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How to get a good night's sleep, according to science

Blog post | 07 Aug 2019

A lack of quality sleep affects up to 4 in 10 Australian adults. Like The Ashes or sausage sizzles, getting a good night's sleep has become a national obsession.

Sleep's important for good health: poor sleep has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and more. Lack of sleep also affects mood, motivation, judgment and learning.

To mark Sleep Awareness Week (August 5-11), here are 6 evidence-based ways to improve the duration and quality of your slumber.

6 tips for good sleep

Have a warm bath

According to a systematic review by the University of Texas at Austin, bathing 1-2 hours before bedtime in water that's 40-42°C in temperature can significantly improve your sleep. It also speeds-up, by an average of 10 minutes, how long it can take to fall asleep.

Exercise more (teenagers, in particular)

In a study of more than 400 teens, for every extra hour of moderate-to-vigorous daytime physical activity participants did, they fell asleep 18 minutes earlier than usual. They also slept 10 minutes longer, according to the journal Scientific Reports.

Sort out your snoring

Not always 'harmless', snoring — when accompanied by tiredness during the day — could be a sign of obstructive sleep apnoea. It can be treated, which will lead to a better night's shut-eye (both for you and your partner, if you have one). See your doctor if you suspect you have sleep apnoea.

Get out of bed after 20 minutes

If you can't fall asleep within 20 to 30 minutes of going to bed, you should get up. Go to another dimly-lit room and sit quietly. Try not to use a screen, eat, drink or do household chores, and go back to bed when you feel sleepy. This helps your mind link bed with sleep, rather than with frustration.

Stay out of bed

Yes, you read that right. According to the Sleep Health Foundation, it's important to train the brain to link your bed with sleep and intimacy only. So, if possible, avoid using your bedroom for 'living-room activities' such as study, watching TV or making phone calls.

Seek natural bright light in the morning

If you're routinely having trouble falling sleep, going outside or near a window after sunrise will help your body clock switch off production of the 'sleepy' hormone, melatonin. This, in turn, will help reset your clock, so when it becomes darker at night, melatonin production will resume — making you feel tired.

What doesn't work

  • Sleeping pills: In the long term, sleeping pills are unlikely to help with insomnia, reports NPS MedicineWise, and in some cases, might do more harm than good. Likewise, some people with chronic pain use prescription opioids to help them sleep but there is no evidence that this works long-term.

  • Sleep calculators: Widely available on the internet, 'sleep calculators' give the user a precise time to go to sleep so they purportedly wake up refreshed. These calculators are not based on scientific evidence, according to the Sleep Health Foundation, and it's better to follow fuss-free good sleep habits.

  • Alcohol: It might make you feel sleepy, but alcohol can disrupt your sleep later — possibly leading to frequent waking, night sweats, headaches and restlessness. According to the Sleep Health Foundation, binge drinking can affect melatonin levels for up to a week.

Where to seek help

Get more sleep tips here. If you're struggling with insomnia or any other sleep problems, talk to your GP. You can also go to these websites for more information and support:

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