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Are you getting enough sleep?

Why sleep is essential for wellbeing
Blog 76

You’ve no doubt heard famous leaders wax lyrical about how little sleep they need to perform in their high-power roles. Oprah functions quite comfortably on five-and-a-half hours. Indra Nooyi, one-time chairperson and CEO of PepsiCo, gets by on four. And during his time in office, former US President Barack Obama typically went to bed at 1am and was up again by 7am, ready to run the world.

Why is it then that so many other people wake up exhausted each morning and barely manage to roll out of bed? A few minutes short of eight hours sleep and they’re a grouch for the rest of the day – until, that is, their energy re-emerges late at night, just in time for a Netflix binge. (I should put it on record here that I get by on what some might describe as the minimum of sleep. I’m usually up by 5am and power through to 11pm. Please don’t judge me.)

We often label ourselves ‘morning people’ or ‘night owls’, but really, unless you have a medical condition that’s causing fatigue, tiredness can generally be attributed to lifestyle factors. Staying up too late. Too much screen time before bed. Poor diet. Too much caffeine. Not enough exercise. Stress. These are just some of the reasons that people are sleep deprived, with research by the Sleep Health Foundation showing that four out of 10 Australians don’t get adequate sleep, which not only contributes to depression and irritability, but also decreases levels of alertness, concentration and emotional control.

And it’s not just mental health that suffers. Quality sleep is also essential for physical health, with those precious hours allowing our bodies time to repair themselves and reap the benefits of all kinds of good hormones that come flooding through in our unconscious state. It’s when our sympathetic nervous system – which controls our fight or flight response – gets a chance to relax, and our cortisol levels (or stress hormones) decrease. In the long term, poor sleep can contribute to chronic health problems, like heart disease and obesity.

So, what exactly is the sleep sweet spot – and how can you achieve it?
While adults are told to aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night, as with so many things in life, it’s more about quality than quantity – and everybody has different needs. To prepare yourself for a good night’s sleep, it’s essential to practise proper sleep hygiene, establishing habits that are conducive to rest and relaxation. Like making time for sleep, rather than just letting it happen once everything else is done. Creating the right environment: a dark, quiet bedroom, free of distractions, with a controlled temperature. And turning off all screens a few hours before bed (or at least switching them to a blue light setting, so the brightness doesn’t suppress your melatonin production). In the lead-up to bedtime, try mindfulness meditation; the Smiling Mind app has some great sleep resources.

If data is your jam, there are plenty of sleep-tracking apps out there that can shed some light on how you sleep. Fitbit, for example, has an inbuilt tracker that measures your time spent in light, deep and REM sleep (plus time awake) and then gives you a sleep score. Meanwhile, Pillow analyses your sleep cycles and offers tips to improve sleep quality.

That said, such tech should be used with caution. Keeping our phones and other gadgets beside us at bedtime not only contradicts advice to steer clear of devices, but it can also cause you to worry more about your sleep (or lack thereof), which makes the situation worse. (Those of you who’ve found yourselves lying awake in the middle of the night stressing about how tired you’ll be in the morning if you don’t fall asleep will know what I’m talking about here.) Instead, try to implement healthy sleep habits and focus on being relaxed and drowsy even before your head hits the pillow. Sleep tight!

- Lisa Stephenson
Founder, The Coach Place Global

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