27 Sep 2016

Understanding why you’re sleepless

For most of us, Monday to Friday is always a blur of work, house duties and fitful sleeping routines. The weekends are where we really dedicate the time to taking it easy and giving ourselves the attention we deserve, especially with sleep. But is it enough to catch up on sleep over the weekend? That’s dependent of a number of things, as the amount of sleep you need may vary wildly when compared to another person, just like height and weight.

Understanding what your body needs in order to address sleepless nights is the first step to better quality rest each day - not just on the weekend.

Individual needs for sleep

The amount of sleep we need varies from person to person, just like height and weight. According to research, relatively few people need less than 7 hours or more than 9 hours of sleep every night1. As a general rule of thumb, most of the population needs around 8-hours sleep. If you’re getting between 7-9 hours of sleep a night and you’re still feeling the symptoms of sleeplessness. It’s also important to know that your age will dictate how much sleep you require - sleep is not one-size-fits-all, according to Dr. Carmel Harrington2.

We’re not sleeping enough

Unfortunately, many Australians aren’t getting nearly enough sleep as they should be. According to Dr. Carmel Harrington’s text The Complete Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep3, between 20-30% of Australians show symptoms of sleeplessness. Chronic sleeplessness causes diminished daytime functioning that can create health problems and dangerous behavior, including driving tired.

Do you suffer from ‘social jet lag’?

For many of us, not sleeping enough regularly creates what sleep experts call “social jet lag”. This term refers to the situation that occurs when the demands of life and work carve out in your sleep schedule. The result is exhaustion and dislocation from our environment, symptoms of sleeplessness that are similar to the effects of long-distance travel. Feeling jetlagged at home is an increasingly common experience for busy adults.

Playing catch-up doesn’t cut it

Even if you are able to get enough sleep on the weekends, playing catch-up with your sleep is not the ideal approach. Studies show that sleep debt can accumulate for nights, weeks or more, and sleep extension studies have shown that it can take more than 20 nights of indulging in sleep for you to catch up on all that lost sleep2. A single weekend of extended sleep is highly unlikely to rescue you from your accumulated sleep debt.

Making changes to your sleep routine

You can’t overhaul your sleep habits in a single night or week, but you can start making small, incremental changes that will help you sleep longer. If you are suffering from symptoms of sleeplessness, here are three strategies to help you begin to increase your nightly rest:

      • Gradually increase your overall sleep time. Start by sleeping 15 minutes longer each night, and then eventually move to 30 or 60 additional minutes if you can.
      • Set up a nightly routine. A relaxing evening routine that you can repeat each night will help protect your sleep.
      • Treat weeknights and weekends alike. Consistency is important to sleep. Set up a regular, sustainable sleep schedule and avoid both very early and very late nights throughout the week and on the weekends.

Getting better sleep isn’t just about being in bed by 10pm and awake at 6am. The relationship between exercise, nutrition and sleep will help with symptoms of sleeplessness and creating better bedtime routine. To get you started with a better sleep schedule, download our eBook “Unlocking the Pillars of Health” and see how important your sleep pillar is for healthy living.

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    1. Sleep Needs Across Our Lifespan. The Sleep Health Foundation. http://sleephealthfoundation.org.au/pdfs/Sleep%20Needs%20Across%20Lifespan.pdf
    2. The Complete Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep by Dr Carmel Harrington – Extract. https://panmacmillanaustralia.wordpress.com/2014/05/01/the-complete-guide-to-a-good-nights-sleep-by-dr-carmel-harrington-extract/
    3. The Complete Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep by Dr Carmel Harrington. http://www.panmacmillan.com.au/9781743519486