We all know the effects that alcohol can have on our physical performance, emotional state, and cognitive function. But did you know that lack of sleep and fatigue can also have the same effects on us as downing a few too many on a Saturday night. Being awake for 17 hours has been shown to have the same effects on your performance and cognition as having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05%. After 21 hours awake, you can demonstrate the same deterioration as having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.1%. This is even more alarming when you consider just how many of us aren’t getting enough sleep. According to a survey conducted for the Sleep Health Foundation, 35 to 45% of Australian adults suffer from inadequate sleep and its daytime consequence.
This lack of sleep is having a huge impact on our performance and productivity at work.
17% of those surveyed admitted that they had missed work in the previous month because they were sleepy, and even more concerningly, 29% reported that they had made errors at work due to sleepiness and 17% said that they had actually fallen asleep on the job.
In addition to the effects on our performance, insufficient sleep has also been linked to a range of other serious health conditions such as reduced mental health, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and even premature death. All of which adds up to significant financial losses for Australian businesses and the economy.
So why is it that so many of us fail to get adequate sleep and what can we do about it?
There are a number of reasons why people experience poor sleep, including common sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnoea, work patterns such as shift work, or just the pressures of everyday life. Another big reason is poor lifestyle choices and lack of sleep awareness. Many people prefer to stay up late socialising, watching TV, catching up on work, or just scrolling through their social feeds until the early hours of the morning, not realising that their body needs sufficient sleep. If you’re one of the many people suffering from insufficient sleep, then the best place to start is your sleep hygiene. Below is a list of things that you can look to improve on to give your body the best chance for good quality and quantity sleep.
Tips for getting better sleep:
- Make enough time for it: the National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every day. Make sure you leave enough time aside in your day to get the sleep that your body needs.
- Ditch the devices 2-3 hours before bed: Numerous studies have shown that the blue light emitted by smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc. supresses the production of melatonin, a natural hormone that increases in the evening to induce sleep. So, if you’re sitting on your phone in the hours before bed, you are essentially delaying the onset of sleep by many hours.
- Keep a regular sleep/wake schedule: this keeps the circadian cycle synchronised by conditioning the body to expect specific sleep and wake-up times. If you must deviate from this schedule on weekends, try to limit the change in wake-up time to a maximum of an hour
- Put it on paper, not on the pillow: If you find yourself dwelling on personal problems while in bed, try writing them down and tell yourself that you will deal with them tomorrow.
- Eat to promote good sleep: what you eat and when you eat it can have a big impact on your quality of sleep. A healthy balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and pulses will provide you with more energy during the day and much better sleep at night. Aim to have your last meal 2-3 hours before bed as going to bed either too hungry or too full can prevent you from getting to sleep.
- Create the optimal environment: Make sure that every element of your bedroom encourages good sleep. This includes:
– controlling bedroom noise,
– blocking out light,
– keeping it cool and well ventilated,
– hiding the clock if it’s distracting, and
– making your bed comfortable
- Get moving during the day: getting more physical activity during the day will help you to fall asleep faster, attain a higher percentage of deep sleep, and wake less often during the night. You don’t have to run marathons, simply elevating your heart rate for 20-30 minutes, three or more times a week is enough to start getting the benefits. Make sure you finish up your workouts 2-3 hours before bed though as exercise stimulates the body, which can make it difficult to fall asleep.
- Avoid the afternoon nanna nap: short naps can be beneficial if you’re sleep deprived and need an alertness boost; but if you routinely have trouble falling asleep at night, you generally want to confine sleep to one long segment. The homeostatic drive for sleep increases the longer you’ve been awake, so if you nap in the afternoon you drastically cut the potential number of consecutive hours awake before night-time sleep.
- Limit caffeine: Caffeine is by far the most widely used stimulant, keeping many of us alert throughout the day. It does this by blocking the adenosine receptors in the brain – a sleep promoting chemical that builds up the longer we are awake. It takes 4-6 hours for caffeine to clear from the body, so it’s best to avoid it from late afternoon onwards and limit your overall daily consumption (no more than 2-3 cups of coffee, tea, or caffeinated soda a day). Also be mindful that chocolate and some cold medications can also contain significant amounts of caffeine.
- Don’t be fooled by the nightcap myth: While alcohol might make you drowsy and help you get to sleep at night, it will actually cause disruptions later in your sleep cycle as your liver enzymes work to metabolize it. An alcohol induced sleep is associated with more frequent awakenings later in the night, reducing the overall quality of sleep, leading to excessive daytime sleepiness the next day. For quality sleep, it’s best to avoid alcohol for at least 4 hours before bedtime.
- Stop smoking: In addition to a host of other negative health effects, nicotine is a central nervous system stimulant that speeds your heart rate, raises blood pressure, and incites fast brain wave activity that interferes with sleep. Ideally, nicotine should be avoided altogether, and certainly for at least 2 hours before bed.
- Protect your right to sleep: If you’re a shift worker, you probably already know just how hard it is to sleep during the day when your bodies hormones are telling you that you should be awake. It’s important that you still follow the above tips to give yourself the best chance of getting sufficient sleep between shifts, particularly making sure you leave enough time in the day for it. This can be hard when everyone else is awake, so make sure that others in the house respect that you have to sleep. Wearing earplugs, using a fan or white noise machine can also help to reduce daytime noise.