If you’re constantly tossing and turning at night, or waking up in a rotten mood, you could have a sleep disorder – and our busy, modern-day lifestyles are partially to blame, according to experts.
One in four adults who has frequent sleep difficulties use the internet almost every night before bed, and one in five people reports that long work hours prevent them from a good night’s rest, a 2016 sleep health report by the University of Adelaide found.
Thoracic and sleep specialist Dr Justin Hundloe said there is a two-way relationship between sleeping problems and poor health.
“There’s an increasing recognition that poor sleep can impact chronic or pain conditions. Vice versa, the presence of chronic pain can impact the quality of sleep that an individual gets,” he told The New Daily.
The growing problem is such a concern that the Australian government has set up a parliamentary inquiry investigating our sleep health, and its impact on society and the economy.
So far, there have been 129 submissions to the inquiry from medical professionals, health groups, patients and the public – with hearings taking place around the country since February 2019.
“Increasingly, Australians are balancing their work, family, and social commitments by cutting back on sleep,” Liberal MP and chair of the sleep inquiry committee Trent Zimmerman, said.
“And it is not just adults, for young people spending increased time on the internet, playing digital games, and social networking can come at the expense of sleep,” he added.
On Friday, the Sleep Health Foundation released new data showing that some older Australians report considerably less sleep-related fatigue and irritability than people under 65 – the figures came from a sample of 1011 Australians across all age groups.
“I think many people will be happy to know that increasingly tiredness and fatigue are not an inevitable consequence of getting older,” Professor Robert Adams from the foundation said. “In fact your sleep can actually improve with age.”
Dr Hundloe said people do not have to ‘put up’ with poor sleep. He shares his do’s and dont’s this World Sleep Day (March 15).
Establish a sleep routine: It may sound obvious but making a conscious effort to maintain a regular sleep routine is essential. This means going to bed and waking at similar times each day, including weekends. In fact, giving in to the ‘Sunday snooze’ can disturb your circadian rhythm, which in turn increases sleep problems during the week.
Keep up your fitness but avoid late night jogs: “Regular exercise is one of the key factors in enabling solid sleep, or consolidated sleep, which means less broken sleep,” Dr Hundloe explained. While there is no ‘ideal’ time to exercise, he recommended keeping evening high-intensity workout sessions to a minimum, which can “overstimulate” the mind and body.
Take a hard look at your caffeine habit: If you have a sleep problem, it may feel impossible to function without a few coffees throughout the day. But this creates a vicious cycle, where your caffeine hit from today affects how you sleep and function the next day. To avoid these lingering effects, Dr Hundloe recommended minimising caffeine after 3pm. This includes all caffeinated products such as black or green tea, chocolate and energy or soft drinks.
Activity trackers in smartphones or wearable devices: “These devices can provide a reasonable surrogate measure of your time of sleep,” Dr Hundloe said. “It can be useful for individuals to get a sense of their own sleep pattern, and if they do have concerns to take that information to their medical practitioner.”
Dark side of blue light: Artificial blue lights emitted from your device may suppress the sleep hormone melatonin more so than other types of light, according to research. Switching to ‘sleep’ mode on your smartphone or avoiding devices in bed altogether should help.
What doesn’t work?
The myth of the night-cap: “Some people think alcohol is a nightcap but it often creates issues with broken sleep,” Dr Hundloe said. Research shows alcohol can also encourage snoring, night sweats, headaches and insomnia. If you are going to enjoy a tipple, it’s best to do so a few hours before going to bed.
‘Too-good-to-be-true’ miracle fixes: The allure of quick-fix sleep products and devices are aplenty but most of these fall short of their lofty claims, Dr Hundloe said. “There are sprays that people might Google, or magnetic underlays in mattresses. I don’t think any of these have an impact on sleep disorders or sleep apnoea.”
Use alarm clocks with caution: Most people need alarm clocks to get to work on time. But, an over-reliance on alarms can lead to ‘clock watching’, the experts said. “Lying in bed and turning and looking at the clock consistently can be counter-productive,” Dr Hundloe said.