For many Kiwis, the lazy sleep ins, relaxing days with family, friends, and broken routinesare coming to an end, as another work and school year beckons.
We all expect to be feeling refreshed and sleeping soundly by this time, so why is it that you’re suddenly struggling to catch enough zzz’s at night, right when you need your sleep most?
The reality is, that along with bags, briefcases, school uniforms and work clothes, body clocks need to be prepared, too.
Don’t force yourself into bed too early. Your internal body clock tells your body it’s time to go to sleep with a complex mix of signals, becoming increasingly drowsy after a certain number of hours of being awake. You can’t force those processes. “If you go to bed too early, relative to your routine, and you’re lying there worrying and trying to get to sleep, it only increases feelings of anxiety about falling asleep, creating more alertness. Don’t go to bed until you are sleepy.”
Get into a routine before you need to. The human body loves predictability. “If you can begin transitioning into a sleep routine a few days before you’re due back at work, you’ll find that first week of early starts much easier. Later wake up times have a similar effect to jet lag on your sleep cycle – you need to get back on your usual, workday time zone.”
Try a nap. Napping can be extremely effective, if kept to less than 20 minutes. “In order to avoid affecting your ability to sleep at night, napping should not be considered after 2.00pm, and only undertaken if sleepiness is affecting your ability to work or drive safely.”
Sleep in a cool, dark environment. While the warm days and extended light hours of summer are perfect for barbeques and backyard games when we have a lot of free time, they can make it difficult to get enough hours sleep when we have an alarm set early in the morning. “Manipulating the light/dark cycle by drawing the curtains earlier, so you have a dark environment in which to sleep in, can help. And if you have a way of setting your bedroom temperature, 16-18° is best for regulating the body’s core temperature.”
Spend some time outdoors in the morning. “Getting about 30 minutes of outside light in the morning between 6:00am and 8:30am – going for a walk or watching the sunrise – can help you sleep better at night as it regulates the biological clock.”
Shut off electronic devices 1.5-2 hours before bed. “Some people can fall asleep perfectly well using these devices in bed, but if you’re having trouble, stop using phones, ipads, laptops or other blue light emitting devices in that period before you go to sleep. Reading books or meditation are ideal alternatives.”
Try journalling. Often we have a lot of worries on our minds that ruminate as we’re trying to get to sleep. “Writing those things down can be a good way of letting them go for the time being. Then you can throw it away – it’s not for anyone else to read or analyse, it just helps get the thoughts distracting you from sleep, out of your head.”
Avoid caffeinated drinks. (Coke, coffee, tea, V, Red Bull etc) late in the day. Keep your evening meal light and don’t fall into the trap of using alcohol regularly to get you to sleep. “While alcohol can sometimes help you fall asleep, it will often make you wake again during the night and regular drinking has many other effects on health and social life.”
If you have persistant trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep, waking too early or waking up feeling as if you have never been to bed at all, it may well be worth making an appointment to see your GP about it. There are many physical and mental health issues which can affect sleep.
When considering seeing your GP, it would be really useful to keep a diary about your sleep patterns, times of waking, what factors seem to make sleep better or worse, and make a note of whether you snore. (If you don’t have recent feedback from someone else about snoring, try putting your phone on voice record when you go to bed for a couple of nights).
After assessing your sleep disturbance and general wellbeing, your GP may recommend sleep strategies, tests, medication or a referral to a sleep specialist service.