The se­cret to a great night’s sleep

A lack of qual­ity sleep is not only bad for your health, it can be life-threat­en­ing. Pro­fes­sor Ker­ryn Phelps re­veals how to sleep soundly.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - FILM MAKER -

When I take a med­i­cal his­tory, I ask about sleep. How much sleep do you get? Do you sleep through or wake dur­ing the night? What time do you usu­ally wake up? Do you wake feel­ing re­freshed? If you don’t get enough qual­ity sleep, sooner or later it will im­pact on your health. Some sleep dis­tur­bances are clues to an un­der­ly­ing med­i­cal di­ag­no­sis and cer­tain sleep dis­tur­bances can be life-threat­en­ing. So how much sleep is the right amount? Some people need very lit­tle, but most of us need six to eight hours, un­in­ter­rupted.

You have a sleep prob­lem if:

It takes longer than half an hour to get to sleep. You wake fre­quently dur­ing the night.

You have dif­fi­culty stay­ing asleep.

You wake up in the early hours of the morn­ing and have trou­ble get­ting back to sleep.

You wake feel­ing un­re­freshed.

How lack of sleep af­fects your health

In­som­nia and other sleep dis­tur­bances cause more than bags un­der your eyes and the des­per­ate need for an af­ter­noon nap. It can also cause: Im­paired mem­ory.

Im­paired alert­ness and co-or­di­na­tion.

Ir­ri­tabil­ity and de­pressed mood.

High blood pres­sure and in­creased risk of stroke.


Type 2 di­a­betes.

Heart, im­mune sys­tem and hor­mone dis­rup­tion. In­creased ten­dency to ac­ci­dents.

Sleep dis­or­ders that need med­i­cal at­ten­tion

More se­ri­ous sleep dis­or­ders call for med­i­cal di­ag­no­sis and in­ter­ven­tion, ini­tially with your GP, and some cases will need spe­cial­ist re­fer­ral.

Ob­struc­tive Sleep Ap­noea

The signs of Ob­struc­tive Sleep Ap­noea (OSA) are snor­ing with breath­ing paus­ing for up to a minute, then restart­ing with a gasp­ing or chok­ing sound. Obe­sity, smok­ing and al­co­hol in­crease the risk.

In child­hood, the most com­mon cause of snor­ing and OSA is en­larged ton­sils and/or ade­noids. This can make chil­dren tired or ir­ri­ta­ble dur­ing the day and their school per­for­mance can also suf­fer.

Some people need very lit­tle, but most need six to eight hours.

Dis­turbed sleep This causes day­time sleepi­ness and fa­tigue. It can start to af­fect mood and per­son­al­ity and your abil­ity to con­cen­trate, it puts strain on your heart, and can lead to an in­creased rate of ac­ci­dents, morn­ing headaches and high blood pres­sure. Treat­ment starts with los­ing weight and cut­ting out al­co­hol and smok­ing.

Rest­less legs This is a con­di­tion where you feel jumpy and rest­less at night and you just can’t keep still. It is more com­mon in women than in men. There may be an un­der­ly­ing med­i­cal prob­lem, such as iron or magnesium de­fi­ciency. It can be treated with ex­er­cise early in the day, hot baths and magnesium or iron sup­ple­ments.

Teeth grind­ing and clench­ing These con­di­tions might be seen by a den­tist or doc­tor as headaches, jaw pain or worn­down teeth, and teeth grind­ing and jaw clench­ing can dis­turb the deeper stages of sleep. Teeth may need to be pro­tected with a night splint worn in the mouth be­tween the up­per and lower teeth. Treat­ment in­volves re­mov­ing stim­u­lants, re­duc­ing al­co­hol and man­ag­ing stress.

Sleep ter­rors and sleep­walk­ing usu­ally hap­pen be­tween one and three hours after go­ing to sleep, and oc­cur dur­ing non-REM (rapid eye move­ment) sleep stages. The events usu­ally aren’t re­mem­bered once awake. They are both as­so­ci­ated with a lack of sleep, er­ratic sleep sched­ules and life stresses.

Night­mares These of­ten oc­cur dur­ing REM sleep. Treat­ment in­volves re­duc­ing life stresses, treat­ing anx­i­ety, avoid­ing ex­cess al­co­hol and not us­ing night seda­tives.

Habits for a bet­ter night’s sleep

Some­times all you need for a good night’s sleep is to im­prove some of your sleep habits.

Check that you have a com­fort­able, sup­port­ive mat­tress and pil­lows that are not too old.

Make sure the bed­ding is suit­able for the weather con­di­tions.

Make sure your room is not too light or too noisy. Heav­ier cur­tains and earplugs are pos­si­ble so­lu­tions.

Med­i­cal prob­lems can af­fect sleep, such as fre­quent trips to the toi­let or pain.

Check if any of your med­i­ca­tions or sup­ple­ments can con­trib­ute to sleep prob­lems.

Ex­er­cise helps to re­lieve stress, im­prove day­time alert­ness and night-time sleep qual­ity. It is best to ex­er­cise early in the day. Af­ter­noons are fine, too, but make sure you fin­ish exercising sev­eral hours be­fore bed­time.

Set up a bed­time rit­ual to help you wind down. Dim the lights in your home about an hour be­fore you go to bed. Turn off com­put­ers, elec­tronic de­vices, tele­vi­sions and other sources of light and stim­u­la­tion.

Have a warm bath.

Head to bed when you feel sleepy and set a reg­u­lar time for get­ting up. Go out­side soon after wak­ing to ex­pose your­self to morn­ing sun­light. Make sure you give your­self enough bed­time to get the amount of sleep you need.

Main­tain a healthy weight. Limit how many fatty foods, spicy foods and re­fined car­bo­hy­drates you eat. Avoid large meals too close to bed­time.

Al­co­hol may make you sleepy, but it dis­rupts nor­mal sleep pat­terns and wors­ens snor­ing and ob­struc­tive sleep ap­noea.

Cut out all sources of caf­feine (medic­i­nal, cof­fee, tea, cola drinks, choco­late) after about 3pm, then work back­wards in the day from there, down to an av­er­age of zero to two cof­fees or the equiv­a­lent early in the day.

Nico­tine is a stim­u­lant and smok­ing also makes snor­ing worse be­cause it in­flames the soft tis­sues in the nose and back of your throat.

If some­thing is on your mind, try to talk it through with a fam­ily mem­ber, a friend or a work col­league early in the evening and then put it on the “to do” list for to­mor­row.

Life events such as job loss, fi­nan­cial prob­lems or re­la­tion­ship dif­fi­cul­ties cause stress. Anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion can also show up as sleep prob­lems. Coun­selling may help you to re­solve these is­sues.

Mela­tonin is the hor­mone se­creted at night by a gland near the brain that gives the sig­nal to sleep. Doses of it are some­times used for a few weeks to reg­u­late the sleep rhythm. Ask for med­i­cal ad­vice about tim­ing and cor­rect doses.

Tryp­to­phan is a pre­cur­sor of mela­tonin, so tryp­to­phan-rich foods, such as warm milk, can boost mela­tonin lev­els.

Med­i­ca­tion may be pre­scribed by your doc­tor after you have been fully as­sessed.

Her­bal ther­a­pies

Com­mon her­bal treat­ments for in­som­nia in­clude valerian, laven­der, camomile and lemon balm.

Get­ting a good night’s sleep is an es­sen­tial part of en­sur­ing your long-term health.

Cut­ting out caf­feine drinks after 3pm and wak­ing up at a reg­u­lar time can help you to sleep bet­ter.

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