We asked an expert how to create a better sleep routine

We asked an expert how to create a better sleep routine

How we sleep at night is often very dependent upon how we spent our day.

BY Dr Carmel Harrington, October 1, 2017

There is one thing we can do to dramatically increase our performance, creativity, wellbeing, life expectancy and reduce a wealth of health issues, yet many of us associate sleeping longer with being weak or lazy.

It’s time we stopped.

If you regularly sleep less than 7 hours a night you are suffering from sleep deprivation. And if you have six or less hours sleep a night for three nights in a row, you’re operating on the same cognitive level as a drunk person. It goes without saying that it can’t be good for business.

Whether you’re a sleep-deprived parent of young children, running a business, or can’t switch off from the mental load checklist running through your mind when your head hits the pillow (or all three), there are things we can do to switch off and get a better night’s rest.

Dr. Carmel Harrington, a clinical researcher, author, speaker and therapist writes: 

A recent (August 2017) Deloitte Access Economics Report found that 7.4 million Australian adults regularly experience inadequate sleep, equivalent to 40% of the adult population. And there are high economic costs associated with this. The report estimates that the total cost of inadequate sleep in Australia is $66.3 billion or about $8,968 per adult and this includes productivity losses estimated at $17.9 B or $2418 per adult.

There are significant and serious consequences to not getting enough sleep.

In the long term, if you regularly don’t get enough sleep or sleep poorly over long periods, you are five times more likely to develop depression, three times more likely to experience cognitive decline and your chances of developing dementia are doubled. The risk of obesity increases by 50 per cent and your odds of cardiovascular disease are twice as high as someone who regularly sleeps well and sufficiently.

On the plus side research indicates that well-slept people are more likely to have:

• a better memory
• an increased level of creativity
• a better ability to concentrate and think
• better grades / performance at work
• a healthy weight and healthy metabolism.
• a positive mood state (happy and energetic)
• better immunity to colds and flu
• better athletic performance
• a longer life

A sleep routine is often critical to getting to sleep and maintaining sleep because humans are very good at being “conditioned.” In other words, we readily learn to connect a particular stimulus with a particular reflex. For example, if every night we go to bed only to watch television for an hour or so, or do some homework, we are inadvertently conditioning ourselves to stay awake for up to an hour every time we go to bed.

As a result, on the nights we go to bed and want to go to sleep immediately, we will find it very difficult. This susceptibility to conditioning can work in our favour so that when we set up a good night time regime (like setting the alarm one hour before bedtime and switching off) our body and brain learn that this is the time we go to sleep and reflexively we will.

How we sleep at night is often very dependent upon how we spent our day.

To get the best sleep possible we do need to prepare both our mind and body for sleep.

To prepare the body, we need to:

• Get up at the same time every day.
• Exercise for at least 20 minutes per day (a walk at lunchtime is good)
• Not have caffeine after midday
• Refrain from alcohol
• Not sleep during the day (a nap of 20 minutes is ok)
• Eat only a small meal at night and especially no big meal within 3 hours of bedtime.
• Not exercise within 3 hours of bedtime (this will alert the body)

To prepare the mind, we need to:

• Deal with the issues of the day: in the early evening spend no more than 20 minutes writing events of the day that are of concern along with potential solutions. Close the book and put it away.
• Set the alarm one hour before bedtime. At that time:
o turn off all technology
o dim the lighting in the room
o warm-hot shower
o relaxation exercise

Ensure that the bed and bedroom environment is conducive to sleep, meaning it is:
o quiet
o cool
o dark
o absolutely no technology.

There are various factors that also affect sleep quality – from light and temperature in the bedroom to diet, exercise and lifestyle habits. For example, your mattress and pillow, the overall ambience of a bedroom, how cluttered it is, whether it is too light in the morning, too noisy at night, too hot or too cold can all make a huge impact.

How many hours do you sleep per night? What is the biggest factor disturbing your sleep? 

Our interview with Dr. Carmel Harrington is in partnership with A.H. Beard. Their free 6-Week Sleep Challenge, is now in its fifth year. Since its introduction in 2013, it has helped over 58,000 people improve their sleep and change their life. Research (and experience) tells us that it is much easier to make lifestyle changes incrementally and when we are well supported by a network. The next challenge round starts on October 9 and to register just go to www.ahbeard.com anytime before October 9th.


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