for sleep then it will be much easier to switch the mind off when you are in bed.
- Of course, you can use the bed as a transitional space from waking to sleep.
- If you cannot sleep that is okay — it should be a time of rest so that even if you wake up you are resting.
Thinking, problem solving and worry
- Do not do thinking in bed, commit the time to sleep.
- Find another time and place to think, problem solve, or worry:
- a. e.g. after waking up
- b. in the shower
- c. on the way to work
- d. some other time – but not too close to bed time
- If you start to think, make an appointment with yourself to do it in your thinking time and thinking place the next day.
- It helps to remember that if you cannot solve a problem, sleep deprivation is not going to solve it.
- Many people have the belief that if they cannot sleep they might as well use the time productively to think about things. The problem with this strategy is that it quickly turns into the habit of thinking while you are meant to be sleeping. And then you end up not being able to sleep. Boredom is a great precursor to sleep. If you do not like being bored then it will be harder to go to sleep. If you can accept boredom then you will naturally go to sleep.
Transitioning from waking to sleep
- It is useful to think of waking up as a process of raising your energy levels and sleep as a process of lowering your energy levels. In the transition phase you want to lower your energy levels and do things that lower them. Excitement tends to raise them.
- The art of reading to transition to sleep (see below).
- A ritual as part to the transition process: having a shower, a non-stimulating drink, sleep inducing reading, prayer, etc.
Traps before bed time
- Movies that finish long after bedtime – do not start to watch them.
- Only watch television shows that finish by the time you need to go to bed.
- Internet surfing.
- Internet chatting.
- Phone conversation or texting.
- Engaging novels.
- Do not have serious conversations near to sleep time.
- Energetic exercise in the evening can wake you up and make it difficult to sleep.
- If you work at night it seems to take people a few hours to unwind after work.
- There is an art to choosing reading that helps you relax and transition from waking to sleep. It needs to be something that calms your mind down and does not engage you so much that you want to keep reading. Reading that engages, excites or hooks you should be done earlier in the night, on weekends or holidays.
- Study is best not done in bed and best not kept near the bed. How can you stop thinking about study if you have study related things near your bed? Same for lap tops.
- For some people it is better not to read and watch television in bed – do it somewhere else and keep bed for sleep.
Setting up the room for sleep
- Of course, it is ideal to sleep and study in different rooms however most students have to sleep and study in the same room.
- Position the clock so you cannot see it from your bed.
Have something to engage the mind with if you cannot sleep or are thinking – a replacement activity
- nursery rhythm
- breathing meditation
- loving kindness meditation
- relaxation exercise
- sleep inducing music
- counting sheep
When doing a replacement activity – have no preconception about how long it should take. It is better do it all night than worry because doing the replacement activity will be more restful than worry. The subjective sense of time is very misleading, while in bed, you cannot trust it. If you have the attitude that it is better to say a poem 1,000,000,000 times than think, then you will either, and most likely, fall to sleep because your mind will be so bored it will go to sleep or you will be more rested because this is more restful than worry. Often, there is a deep seated belief that you must solve the problem before you go to sleep. If you cannot solve it in your thinking time then you probably cannot solve it now.
- Commit the time to sleep
- Commit the place (bed) to sleep
- Find another time and place to think, problem solve, or worry
- Make a proper transition to sleep
- Use a neutral mental activity to stop thinking while in bed
How much sleep is enough?
In general, most healthy adults need an average of seven to nine hours of sleep at night. However, sleep needs vary. It isn't simply how many hours of sleep time you're logging in that matters, but how you feel and how well you're able to perform each day.
So, how do you measure how much sleep you truly need? If you have trouble staying alert during monotonous situations when fatigue is often "unmasked" you probably aren't getting enough good-quality sleep. Other signs are a tendency to be irritable and having difficulty remembering facts.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is the inability to sleep, or to sleep satisfactorily. It may involve one or more of the following:
- difficulty falling asleep
- waking up frequently during the night with difficulty returning to sleep
- early wakening
- unrefreshing sleep.
What causes sleep problems?
Certain conditions seem to make individuals more likely to experience insomnia e.g. chronic depression, internalised and unexpressed anger, anxiety, physical problems. Transient and intermittent insomnia can occur if you experience: stress; an unsatisfactory lifestyle; shift work; jet lag; unsatisfactory sleep environment.
What can I do to help me sleep better?
