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Your guide to better sleep

Your guide to better sleep

Ditch the idea of being super-human and just go to sleep. Okay, so it isn’t exactly that simple, but the new culture of being able to do everything and operating on minimal rest is gaining criticism all around, as it should. 

The ‘hustle hard, sleep when I’m dead’ attitude that has become popular in the early 2000s, and the rise of the side hustle and the entrepreneurial sector has served many well financially. Still, as the old adage goes, ‘if you don’t make time for your wellness, you will have to make time for your illness’. 

Sleep is work

Contrary to popular belief, sleep isn’t wasted hours in the day. It is actually the most essential part of the day when your body is able to reset all the biological functions that’s essential for good health and optimal performance.

Deprived of sleep, our thinking, learning, behaviour, feelings, memory, moods, interactions with others, and growth in the young are all adversely impacted.  

According to Foundation Diet and Health, chronic lack of sleep is present when it comes to impaired mental capacity, poor motor coordination, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, dysfunction of the immune system, hormonal function, weight gain, the capacity to move and exercise and risk of obesity by 89 % in children and 55 % in adults. Even Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease have causal links to sleep deprivation. 

What is sleep?

Scientists are yet to discover the full extent of the complex and dynamic processes and biological purposes of sleep. It is an activity that should take up a third of our day. 

Central to sleep is the role it plays in brain function. Functions such as the formation and maintenance of neural pathways that you need to concentrate and respond quickly, for example. Sleep is also central in how nerve cells – neurons communicate with other cells, besides how every bodily system and every tissue functions. 

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, sleep is a cleaner, removing toxins from your brain. These build up when you’re awake and on information overload. 

How much sleep do we need? 

People have different sleep requirements, depending on their age and their state of health. New-borns up to 3 months needs 14 -17 hours. From 4 – 11 months, infants need 12-15 hours, and 1 – 2-year-old toddlers need 11 – 14 hours, while 3 -5 years old pre-schoolers need 10-13 hours’ sleep. 

School going children who go through intense and stressful periods of brain development need 9-11 hours during their primary school ages of 6 – 13 years old. Teenagers aged 14-17 years old need 8-10 hours’ sleep. From 18-64 years, adults need 7-9 hours and over 65 years, and seniors need 7-8 hours’ sleep. 

What to check for? 

Disrupted sleep can play havoc with your health and affect the entire household. 

If you lie awake most nights, then the following conditions may be the cause:

  • Nocturia: frequent need to urinate at night. Try to have your last drink of water at least two hours before going to sleep. And go to the toilet just before turning in. 
  • Obstructive sleep apnoea is when you stop repeatedly breathing during your sleep and then suddenly jerk awake. 
  • Snoring which may be a result of a partially blocked airway or allergies and sinus problems
  • Your own or your partner’s habits such as involuntary movements – restless leg syndrome or periodic limb movements of sleep – tossing and turning, talking or mumbling in your sleep; kicking or punching out while sleeping and lastly, circadian rhythm sleep/wake disorders, which usually affect shift workers.
  • Bruxism – the nocturnal grinding of teeth and jaw clenching, usually associated with stress, anxiety and depression. It does wake you up.
  • Sleep paralysis in which you can’t move when you fall asleep or wake up, and lastly, you hallucinate when in a semi-conscious state, hearing or seeing things that aren’t real. 
  • Your state of mind such as work and money worries, negativity and unresolved past problems that you obsess over. The experts suggest finding something relaxing to do, such as meditation, reading a book, listening to music, having a warm essential oil-scented bath or a foot spa bath, deep breathing and visualisation techniques.
  • Medications that cause sleeplessness include some antidepressants and anxiolytics and high blood pressure, asthma, allergies, ADHD medications and hormones and steroids, beta-blockers and over-the-counter medicines containing alcohol and caffeine.

See a doctor if you suspect any of the above conditions. 

Here’s to sleep

Environment plays an essential role in setting the scene for a good night’s rest. 

Air out your room and ensure that it is well-ventilated, say the experts. Having pot plants such as lavender and aloe generally improves the air quality in rooms.

When it comes to bedtime, block out external noise and light, close the door to the passageway and the bathroom and use black-out curtains on your windows. Use dimmer light such as bedside lamps.

It is all very well to get a healthy dose of bright light during the day, but at night, your body requires softer light and avoidance of blue light from the television and electronic devices. Blue light tricks the body into believing that it is still daytime. 

According to Healthline, your bed and bedding should be of the highest quality, especially if you suffer from joint and back pain. And mattress and bedding should be swopped every 5 to 8 years.

Also, you should avoid drinking coffee and alcohol before bed because it reduces night-time melatonin production and leads to disrupted sleep patterns. And you’d do well to increase daytime exercise and watch your diet, but do avoid heavy meals late at night.

How to create a bedtime routine

Start your new bedtime routine by winding down from the day. Make sure that the space you are in is conducive to restful, uninterrupted sleep, Affinity Health reports. 

Include the following steps into your sleep routine:

  • Establish a sleeping time. Your body will eventually adjust to a regular bedtime.
  • Take a warm bath before bedtime, which will relax your body.
  • Relax your muscles with a selection of yoga stretches. Do not do any vigorous exercises. It will only increase your energy level and keep you awake.
  • Sleep in a dark room, with the possibility of natural light coming in when morning comes. This will wake you up naturally. No cellphone, no TV for at least an hour before the light can mimic daylight and throw off your sleep cycle.

Developing and maintaining these methods will put you on the road to better, healthy sleeping. 


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