SINGAPORE — If you’re reading this while trying to stifle a yawn, then you may have some not-so-ideal sleeping habits.
According to a study done by SingHealth Polyclinics, four in 10 people lack sleep on weekdays, and have less than seven hours of rest a night.
While it’s tempting to wear this stat as a badge of honour — as though getting insufficient rest is somehow indicative of a productive life — a constant lack of sleep is the root cause of various health problems, including the obvious, like headaches and fatigue, as well as the more insidious, like hypertension, weight gain and anxiety issues.
What about sleeping more than eight hours every night but still feeling lethargic the next day? You may not be getting sufficient deep sleep.
A sleep cycle comprises light sleep and deep sleep (or non-REM stages of sleep) and REM. Deep sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep, is the constructive phase of sleep for recuperation of the mind-body system in which it rebuilds itself after each day. It is also considered important for memory consolidation.
The best way to make long-lasting adjustments to your sleeping habits is to first understand your own sleep cycle, by way of a sleep tracker. The FitBit, for example, displays your sleep patterns over time and provides tips on how to make changes in your daily routine to achieve better quality sleep.
Otherwise, try these simple pointers tonight. Good luck, and may better sleep be with you.
1. AVOID ALCOHOL BEFORE BEDTIME
While you may feel tempted to indulge in a glass of wine or two to help you unwind before bed and fall asleep faster, alcohol can suppress the REM stage, which is also the deepest, most restorative stage of sleep.
“Alcohol may also contribute to an increase in vivid dreams or nightmares in this stage,” said Fitbit sleep advisor Allison T Siebern, who is also a consulting assistant professor at Stanford University Sleep Medicine Centre, and director of the Sleep Health Integrative Programme at the Fayetteville VA Medical Centre.
2. HAVE CAFFEINE ONLY IN THE MORNINGS
The effects of coffee affect everyone differently, but on average, caffeine can stay in your body for at least six hours.
“The half-life of caffeine is close to six hours,” explained Dr Michael T Smith, director of the Center for Behaviour & Health at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who is also a Fitbit sleep advisor. “So if you have 200mg of caffeine at 4pm you will still have about 100mg in your system at 10pm.”
Caffeine may also inhibit the release of a naturally occurring chemical that encourages sleep, so if you can’t do without your daily cups of brew, make sure you take them as early in the day as possible.
Make sure too, that your tea substitutes are decaffeinated — avoid black teas like Earl Grey and English Breakfast, as well as green teas later in the day.
3. EAT DINNER AT LEAST TWO HOURS BEFORE BEDTIME
Having too much food right before bed can inhibit quality sleep since your body is still busy digesting it. Heartburn as a result of lying down too soon after eating is another potential problem.
According to Dr Michael Grandner, director of the Sleep & Health Research Programme at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, you should try to have dinner at least two hours before you hit the sack. And if you must quell those munchies before bedtime, opt for small snacks like a few wholegrain crackers or a piece of fruit.
4. GET SOME EXERCISE AND FIND YOUR OPTIMAL WORKOUT TIME
It’s a well-known fact that regular exercise helps you sleep better at night. When you should get it done, however, is a trickier problem. While experts used to believe that squeezing in a workout too close to bedtime can affect your sleep, recent research suggests that “exercising before bed does not impact sleep as much as we once thought it would”, said Prof Siebern.
Dr Grandner recommends paying attention to how you sleep after you work out in the morning and at night. “If it takes more than 30 minutes to fall asleep (after you work out at night), then dial your exercise back. Otherwise, you are okay.”
5. RELAX BEFORE BEDTIME
This means reading a book, meditating, or taking a hot shower, and basically unplugging from all your electronics — no Netflix before bed, sorry. Studies have also shown that it is easier to fall asleep when it is cooler, so adjust the A/C such that it is at an optimal temperature.
If you tend to fret about work right before bed, jot down your worries and To-Do’s to get them out of your head before you turn in.
A version of this story first appeared in ELLE.sg