Dr Ron Ehrlich shares his top tips for healthy sleep.
The key to physical, mental and emotional health and wellness is consistently getting a good night’s sleep. Yet while sleep disorders affect more than 1.5 million, it is estimated that 80% of people with a sleep disorder are undiagnosed or remain at risk. Insomnia affects 40% of the population at any one time.
If you’re hitting the snooze button, sleeping through your alarm or missing your morning workout for that extra hour of sleep, Dr Ron Ehrlich warns that you could be risking your health. “Sleep is the most important part of your day,” Ehrlich says. “If you don’t prioritise sleep and take it seriously, it’s unlikely you’ll take the necessary steps to change your habits.”
Dr Ehrlich’s 10 tips to a good night sleep focus on quantity and quality.
A good routine when preparing for sleep is the cornerstone of a good night’s sleep. It involves making good choices with food, drink, artificial light, stimulation, noise, temperature, mood, and breathing. Set a ‘mental alarm clock’ one hour before you go to bed, start to wind down, dim the lights, and prepare for sleep. Going to bed at the same time and waking at the same time also helps establish a better routine for a consistently good night’s sleep.
Food and drink
Ideally, you should finish eating dinner two hours before going to bed and avoid eating heavy or spicy foods. Avoid or limit alcohol. Caffeine is a stimulant and counterproductive to a restful sleep, so it’s best not to have caffeine – including coffee, tea and cola – after 1pm. Alcohol may make it easier to go to sleep, but it doesn’t help you get a good night’s sleep.
Light and electromagnetic radiation
During the day, melatonin levels vary and are controlled by our body clock and exposure to light. Ideally, your blood melatonin level starts to rise around two hours before you go to sleep as the natural light begins to fade, but exposure to bright or blue lights from electronic devices such as TVs, mobile phones, laptops, and tablets, lowers melatonin levels, effecting your ability to get to sleep and enjoy the many benefits of this important hormone.
Your bedroom should be dark and you should avoid digital clocks with a green light. Try going for a clock that has an amber or orange light, with these warmer tones making for a better, more restful sleep. Don’t use your phone as an alarm clock, or as a sleep monitor. Ensure your bed isn’t placed against a wall that backs onto a powerboard, fridge, or item that produces high levels of electromagnetic radiation (EMR), as this can effect the quality of your sleep.
Consider the impact of living in a noisy home. Minimise noise in and around the home and if necessary use earplugs at night for a sound sleep. If your partner snores and that disturbs your sleep, don’t ignore it. It is not only important for your health, but may be a reflection of a more serious problem for the snorer.
The ideal sleeping position is on your side with a pillow to keep the head, neck, spine, and pelvis well aligned, while helping to maintain an open airway. Stomach sleeping is a problem, both structurally and for the airway. Sleeping on your back predisposes you to snoring and airway issues.
Feeling too hot or too cold effects the quality of your sleep, and it’s particularly challenging if your bed partner likes a different temperature to you. Choose bedding that’s appropriate for each of you. Before bed, try taking a hot shower or a relaxing bath with Epsom salts — a great way to detox and unwind while preparing your body and mind for sleep.
Moulds typically effect the lungs and the immune system. Dampness is the key, so perform a thorough search for signs of mould behind furniture, under beds, in wardrobes and under carpets. If gyprock walls or ceiling have ever been exposed at some stage to dampness, they can also harbour mould. If in doubt, it’s worthwhile engaging a home biologist to do a more thorough assessment.
Considering most people spend a third of their life in bed, bedding should be a priority and is a worthwhile investment in your health. The bed and pillows should be good quality, provide good support, and be low-allergenic. The bed should be regularly turned and vacuumed, and bedding should be regularly cleaned and sunned.
Finish the day by describing or journaling three positive events, no matter how small or insignificant. This puts you in a positive mindset as you go to sleep.
Sex has a positive effect on sleep. It lowers the stress hormone cortisol and increases the ‘hugging’ hormone, oxytocin. Sex is a wonderful release of energy and increases oestrogen levels, which can enhance a woman’s REM cycle for a deeper, better night’s sleep. Men are likewise able to sleep better after sex.
One of the main contributors to sleep quality is the way you breathe. This is the most critical part of a good night sleep. Ideally, we should be breathing through the nose and maintain a good airflow. Breathing in a calmer way, as nasal breathing promotes, also helps switch on our parasympathetic nervous system.
Every measure of health is effected by the quality of our sleep, with poor sleep implicated in almost every disease. When sleep is consistently interrupted, it predisposes our bodies to cardiovascular disease, obesity, thyroid problems, chronic pain, headaches and neck aches, depression and anxiety, and so on.
In contrast, a good night’s sleep provides the physical, mental, and emotional energy to face the stresses of modern life. Sleep refreshes and energises, giving us the mental and physical vitality to make optimal nutritional and exercise choices, and encouraging a more positive outlook on life. A consistently good night’s sleep builds resilience in the mind, body, and immune system.
Dr Ron Ehrlich’s new book A Life Less Stressed – the five pillars of health and wellness covers topics including sleep, stress, nutrition, exercise and more.
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