😴 Let’s talk z’s: Prioritising sleep and preventing disturbed sleep

One super important aspect of healthy living is getting enough high-quality sleep each night. I am totally guilty of not following this, and sometimes I consider myself blessed to be able to fall asleep just like that *clicks fingers* – but falling asleep quickly also doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m well rested and have had good sleep. I’ve also had my bad days where I press snooze many times before getting up, or I actually really do struggle to get to sleep.

A bed from a distance, with light green and grey bedding. There is a rug under it. A plant sits next to the bed and another plant hangs from the ceiling
(📸: Bumiputra)

I spent a long time doubting that “sleep debt” is real, but, many years after losing precious sleep while studying at university, and feeling pretty damn awful, I guess I was wrong. Catching up on sleep is a real thing.

Many of us are currently working from home or haven’t yet returned to work. After I got used to working from home, I realised that it was actually probably a really good time to be “fixing” my sleeping patterns and prioritising sleep. There hasn’t been a commute to worry about, the gym is closed so I can kind of exercise any time I want, and I’m generally living a more flexible lifestyle.

Make sure you have a healthy environment for sleeping

Number one – your bedroom is for sleeping! I know you’ve probably heard it all before, but many of us are guilty of having broken this rule. The wrong kind of sleeping environment will make the task of getting to sleep a lot harder than it needs to be. You should work to create an environment that’s conducive to good sleep.

When I was in university, I neglected to do a lot of things that could have made my sleeping environment better. The worst was that I spent a lot of time on my laptop in bed. Looking back, I remember feeling quite alright about it at the time, but now I feel like the bedroom is the last place I would use my laptop. Part of creating a healthy environment for sleeping is to remove any distractions and unnecessary technology from the bedroom.

Another thing that I didn’t do very well was to vacuum my room to remove dust, and let fresh air come in. I didn’t do this very much, so being in my room all the time actually didn’t feel super refreshing like it should be. How could I have expected to sleep well if I didn’t feel great just sitting in it?

I also had a lot of clutter in my bedroom. Visual clutter can be mentally stressful, even if we don’t realise this. This can be applied to any area outside the bedroom, too, but it can be particularly important in an environment where you want to be well rested.

It’s also a good idea to get into the habit of sleeping at the same time each night. 😌 Having a routine around sleeping means your body will adjust to being ready to rest when you go to bed. Nick likes to make sure he’s getting up right at the end of a REM cycle – this means setting your alarm to wake yourself up at a 90 minute interval (90 minutes is the average of one REM cycle).

I recently got a memory foam pillow, which has been marvellous and worked really well for supporting my head especially as someone with broad shoulders. It was difficult to get used to, since I’ve been sleeping on feather pillows for years, but it’s made a big difference in how my body feels when I wake up in the morning. It might be worth finding the right pillow for your sleeping position and body shape. ☁

Eat well and take your vitamins!

A common thing that gets discussed with sleeping well is eating well. You should be consuming enough water daily and eating the right foods with the right nutrients to fuel your body.

I must also stress – if you are exercising regularly, you need to give your body time to recover. I’ve often neglected to do this, and then I just don’t feel good enough the next morning if I haven’t allowed my body enough time to repair itself post-exercise.

It’s been said many times, but consider whether you might be too dependent on caffeine as well. Caffeine can stay for at least 7 hours in your system, and if you take it too close to bedtime you may have trouble sleeping. I didn’t really believe this, because I was always drinking coffee at 1:00am when I was in university, then going home and going straight to bed, but I would still always be tired during the day because my sleep quality was not great.

Quite recently, I also drank about four serves of coffee in a day, one quite close to bedtime (in an espresso martini). It was not that I felt like I really needed the coffee, but I happened to choose to drink that much. I had a rude shock when I had one of the worst sleeps I’ve had in a while. I woke up at least three times to go to the bathroom, and by the morning I felt pretty awful. It’s not bad to limit your caffeine consumption and really try to avoid having it too close to bedtime.

Check your medical conditions and medical history

Sometimes you might have a medical condition that can be causing your disturbed sleep. You might have tried everything to improve your sleep and it’s not working.

One thing to look at is any medication you are taking. Some medications can have side effects, so if you don’t feel like you’re sleeping well, check that it’s not potentially caused by medication you’re taking, particularly if you are taking something new or have an increased dose. It’s possible that you have experienced some side effects, and it might even be that the time of day you take the medication matters.

There are some medical conditions that can cause disturbed sleep, such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and heartburn. Some of these make getting to sleep or having a restful sleep really unpleasant. For example, restless leg syndrome, characterised by a twitchy feeling in your legs, can keep you up at night and also potentially wake your partner if you have one. Heartburn is another medical issue that can make it difficult to fall asleep. If you are experiencing heartburn, you can learn how to relieve heartburn with using online resources. If the symptoms are really bothering you and you’ve already attempted other ways of improving your sleep, it is definitely worth seeing a doctor so that you can be properly tested. Sometimes there is only so much you can do on your own without medical help.

Recently, I’ve been sleeping in when my body needs it, since I can afford to get up a little later and then start work. My sleeping patterns are not perfect at the moment, but I’m being more respectful to my body when it comes to sleep and rest, and I’m definitely making sure our room is a comfortable place to sleep.

I grew up being unable to get my day started in the morning without making my bed first. Is anyone else like that?! 😀

I’d love to hear about your experiences with sleep, too. Fixing our sleep is no easy task – and it would be difficult to sustain if we tried to fix everything all at once – but let’s all make sure we make small changes, little by little, to try and improve our sleep.

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