How to have a good night’s sleep – and how to treat sleep apnoea
After a hard day on the tools, a good night’s sleep is just what the doctor ordered. But why’s it so important? And how can you increase the chances of catching a good quality 40 winks and being in top shape for work tomorrow?
On the surface of it, it’s fairly logical why we need sleep. Burn some physical and mental energy during the day, replenish it at night. Job done.
But scratch the surface, and sleep is very much a science – one that’s good to understand in order to get the maximum benefits.
How to have a good night’s sleep: Understand sleep cycles
OK, so to understand why sleep’s so important, it’s good to understand how it works.
Essentially, we have four sleep stages, forming a sleep cycle. Three of those stages are non-rapid eye movement (NREM), and the fourth is REM – the favourite of all of the Michael Stipe fans out there.
Stage 1: N1
Length: 1-7 minutes
What happens? This is when you’re falling asleep. Brain and body activity begins to slow. Unless you fully wake up during the night, you’ll only go through N1 once (hi to all of the parents of young kids out there).
Stage 2: N2
Length: 10-25 minutes
What happens? You’re asleep. Your temperature drops, muscles relax, and your breathing and heart rate slows. During the course of a sleep, you’ll spend half your time in this state.
Stage 3: Deep sleep
Length: 20-40 minutes
What happens? This is when you’re really into it. Your muscles relax, and your breathing and pulse rate decrease further. This is when your bod restores itself, and the deep sleep phase helps our insightful thinking, memory and creativity.
Stage 4: REM sleep
Length: 10-60 minutes
What happens? This usually occurs after about 90 minutes of sleep, and accounts for around 25% of your total sleep time. The body experiences temporary muscle paralysis, apart from the muscles that control breathing and your eyes. This stage helps memory, creativity and learning.
So, why is having a good night’s sleep so important?
As well as being able to replenish and restore our bodies and brains, sleep is also incredibly important for good mental health.
Studies have shown that a lack of sleep changes activity in certain areas of the brain, leading to difficulty making decisions, solving problems and coping with change.
So, if you want to give yourself the best chance of being in tip-top shape tomorrow, you need to put sleep high on your list of priorities.
How to get a good night’s sleep
We spoke to sleep expert Dr Sam Megalli, CEO and Founder of Ultra Nature, to get his top six tips on improving sleep.
1. Get consistent
Our bodies have internal clocks, and maintaining a regular sleep schedule helps sync them. By going to bed and waking up at the same time, even on weekends, you can set yourself up for success.
“Try to go to bed and wake up at the same times, even on weekends,” he says. “This consistency regulates your circadian rhythms and makes it easier to fall asleep and wake up feeling refreshed.”
2. Create a bedtime routine designed to relax you
It’s all common sense, but giving yourself the chance to wind down is essential. Reading a book, having a bath, and limiting screen time are all key here. As is a dark, quiet and cool bedroom – and, of course, a comfortable mattress and pillows.
3. Manage stress and anxiety
Many sleep issues result from stress and anxiety, so practising stress-reduction techniques such as mindfulness meditation or progressive muscle relaxation can help here.
Dr Sam says, “Keeping a journal to jot down your worries and concerns before bedtime can also be useful, as it can prevent them from racing through your mind while you try to sleep. A good supplement can also help.”
4. Watch what you eat…
What you eat and drink can impact your sleep, as heavy or spicy meals close to bedtime can lead to indigestion. Evening caffeine and alcohol can also disrupt your sleep patterns.
And when you work out!
Some good exercise can help you get a good night’s sleep – but not too close to bedtime, as it can overstimulate your body.
5. Say no to (too many) naps
While short power naps can be a nice treat, long or irregular napping during the day can disrupt your sleep patterns. If you need to nap, aim for 20-30 minutes. Lunchtime ute nap here we come.
6. Seek out natural light
Finally, according to Dr Sam, exposure to natural light during the day helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. “Spending time outdoors, especially in the morning, helps regulate your body’s internal clock.”
Waking up to sleep apnoea
Every third person seems to have obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) these days. Well, that’s pretty close to the truth, because one in four men over the age of 30 have it to some degree. (It affects men a lot more often than women.)
And yep, more and more people are being diagnosed with it – which could be attributed to a greater awareness, but also due to the general levels of obesity in the world today.
So, what is sleep apnoea?
Obstructive sleep apnoea is when your breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep, because your airways have become blocked, reducing – or sometimes completely stopping – airflow.
What causes sleep apnoea?
A number of factors can contribute. Large tonsils, changes in hormone levels, obesity and alcohol can all cause sleep apnoea.
What’s the impact of sleep apnoea?
Snoring during sleep, being observed to hold your breath during sleep, waking up during the night, tossing and turning, and waking up not feeling refreshed are all symptoms. With sleep apnoea, you will struggle to get into the deeper sleep stages.
How’s sleep apnoea diagnosed?
It’s diagnosed by an overnight sleep study, where your breathing and oxygen levels are monitored.
How’s sleep apnoea treated?
Mild OSA can be treated by weight loss, reducing alcohol intake and sleeping on your side. Moderate to severe cases are treated with a gadget that keeps your airways open or a CPAP machine (Darth Vader style!) that pumps air into you to hold your throat open. Not terribly attractive or convenient, but effective. Failing that, it’s surgery.
What if you don’t treat sleep apnoea?
People with untreated OSA have a higher risk of diabetes, stroke, headaches, depression, decreased libido and impotence.