You probably ask yourself all the time what makes a good night’s sleep? If you google it, you’ll most likely see lists upon lists of top ten tips or the 5 best secrets to a good night’s sleep. Whilst these lists probably have great ideas, they may be redundant without understanding the key elements that make a good night’s sleep.
We’ve narrowed it down to three key elements for a good night’s sleep:
Now you know the three elements let’s expand on what they are so you have a basic understanding and can apply those great tips you see everywhere including our Instagram 😉.
Duration refers to the length of time that you sleep for, your sleep needs to be long enough that when you wake up the next day you are feeling refreshed and alert. Generally speaking, for an adult this is between 7-9 hours of sleep, with the length being longer for teenagers and young children.
Your sleep needs to be long and uninterrupted, even if you are still getting your required hours of sleep a night if you are waking up multiple times this can affect the overall quality of your sleep. There are four stages of sleep that humans go through each night:
As you can see our body slides through different and important stages of sleep each night and can do this multiple times, so if you are repeatedly waking up during the night you are disrupting your bodies sleep cycle.
This ties in with the stages of sleep we touched on above when talking about sleep continuity, you want your sleep to be deep and restorative. This means we especially want to make sure we are reaching the third and fourth stage of sleep known as slow wave sleep. Slow wave sleep is attributed to play a pivotal role in brain restoration and recovery as well as memory consolidation, whilst also producing human growth hormone which repairs tissues and cells in our bodies. All very important for us to be functional humans the next day.
Now you are equipped with the understanding of the key factors making up a good night’s sleep, you can now start creating a sleep routine that will aid you in sleeping the required amount and protecting it from interruption.
We all dream every night.
Dreams are a normal part of sleep. Most dreams occur and are the most vivid when we are in REM sleep. REM sleep generally first happens about 90 minutes after falling asleep and each REM stage can last up to an hour. The average adult having five to six REM cycles each night.
During the day when awake our thoughts, ideas and actions are based on logic. When we are asleep and dreaming the logical region of our brain shuts down and our dreams are driven by the emotional side of our brain, with about two thirds of our dreams occurring in pictures.
“During REM sleep many of our muscles relax completely and this prevents us acting out our dreams. If this system doesn’t work properly, we may try to act out our dreams, especially if the dreams involve strong emotions.” – Sleep Health Foundation
If you are in a positive mind set and have a good day, you are more likely to have a good dream. If you are depressed or anxious this may compromise your sleep quality and contribute to bad dreams.
Nightmares are vivid scary dreams. They tend to wake you up. They may often also stop you going back to sleep.
For children they are often thought of as part of growing up but they can also be set off by things such as a stressful event in life, trauma, medications, substance abuse or a mental or physical illness.
According to the Sleep Health Foundation of Australia
“10% to 50% of children have them. The number of adults who have nightmares is much less, from 2.5% to 10%”
If you are experiencing vivid scary dreams or nightmares regularly you may not be getting enough sleep at night or wake up feeling tired and stressed. If this is occurring regularly counselling may help.
Commonly it is thought that dreaming allows us to analyse and consolidate memories, skills and habits. Assisting us in our ability to respond to situations in our daily lives.
Other beliefs include dream’s acting as a creative muse, inspiring and facilitating our creativity. As a therapist, helping connect our feelings in such a way that we would not while awake. Or as a way of helping us deal with a threat or problem.
“One of the areas of the brain that’s most active during dreaming is the amygdala. The amygdala is the part of the brain associated with the survival instinct and the fight-or-flight response.” healthline.com
Although there is still a lot to be learnt about their cause and function, they are part of our regular sleep cycle which is vitally important for our everyday health and well being.
Sleep Well, Live Well
Many things can interfere with us getting enough sleep. A late night movie, completing a work assignment or a night out with friends.
For an adult the recommended amount of sleep for our bodies to function effectively is 7-9 hours a night. Sleep debt is where there is a difference in the amount of sleep we should be getting versus the amount of sleep we are actually getting.
Short term sleep debt can result in a lack of concentration, irritability and poor judgement, affecting our ability to learn and complete tasks, and increasing the likelihood of accidents or errors to occur.
As sleep is restorative, longer term a chronic lack of sleep can contribute to health problems including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. You may also be more susceptible to experiencing anxiety and depression.
If you have had a late night or are feeling tired a nap may help during the day, reducing fatigue, increasing alertness, improving your mood, performance and reaction time. A nap may also help you prepare for and be able to better cope with a late night out, shift work or a long drive.
Ideally a nap should only be 15-30 minutes long. This will ensure that when you wake you are still in the lightest stage of non-REM sleep. Any longer, where you enter the deeper stages of sleep you risk waking up with what is known as sleep inertia. Feeling groggy and perhaps more tired and with less energy than before your nap.
