SLEEP HEALTH. Why it is important and how to improve it!

One of the most underrated forms of recovery from injury and to cope better with the ongoing demands of our daily life is sleep.

Let’s discuss the significance of sleep health and ways we can optimize it.

Sleep problems are prevalent in the global population. Recent estimates suggest over one third of adult society suffers from sleep problems. Sleep disruption leads to increased responses to stress, mechanical pain particularly in the neck and low back, mood disorders, memory and cognitive performance deficits and increased risk of developing serious disease like diabetes or cancer.

Obviously, sleep is critical to health. Sleep health is the multi-dimensional pattern of waking hours and sleeping hours adapted to our own individual, social and environmental demands that enhances physical and mental well-being. Optimal sleep health does not mean just the absence of sleep deprivation or sleep-related disorders. It is to be sought after and promoted in terms of both the quantity of our sleep and the quality of our sleep.
Sleep hygiene is the term used to describe good sleep habits. There are many ways to enhance our sleep hygiene. Apart from trying to get 7-9 hours sleep each night, here are some evidence-based strategies to improve our sleep hygiene and achieve a good night’s sleep.

– Set consistent wake-up times: the current data suggests sleep timing regularity has a direct influence on our circadian rhythms, or our 24 hour ‘body clock’. Getting up at the same time every day can improve these hormonal rhythms regardless of the time we go to bed. Also, it is important to go to bed when we feel sleepy rather than adhering to a strict time to get to bed.

– Cool the room temperature: most of us do not know that too warm a room can affect the amount of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep we can achieve. Having the room between 16C and 20C has been shown to be the ideal temperature range to synchronize with our own internal body temperature and optimize our circadian rhythms. Wear pyjamas and use blankets to get cozy and comfortable every night.

– Keep our room dark: we should consider our bedroom as like a cave when we lie down to sleep. Cover windows with blinds or curtains to avoid streetlights or sunlight entering. Removing electronic devices that emit light such as computer monitors, blinking lights or phones is very easy to do. And consider wearing an eye mask to prevent any light disturbing your sleep.

– Keep our room quiet: our bedrooms should be free from noise that may distract us from falling asleep or wake us up in the middle of the night. Keep gadgets that may buzz or beep away from our bedrooms and consider a white noise machine or earplugs if we are unable to block out noises made by others.

– Exercise consistently: it is conclusive that those of us who engage in regular exercise achieve significantly larger durations of quality REM sleep than those people who are inactive and sedentary. Recent research suggests that low to moderate intensity exercise performed close to bed time does not reduce the quality of our sleep and may even improve it due to the body-heating and anti-depressant effects of exercise.

Other strategies that can positively affect the quality and quantity of our sleep are:
– avoiding caffeine and excessive alcohol up to 4 hours prior to bed time
– avoiding the use of electronic devices 1 hour prior to bed time
– reading a book and/or listening to peaceful music 30 minutes prior to bed time
– having a warm shower prior to bed time
– trying not to drink too much fluid at least 2 hours prior to bed time
– exposing yourself to natural sunlight or using a sun lamp as soon as possible upon waking in the morning

So, there you have it. Sleep hygiene strategies are very simple. Try to implement one or two of them to begin with as they are required to increase our sleep health and optimize a restorative sleep. You will feel better mentally and physically and maximize your performance while working and exercising.

Buysse, DJ. 2014. Sleep Health: Can we define it? Does it matter? Sleep. 37(1): 9-17.
Irish, LA et al, 2015. The Role of Sleep Hygiene in Promoting Public Health: A Review of Empirical Evidence. Sleep Medicine Reviews. 22: 23-36.

Written by Michael Bushell, Physiotherapist, Prohealth In Touch Physiotherapy, Singapore.