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Getting a good night’s sleep is harder than ever in a world that never stops moving, but there are ways to ensure your body is getting the rest it needs. We take a look at some expert tips and tech to help you make the most of your time in bed.

Humans need sleep. As a species we’ve evolved to effectively shut down overnight, going to bed when it’s dark and waking with the light. Our modern world has made things more complex, surrounding us with electric light and stimulants, obliging us to work unnatural hours and generally disrupting sleep patterns humans developed over millions of years.

Missing out on the sleep we need can have surprising impacts upon our health. One study showed that just five nights of restricted sleep was enough to induce a state of prediabetes in 20-year-olds without any preexisting conditions. We also know that diabetes is associated with sleep apnoea, which is a major cause of sleep disturbance. So what does the science say about getting a good night’s rest?

Why do we need sleep?

According to Professor Jonathan Shaw, the answer might simply be “because we get tired”. But it’s likely the answer isn’t as straightforward as it might appear. Sleep is a relatively
new area of scientific study, full of unknowns. Professor Danny Eckert says that the latest data suggests sleep is effectively a garbage truck that cleans out all the rubbish that our brain and body has gathered during the day. If we don’t get enough sleep, we don’t get rid of that rubbish, with potentially adverse effects on every cell and organ. We also know that sleep plays an important part in memory and learning and can help stave off mental health issues.

How much sleep should I be getting?

It depends how old you are, but eight hours is a pretty good rule of thumb if you’re older than 18.

What doesn’t work?

Alcohol and sleeping pills are less effective than developing good sleep habits. Sleep calculator apps (part of an increasing trend for health management apps) may also not help.

Should I get tested for sleep apnoea?

If you have diabetes, are known to snore and often feel sleepy during the day, it would be worth talking to your GP. Testing can be complicated, involving sleep studies that hook
you up to equipment that monitors your heart, lung and brain activity, breathing patterns, arm and leg movements, and blood oxygen levels.

What is the treatment for sleep apnoea?

There is a notable overlap between the treatment of sleep apnoea and recommendations for diabetes management. Patients are encouraged to make lifestyle changes such as
losing weight if overweight and exercising regularly. In addition, people should avoid sleeping on their back and use a nasal decongestant. More severe sleep apnoea may require using oral devices or a CPAP machine, which maintains a constant air pressure while sleeping, helping patients to keep their throat open. Danny Eckert believes less intrusive therapies will be available in the future.

How do we get better sleep?

One of the most important findings from recent studies is to avoid blue light at bedtime – blue light being the spectrum of light emitted by smartphones. Keeping your phone out of the bedroom entirely is recommended by several sleep experts. Sites such as the Sleep Health Foundation and the federal government’s Health Direct website also offer scientifically-tested tips. Here is a selection to get you started.

7 TIPS FOR BETTER SLEEP

1. Have a warm bath

Bathing in hot water 1-2 hours before bedtime can help you fall asleep more quickly and improve sleep quality (just make sure you get out of the bath first).

2. Avoid caffeine

Some studies suggest avoiding any caffeinated drinks (including soft drinks) for three to seven hours before bed, while others recommend no caffeine after lunch time. It’s worth experimenting to see what works best for you.

3. Management of blood glucose

Hyperglycaemia can disrupt sleep by overworking your kidneys, causing you to urinate more often. It may also cause headaches, increased thirst, and tiredness that can interfere with falling asleep. Hypoglycaemia may trigger nightmares, sweats or irritation and confusion when you wake.

4. Exercise more (teenagers, in particular)

Teenagers fall asleep 18 minutes earlier than usual for every extra hour of moderate-to-vigorous daytime physical activity. They also sleep 10 minutes longer, according to a study
in journal Scientific Reports.

5. Get out of bed after 20 minutes

If you can’t fall asleep within 20 to 30 minutes of going to bed, you should 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 your bed with sleep.

6. Stay out of bed

According to the Sleep Health Foundation, it’s important to train your brain to link your bed with sleep and intimacy only. Avoid using your bedroom for other activities such
as study, watching TV or staring at your phone.

7. Seek natural bright light in the morning

Going outside or near a window after sunrise will help your body clock switch off production of the ‘sleepy’ hormone, melatonin. This will help reset your clock, so when it becomes darker at night, melatonin production will resume – making you feel tired.

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