This article was first published on Youth Central, March 2015.
I used to sleep poorly. After a day of studying at uni and working part-time after classes I’d come home feeling exhausted. I’d hop into bed at night, pull the blankets over me and close my eyes.
Then I’d toss and turn. It would be ages before I fell asleep. The next day I’d wake up feeling like I didn’t sleep a wink.
Falling Asleep Can Be Hard
Today, a lot of young people in Australia are finding it hard to get a good night’s sleep. In 2014 a study by The University of Adelaide found that 70% of Australians aged 12 to 18 don’t get the recommended seven-to-nine hours of sleep a night.
There are reasons for this. Balancing your studies and work can be challenging and stressful. There have been nights where I went to bed worried that I wouldn’t finish all my assignments on time. That certainly kept me awake.
Checking what’s happening on Facebook or watching videos on YouTube on your computer or smartphone right before bedtime can make falling asleep hard too. The same study by The University of Adelaide discovered one in 10 Australian teenagers get to sleep 30 to 45 minutes later when they use electronic media at night.
I used to keep my phone beside my pillow when I went to bed. If a text came through as I was trying to sleep, I would grab my phone to read it. Then I’d spend a few minutes replying to that message. Sleep would be the last thing on my mind.
5 Tips: How To Sleep Better
One recent morning I arrived at work feeling tired, having fallen asleep at 2am and woken up at 7am. Halfway through the work day I felt someone tapping me on my shoulder. I looked up, opened my eyes and saw a crowd around my desk.
Turns out I had dozed off at my desk and my colleagues were staring at me. That was one embarrassing incident I don’t want happening again. Since then, I’ve picked up some tips on getting a better night’s sleep.
1. Set A Sleep Schedule
It’s wise to go to bed around the same time each night. Our bodies have an internal clock that makes us feel alert during the day and sleepy at night. Disrupting this clock – called a “circadian rhythm” – by staying up late can lead to daytime sleepiness. Even though you might go to bed late, your body may still naturally be compelled to wake up early.
Since that incident at work I have made it a point to go to bed at 11pm each night. Going to bed at this hour lets me get eight or nine hours of sleep, and I always feel refreshed when I wake up at 7am.
2. Calming Activities Before Sleep
Doing activities that get the heart pumping quickly before bedtime can make it harder to fall asleep. This is because a faster heartbeat releases more adrenalin through our bodies, giving us a rush of energy that makes us feel more alert.
I often read a book or tidy up my room half an hour before I go to sleep. Nothing too strenuous – that’s how I let my body know it’s sleep time.
3. Clear Your Mind
Sometimes I don’t manage to finish what I planned to do earlier in the day, like a university assignment or freelance writing article.
Rather than go to bed worrying, I scribble some brief notes about what I still have to do and plan to tackle things tomorrow. The less you have on your mind while lying in bed, the more relaxed you’ll feel before going to sleep.
4. Avoid Late Dinners
Yes, you might feel sleepy after a big meal. You might think of eating a big dinner right before you sleep at night so you can nod off easily. I used to go to bed half an hour after eating (a late) dinner, and often woke an hour later because of indigestion.
Our stomachs produce acid to digest the food we’ve eaten. If you go to bed right after a meal, there’s a risk that lying down with a full stomach could led to acid reflux, indigestion and an uncomfortable night’s sleep.
The best idea is to make sure you eat at least an hour before going to bed. That will give your body time to crank up its digestion and then wind back down again so you’re fully relaxed when you head to bed.
5. Turn Off Your Gadgets
Your smartphone, computer and tablet screens emit a stimulating blue light that is known to lower the levels of melatonin, or “sleep hormone” in our bodies. Melatonin also helps control our circadian rhythm, triggering feelings of sleepiness at certain times of the day.
As hard as it is, these days I force myself to leave my phone on my desk instead of my bed before I go to sleep. With my phone out of my reach, I’m much less tempted to check Facebook or Twitter while I’m in bed. What a chore to get out of my warm, comfortable bed, stand up and walk over to my desk… too much effort.
Sleep Better, Feel Better
Sleep is important. We need sleep to recharge our bodies and be the best that we can be. Having trouble falling asleep or sleeping poorly can lead to exhaustion and, in some cases, insomnia.
These tips should help you develop better and more regular sleep habits. If you’ve been struggling to get a decent night’s sleep for a while, though, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor. You might be suffering from a legitimate sleep disorder.
If you’ve been sleeping badly, the sooner you get to the bottom of this and sort out your sleeping issues, the better you will feel.