Not all of sleep hygiene rules suit all people, you will need to try them and devise strategies that seem to work best for you.
- Exercise regularly.
- Go to bed at the same time each day.
- Keep the temperature in your room comfortable.
- Eat a light bedtime snack. Hunger can disrupt sleep.
- Drink a glass of warm milk before bed. Milk contains an amino acid that is converted to a sleep-enhancing compound in the brain.
- Try relaxation exercises when you go to bed. Think about a relaxing scene. Practice progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) exercises. Relax your muscles, beginning with your feet and working your way up to your head.
- Use a relaxation tape. Practice the self-relaxation technique of focusing intently on a soothing word of 'mantra', or on breathing in and out slowly.
- Keep the room quiet when sleeping.
- Keep the room dark enough. Use dark blinds or wear a mask if needed.
- Use your bed only for sleep and sex. If you believe that reading, listening to the radio, or some other in-bed activity helps you to fall asleep, then do so but do it no longer than about 20 minutes.
- Sexual intercourse has a relaxing effect for many people.
- Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine that will allow you to unwind and "send a signal" to your brain that it's time to go to sleep. In general, try to build into your schedule, time for seven to eight hours of sleep, and follow this routine as regularly as possible. Even on week-ends.
- Have a warm bath with soothing oils such as lavender or rosemary.
- Eliminate the bedroom clock. You can set your alarm by placing it in a position that is not visible from bed.
Avoid the following:
- Never try to sleep. The more you try to sleep, the more aroused you will get. Do something to distract yourself. Adapt the ancient task of counting sheep with a more modern day boring task.
- Don't count the hours you sleep; whenever you wake up reasonably refreshed you have had enough sleep. You may be sleeping more than you think. Sleep laboratory studies have shown that we tend to underestimate the amount of time we sleep.
- Don't exercise just before going to bed. Exercise at least three hours before bedtime.
- Don't engage in mentally stimulating activity just before going to bed. For example, watching an exciting or disturbing program on TV.
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol in the late afternoon and evening. Caffeine and nicotine can delay your sleep, and alcohol may interrupt your sleep later in the night.
- Don't lie awake for more than half an hour.
If you are not sleeping because you are worrying about something that is happening in your life, the best thing to do is to do something about the problem. Perhaps you can't remove the problem but you can do some constructive things like:
- During the day, talk to someone about the problem. Seek support from friends or a professional counsellor.
- Most of the thinking and worrying that we do in bed needs to be done - it just does not need to be done in bed. If you are lying in bed and not being able to get off to sleep because you are worrying, sit up and write about the problem. Keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings which you write in your journal when you feel the urge.
- Try an imagery of storing your worries away for a night. This works very effectively when used in conjunction with some physical relaxation exercises.
- Devote some time during the day (5-60 minutes) for thinking and worrying. This should end at least a couple of hours before going to bed. Then, when the thoughts come when you are in bed, say gently: "Stop, I thought about this today. I will think about it again tomorrow. Now is the time to sleep".
To nap or not to nap?
The mid-afternoon slump most of us experience, even when we've slept well, suggests that the human body may be meant to nap.
There's increasing evidence that a 15-20 minute nap can improve alertness, sharpen memory and generally reduce the symptoms of fatigue. If you're coping with the impact of lost sleep from last night or you know you're going to lose sleep tonight, a nap can help you through.
A few cautions: First, a nap is not a substitute for a full night's sleep; it is only a short-term solution. Second, if getting to sleep or staying asleep at night is a problem, naps are probably not for you. Explore napping, it may or may not be useful in improving your night time sleep.
A note on drug treatment
When sleep problems are a result of general stress, dealing with your lifestyle and associated problems is better than using sleeping pills. Sleeping tablets are mainly used to treat short-term insomnia that may occur as a result of things going on in your life. Take sleeping tablets only as prescribed.
If you still can't sleep
If you have tried the above suggestions and your sleep problems continue to persist it may be a good idea to visit a counsellor or doctor. To get the most of this visit, you'll find that it may be helpful to keep a diary of your sleep habits for about ten days to identify just how much sleep you're getting over a period of time and what you may be doing to interfere with it. In your diary record sleep and wake times, what you orally consume, how often and when you exercise.
The Southern Adelaide Local Health Network Sleep Health Service run a multidisciplinary service incorporating respiratory sleep medicine, psychiatry, specialist nursing and scientific/technical disciplines.