Sleep serves a number of essential functions we simply can’t do without. Sleep has restorative qualities and also affects our capacity to build memories, rewiring our brains to ensure that newly-gained knowledge is effectively organized and stored for future use. Getting more ‘quality sleep’ helps us to remember, process and understand things better.

On the flip side, too little night-time sleep doesn’t just mean daytime sleepiness: it also makes our brains less efficient. Sleep deprivation can also lead to weight gain as our tired bodies think they have too little energy and try to compensate with food. In fact, both too little sleep and too much of it are associated with reduced life expectancy.

Benefits of getting good sleep

  • Improved cognitive function (and not just because we’re less sleepy)
  • Better weight control
  • Lower levels of stress and stress hormones
  • Reduced levels of inflammation and oxidative stress
  • Improved mood
  • Improved daytime energy/vitality
  • Improved skin tone and vitality (hence the term ‘beauty sleep’)
  • Longevity (?)

How much sleep do we need?

A common myth is that we all need 8 hours of sleep per night.  Yet the amount of sleep we need to feel good varies among individuals, seasons and even over the course of the working week. Some people need 9 hours yet others function very well on 6 hours sleep.  There is no magic sleep number that suits us all and the important indication of your sleep requirements is how well you function during the day on the amount of sleep you do get.

Options to help you get a good night’s sleep

  • Establish a pattern that suits your body and stick to it
    • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
    • Limit the time you spend in bed
    • Only go to bed when you’re sleepy
    • If you don’t fall asleep within 15 minutes or wake up and can’t fall back to sleep within that amount of time, get out of bed and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy again
  • Use your bed only for sleeping or sex
  • Get more exercise
    • Do exercise first thing in the morning exercise; apart from getting it out of the way before you get sidetracked, it is a great way to bolster your spirits
    • Get out of your office and take in some bright light during the day. This is a great chance to exercise your body and your brain and as a bonus you sleep better too
  • Deal with stress – this is one of the biggest causes of insomnia and must be managed head on if you want to get a good night s sleep. Many stress management techniques have been shown to improve your quality and quantity of sleep
    • Get a meditation CD and listen to it before going to bed
    • Invest in an audio visual entrainment system and use this before going to sleep to enhance your quality or sleep and so you get to sleep faster
  • Keep out the light from the street or the next room
  • Keep the TV and the computer out of the bedroom
  • Block-out street noise with the right choice of window, garden planting or other simple tricks
  • Replace your worn-out or uncomfortable mattresses with one that allows you to maintain an anatomically neutral position
  • Avoid drinks containing caffeine after 2pm (or noon, if you’re caffeine-sensitive)
  • Don’t drink alcohol for at least two hours before bedtime
  • Don’t eat just before going to bed
  • Put work away at least a couple of hours before going to bed
  • Talk to your doctor about  hormonal deficiencies that may be affecting your sleep
  • Forgo naps, especially close to bedtime
  • Ask your doctor to prescribe a melatonin supplement
  • See a practitioner if you continue to have sleep problems

Click here to see Margo Field, mind body expert talk about getting better sleep.

Last Reviewed 03/Mar/2014

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Merlin Thomas is a physician and a scientist. His research laboratory is at the JDRF/ Danielle Alberti Memorial Centre for the study of Diabetes Complications at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne.