This month Australians are encouraged to become aware of the importance and quality of sleep.
Regular sufficient sleep is vital for healthy bodies and mind. With over a third of Australian adults and 1 in 5 children experiencing sleep insufficiencies, it’s important to exercise healthy sleeping habits to improve sleep, boost health and enhance learning, to perform better at home and work.
The World Sleep Day organisation has a great slogan for sleep: 1
“WHEN SLEEP IS SOUND, HEALTH AND HAPPINESS ABOUND”
Good quality sleep requires:
- Duration – sufficient length of sleep to feel rested and alter the next day
- Continuity – un-interrupted sleep
- Depth – deep enough sleep to be restored and refresh
Are you getting good sound quality sleep?
How much sleep do I need? 2
Each person differs in the amount of sleep required to function throughout the day. In general:
- Babies: 14-18 hours sleep through day and night.
- Toddlers: 12-14 hours per 24 hour period.
- School Children: 9-12 hours of sleep for growth, emotional needs and good performance at school
- Teenagers too need around 9-10 hours of sleep to deal with demands of growth, emotional development, school and social needs.
- Adults need about 7-8 hours of sleep, depending on individual factors such as age, fatigue levels, sense of alertness, and emotional wellbeing.
Insomnia is the based on the quality of sleep and how you feel after sleep – feeling rested and refreshed. Though you may have spent 8 hours in bed, if you feel drowsy and fatigued during the day, you may be experiencing insomnia.
Symptom of insufficient sleep:
In adults, signs to watch out for are – constant yawning, tendency to doze off, grogginess, poor concentration, changes in moods, decline in creative thinking and problem solving, poor behaviour in social situations, reduced motor skills / coordination, reduced work efficiency, loss of motivation, period of micro-sleep, not feeling refreshed upon waking.
In children, signs to watch out for are – moodiness, changes in temper, emotional distress, over-activity and hyperactive behaviour, unusual nap times, grogginess upon waking, reluctance to rise in the morning, impaired learning.
Causes of insufficient sleep or quality of sleep: 2,3
There are many factors which can significantly impact sleep quality, some of these include stress (work, financial, and/or family related), emotional pressures, anxiety, worry, sadness.
Other causes include:
- Personal choices and habits – socialising, poor sleeping hygiene (late night TV, internet use, reading, arts and craft work), exercising late
- Stimulants – drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine
- Health related illness
- Time zone – travel, jet lag
- Work – shift work, work travel, taking work home
Practicing good sleep hygiene: 2
Promoting good sleep hygiene or sleep habits, establishes regular sleeping patterns for improved sleep. Always see your health practitioner first to rule out any medical problem that is causing poor sleep. Otherwise, try these handy hints for getting to sleep and staying there:
- Go to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning. For children, setting an early bedtime will reduce overtiredness and hyperactivity.
- Exercise daily for 30 minutes in the morning, not only does it enhances sleep but also relieves stress and improve moods. Night exercise may lead to alertness. Studies show that people sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day if they get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week.
- Avoid activities before bedtime that may keep the mind active.
- Wind down before bed – turn off TV, electronic devices, electronic games.
- Practise relaxation techniques like deep breathing and meditation.
- Get into a routine – this is particularly important for children. For example brushing teeth, changing in to pyjamas, reading a book. A bedtime chart is a helpful way to set a bedtime routine.
- Create a comfortable sleep haven – moderate temperature, soft-dimmed-light controlled environment, quietness, remove electronic devices from the bedroom
- Avoid large meals before bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine (tea, coffee, coke) and alcohol close to bedtime.
- Avoid nicotine.
Nutrients and Herbs - A natural way to promote better sleep
- Magnesium – is a natural muscle relaxer. It has also been known to relieve cramps and muscle spasm. Due to magnesium’s relaxing qualities, studies suggest that magnesium may improve the quality of sleep of those experiencing sleeplessness. 4
- Omega 3 – research from Oxford University noted higher levels of Omega 3 in the diet associated with better sleep. 600mg of Omega 3, containing DHA, a known brain nutrient, showed improved sleep in over 300 children. The study further linked an association to low Omega 3 in relation to children experiencing behaviour and learning difficulties. 5
Key Foods for good sleep – cherries with natural melatonin, pure dark chocolate containing cocoa which are high in magnesium, Omega 3 rich fish or salmon, Leafy greens (spinach, broccoli) magnesium source, banana and chickpeas which are good source of vitamin B6 needed to make melatonin, chamomile tea as a mild sedative.
Many herbs and nutritional supplements can assist in a good night’s sleep, these include:
- Valerian – has been traditionally used to help people sleep with its calming and relaxing effects. It helps to relieve restlessness, excitability and sleep disorders caused by nervous tension.
- Ziziphus – traditional Chinese herb with soothing and balancing properties. Ziziphus helps relieve symptoms of anxiety, sleeplessness, nervous exhaustion, irritability and excessive sweating including night sweats.
- Hops – has calming properties, supports the nervous system and promotes restful sleep.
- Passionflower – can help relax tense muscles and soothe frayed nerves. It settles and helps to relieve tension to promote sleep.
- Vervain – soothes and sedates the nervous system without that woozy side effects, ideal for people who are experiencing nervous exhaustion
- Oats – nourishes the nervous system and helps keep energy levels up. This herb is useful for anyone rundown caused by emotional stress or feeling grumpy.
- Lavender - is the most popular essential oil for relaxation and encouraging sleep. Spray on bed sheets and pillow before bed.
- Kava – helps relax the mind and body, may alleviate mild anxiety and promote sound sleep.
The following are beneficial in addressing specific problems related to sleep:
- For relief of sleeplessness – Valerian, Kava, Passion flower, Hops, Oats, Vervain and Zizyphus.
- For stress and anxiety relief – St John’s Wort, Kava, Passion flower, Valerian, Zizyphus, Oats, Vervain and Hops.
- For relief of hot flushes and night sweats – Zizyphus and Sage.
- For pain relief – Turmeric, Boswellia and Devil’s Claw.
- For relief of restless leg syndrome – magnesium and B complex vitamins.
- For cramps and muscle spasm relief – magnesium, calcium and B complex vitamins.
Always see your health practitioner first to rule out any medical problem that may be causing poor sleep.
- Behnood, A et al. The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial (2012) J Res Med Sci. 2012 Dec; 17(12): 1161–1169.
- Oxford University. http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2014-03-06-higher-levels-omega-3-diet-associated-better-sleep
- Sleep Awareness Australia 6th July 2015 http://sleephealthfoundation.org.au