Many of us enjoy a weekend sleep in, catching up on sleep lost during the week. Whilst it may seem a good idea and make you feel less tired, if you are sleeping in do not sleep for more than 2 hours longer than normal. Sleeping late into the morning can further disrupt your sleep patterns by making you feel less sleepy when you should be going to bed at night.
Sleeping in or taking naps may make us feel less tired in the short term but they are not a solution for long term chronic sleep debt and the potential long-term effects on your health.
Avoiding sleep debt, and providing your body with the sleep it needs requires a regular sleep routine and good sleep hygiene habits.
It may take time to get into a routine but by following good sleep hygiene and a regular sleep routine you will regain the energy you have been lacking and it will benefit your long term health and wellbeing.
Sleep Well, Live Well
We all know that exercise, healthy eating and a good night’s sleep are key to our wellbeing, but did you know that what we eat can affect the quality of our sleep and how we have slept can affect what we want to eat.
Not getting enough sleep and feeling tired can make us more hungry
Yes, it is true. When tired we often want to eat more and often find ourselves reaching for energy rich but nutrient poor foods. A lack of sleep increases the release of the hormone Ghrelin which makes us feel hungry, whilst suppressing the release of the hormone Leptin that makes us feel full. Long term lack of sleep or tiredness is therefore linked to an increase in weight, which also increases the risk of snoring.
And what we eat and drink during the day can affect our ability to fall asleep
Our food and drink is made up of various nutrients which may influence our sleep patterns.
Eating certain foods can help you get in the mood for sleep whilst other can make you feel alert or wake you during the night.
Foods that contain Melatonin
Melatonin helps your body know when to wake up and go to sleep, with Melatonin levels generally starting to go up about 2 hours before sleep.
Foods high in Melatonin include:
Foods that contain Tryptophan
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid found in many foods which plays a role in creating Serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that effects our mood and helps to regulate sleep and is converted into the sleep hormone melatonin.
Foods that contain Tryptophan include:
Many of these are protein rich foods, which on their own may not be enough. High protein meals can actually result in a drop of Serotonin because they contain not only Tryptophan but a number of other amino acids all of which are competing to make their way into the brain.
Eating a light carbohydrate can assist. Carbohydrates trigger the release of insulin which causes amino acids, but not Tryptophan to be absorbed into the body. Tryptophan remains in the bloodstream at high levels and can then enter the brain and cause Serotonin levels to rise.
Foods that contain Calcium
Dairy products that contain both Tryptophan and Calcium are also good sleep inducers
"Calcium helps the brain use the amino acid tryptophan to manufacture the sleep-inducing substance melatonin. This explains why dairy products, which contain both tryptophan and calcium, are one of the top sleep-inducing foods." – Medical News Today
Some good sources of Calcium which include Tryptophan are:
Foods that contain Vitamin B6
B6 also aids in the production of Serotonin and Melatonin. Deficiencies in the Vitamin B6 have been linked with lowered Serotonin levels, poor-quality sleep, insomnia and depression.
Vitamin B6 can be found in
Foods that contain Magnesium
A lack of magnesium has been linked to increased stress and anxiety levels and difficulty going and staying asleep.
Magnesium can be found in:
You may also consider a drink of Chamomile Tea
Chamomile tea is a well-known remedy for a good night’s sleep, helping calm the brain and body Chamomile Tea is rich in an antioxidant called apigenin.
And adding a teaspoon of raw honey Honey, restocks the liver with Glycogen which our brain users for energy. If glycogen is low the brain can wake us up telling us we need to eat. The natural sugars in honey also slightly raise insulin levels which help Tryptophan to enter the brain.
Many of us grew up with our parents telling us a warm glass of milk would help us sleep. Just this association may help you relax and prepare for a good night’s sleep. But there is also scientific evidence of the benefits of milk before bed. Milk is a natural source of the sleep inducing Tryptophan amino acid.
A naturally occurring stimulant, caffeine can be found in many food and drinks including coffee, tea and chocolate. While caffeine may give us a much needed wake-up or boost during the day, it can also affect our sleep and contribute to us feeling more tired the following day.
If you are drinking or consuming large amounts of caffeine consider cutting back. Just don’t stop suddenly, gradually cut back. If your body is used to caffeine as stimulant, simply stopping may give you headaches.
Try having that last one at different times to see what works best for you because as recognised by the Sleep Health Foundation
“There are different views on how many hours before bed you should have your last caffeine intake. Some say caffeine should be avoided for at least 3 to 7 hours before going to sleep. Others say no caffeine after lunch time if you have sleep problems. Many people find that their sleep improves with less caffeine or only having caffeine earlier in the day.”
Although Alcohol can make you feel tired and help you fall asleep faster it is disruptive to the amount and quality of your sleep. It may stop you from entering into the deeper and restorative stages of sleep and it is associated with one waking up more regularly in the night. It is best to avoid alcohol for at least 4 hours before bedtime.
