You felt tired all day and couldn’t wait to hit the hay. You closed your eyes and waited for your body (and brain) to send you on the express train to the land of nod, but 4352 counted sheep, two trips to the bathroom, six drinks of water and another 45 minutes of reading your book later and you’re well and truly frustrated, and in no way asleep. And your alarm is looming.
Here’s why that’s important
The physical impact of lack of sleep is well documented. Not getting enough can contribute to your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity. It can shorten your life expectancy too – so the old adage ‘sleep when I’m dead’ takes on a whole new meaning. And one in three of us are affected.
Poor sleep makes us less productive, affects our mood and memory and makes us want to reach for the biscuit tin (or our fourth latte) at 11am just to get through the day. So why are we still prioritising another episode of Netflix over precious slumber?
“It’s culturally celebrated to be exhausted and busy,” explains sleep specialist Olivia Arezzolo. “However, there are thousands of studies that show that when we’re sleep deprived we’re not at our best, so we’re only fooling ourselves.”
Stop making these sleep mistakes to get back on track.
Sleep mistake #1: Not scheduling your sleep
You know that jam-packed diary of yours? Start including your sleep schedule to build some routine around shuteye.
“Commit to the consistency,” advises Arezzolo. “Cortisol wakes us up in the morning and melatonin puts us to sleep in the evening – so it’s like a hormonal seesaw. If you disrupt your biological clock by staying up late one night there’s kind of a knock-on effect to the next night, too.”
So, mark a recurring SLEEP task in your calendar for the same time each night, pronto.
Sleep mistake #2: Sleeping too much
Set aside the appropriate amount of sleep for you as a ‘window’ so you don’t spend more time in bed than you need to. Arezzolo says this is a clinical tool frequently used with insomniacs, and eventually the quality will catch up with the quantity.
“7-9 hours is the normal distribution of sleep for adults, but the same issues that come with sleep deprivation – like moodiness, grogginess and weight gain - also come when you sleep too much.”
Sleep mistake #3: Sleeping in to ‘catch up’, but skipping the nap
Turns out those weekend lie-ins aren’t doing you any good.
“Lie-ins are really detrimental, but naps get a big thumbs up,” explains Arezzolo. “There’s a lot of research around the cognitive benefits of naps increasing alertness, attentiveness and memory retention.”
Arezzolo says sticking to no more than 30 minutes will mean you stay in ‘shallow sleep’, any longer and you’re in ‘deep sleep’ - and likely to wake up groggy. “Just make sure the nap isn’t within six hours of your ideal bedtime,” she adds.
Sleep mistake #4: Thinking the ‘screens’ rule isn’t for you
You’ve probably heard that light-sensitive cells in the eye can reset your internal clock when exposed to light, helping explain why prolonged light exposure from digital devices can disrupt sleep. So why aren’t more of us ditching the devices to get a good night’s rest?
“You have to have sufficient motivation to put the screen away - especially if you really enjoy watching TV,” says Arezzolo.
Her advice? Set a bedtime alarm. “Label it with your key motivation to improve sleep such as ‘enhance energy tomorrow’ - so you prompt yourself to switch off the screens at 9pm.”
Sleep mistake #5: Not making the connection between sleep and stress
Stressful times at work or home can cause temporary insomnia, and long-lasting stress may lead to chronic insomnia – so this isn’t one you want to ignore. If you’ve ever gone to bed feeling stressed about not getting a good night’s rest, Arezzolo says not to waste your precious energy.
“One of the biggest stresses is feeling like we can’t control the outcome, but with sleep – you are largely in control of the outcome,” Arezzolo suggests. “Know that you will solve the problem and that the hard work will be worth it – so don’t give up.”