Spicy foods are known to cause heartburn, indigestion and acid reflux, which may be made worse by lying down. The Sleep Council UK also recognize that research has found that spicy foods
“brought about a change in body temperature which can confuse the brain, as core temperature naturally dips as bedtime approaches.”
Foods High in fat
Fatty foods have been linked to poor fragmented sleep patterns and can also trigger acid production in the stomach leading to heartburn and indigestion.
Foods that have a high water content and are natural diuretics.
Natural diuretics elevate the rate and need for urination and you don’t want to be woken in the night needing to go to the bathroom. Foods that are natural diuretics include watermelon, celery and cucumber.
Large or protein heavy meals before bedtime
Avoid eating a large meal, or a meal heavy in protein, too close to bedtime and allow at least 2-3 hours between your last main meal of the day and bedtime. A small snack is ok. Going to bed with a full tummy will cause your body to focus on digesting rather than sleeping.
Remember that along with regular exercise a healthy balanced diet will help improve your sleep and energy levels.
Note: The lists above are not exhaustive and if regularly having trouble sleeping you should consult your doctor.
Sleep Well, Live Well
We all know that exercise strengthens our bodies and gives us more energy in the day, but did you know exercise can also help us sleep better?
“The mental benefits of aerobic exercise have a neurochemical basis. Exercise reduces levels of the body's stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body's natural painkillers and mood elevators”
Although exercise can help improve your sleep it is important to consider how the time of day you are working out and how the type of exercise you are doing may affect your sleep.
Some people may find that working out too close to bedtime may keep them up at night.
If you find this is the case, avoid undertaking vigorous or aerobic activity in the evenings. Work out in the mornings or afternoons and give your body 4-5 hours to wind down before bedtime.
Use the evenings to relax , practice mindfulness or yoga
Harvard.edu's article Yoga for Better Sleep recognising that
"Yoga is a gentle and restorative way to wind down your day A national survey found that over 55% of people who did yoga found that it helped them get better sleep. Over 85% said yoga helped reduce stress."
Head to our facebook page and try our 10 minute workout with personal trainer and actress Ariel Kaplan. No equipment needed, can be done at home or in the park.
Take the time to exercise everyday, you will see the overall health benefits, have more energy and get a better night’s sleep. And if working from home, or regularly sitting in front of a computer at the office, get up and move regularly during the day as less sitting is also associated with better health and sleep.
Sleep Well, Live Well
A shift worker is anyone who follows a work schedule that is outside of the typical 9 to 5 business day. This might include working rotating, split or irregular shifts and include morning, afternoon, evening or night work.
Allowing employers to make full use of the 24 hours in each day and ensuring essential services, including emergency services and healthcare are available at all times.
According to the Sleep Health Foundation of Australia
“The average shift worker sleeps one hour a day less than someone who doesn't work shifts.”
Just like when travelling overseas, and adjusting to a new time zone, it is not easy to switch to working and sleeping different hours of the day.
As daylight suppresses the release of Melatonin, a hormone which plays an important role in telling us when to go to sleep and wake up, shift work in the evenings or at night works directly against our body’s natural biological clock or circadian rhythm.
As a shift worker if you are not getting enough sleep you may find that you are lacking in energy, become irritable easily, have trouble concentrating or completing tasks efficiently. You may also find yourself nodding of and wanting to nap.
Lack of sleep can therefore reduce your ability to effectively do your job and also increase the danger of accidents at work.
By getting enough sleep you will feel better, be more productive and reduce the likelihood of errors or accidents.
Sleep Well, Live Well
If we have had a bad night’s sleep it can be hard to concentrate, our reaction time may be delayed, we may struggle to learn new things or recall our memories and not make sensible decisions.
After a good night’s sleep we feel energised, our brain is alert and we are able to clearly focus, learn, be creative and remember information.
Research shows that sleep plays an important role in learning and the formation of memories.
According to a resource from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School
“Research suggests that sleep helps learning and memory in two distinct ways. First, a sleep-deprived person cannot focus attention optimally and therefore cannot learn efficiently. Second, sleep itself has a role in the consolidation of memory, which is essential for learning new information.
Although the exact mechanisms are not known, learning and memory are often described in terms of three functions. Acquisition refers to the introduction of new information into the brain. Consolidation represents the processes by which a memory becomes stable. Recall refers to the ability to access the information (whether consciously or unconsciously) after it has been stored.”
While we are sleeping different stages of our sleep play a role in forming different types of memories and consolidating what we have learnt during the day Research indicating procedural memory, or remembering how to do things such as riding a bike is affected by REM Sleep.
Ensuring you get enough sleep is therefore important to our ability to learn, remember how to do things and make good decisions.
On average, an adult should get between 7-9 hours of sleep a night.
If you are not sure how much sleep you or a member of your family should be getting based on age the Sleep Health Foundations article how much sleep do you really need gives a good guide.
Sleep well, live well