The secret to good quality sleep and shedding stress before bed

Sleep problems can seriously impact your physical and mental health, even sometimes leading to chronic illness. Getty Images / File

Not getting a good night’s rest can be damaging to one’s physical and mental health, even more so when a lack of sleep is consistent night-after-night.

With 31 per cent of Canadians saying they didn’t get enough sleep in 2016 (ranking Canada as the third most sleep-deprived country in the world, according to a survey), knowing how to achieve good quality sleep is on top of the minds of many.

READ MORE: Sleep-deprived Canadians risking serious long-term health problems

After reviewing 277 studies and engaging in a panel debate, researchers at the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) believe they’ve come up with the determinants of quality sleep and published their findings in the journal Sleep Health.

They are:

  • Sleeping more time while in bed (at least 85 per cent of the total time)
  • Falling asleep in 30 minutes or less
  • Waking up no more than once per night
  • Being awake for 20 minutes or less after initially falling asleep

“In the past, we defined sleep by its negative outcomes including sleep dissatisfaction, which were useful for identifying underlying pathology,” says Maurice Ohayon, director of the Stanford Sleep Epidemiology Research Center. “Clearly this is not the whole story.”

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In terms of how much sleep we need, the NSF previously broke down the recommended number of sleep hours by age:

  • Newborn (zero to three months): 14 to 17 hours
  • Infant (four to 11 months) 12 to 15 hours
  • Toddler (one to two years old): 11 to 14 hours
  • Pre-school (three to five years old): 10 to 13 hours
  • School age (six to 13 years old): nine to 11 hours
  • Teenager (14 to 17 years old): eight to 10 hours
  • Young adult (18 to 25 years old): seven to nine hours
  • Adult (26 to 64 years old): seven to nine hours
  • Older adult (over 65 years old): seven to eight hours

“Sleep needs vary across ages and are especially impacted by lifestyle and health,” the NSF website reads. “To determine how much sleep you need, it’s important to assess not only where you fall on the ‘sleep needs spectrum,’ but also to examine what lifestyle factors are affecting the quality and quantity of your sleep such as work schedules and stress.”

A 2011 study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry concluded that over 40 per cent of Canadians over 18 can expect to experience at least one type of sleep disorder in their lifetime.

The signs and side effects

According to Healthline, there are several signs that may signal sleep deprivation.

Feelings of excessive sleepiness, yawning and irritability are among the obvious signs. However, if you’re falling asleep during the day and stimulants like caffeine have no affect, then this may be an indicator of chronic sleep deprivation.

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Insufficient sleep can cause a spectrum of health issues and has the potential to be detrimental to one’s health, Harvard Medical University’s division of sleep medicine says.

READ MORE: What are the common sleep disorders keeping Canadians awake?

Not having a good quality rest can impact your perception and judgment, as well as your efficiency, productivity and performance at work. You are also more likely to make errors and be involved in car and other accidents.

If poor sleep is consistent, you are more at risk of chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and mood disorders. It can also impact the function of your immune system and shorten your life expectancy.

Tricks to fall asleep

The NSF’s recent Sleep Health Index has shown that as many as 27 per cent of people take longer than 30 minutes (on average) to fall asleep.

If counting sheep just isn’t cutting it, try these five tricks as suggested by sleep experts to CNBC.

  1. Get out of bed: Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a pulmonary and sleep medicine physician at the University of California, says that if you can’t shut your mind off, then try leaving the bed within the first 15 to 20 minutes of going to bed. If you stay in bed, he says, the body will not associate the bed with sleep.
  2. Read a book or colour: Dr. Philip Gehrman, a psychiatry professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, suggests doing something relaxing that uses minimal mental power, like reading or colouring. Watching a relaxing show on TV is OK if the television is a few feet away from you. Avoid watching videos on your iPhone because a light that close to your face can make it difficult to wind down.
  3. Schedule a time to worry earlier in the day: Allocate 10 minutes of your day to deal with stress from work, family or whatever else keeps you up at night. Write down what is stressing you into two categories: what you can and cannot control. For the factors you can control, write down the step you can take to manage them. Just writing down the factors you can’t control can help control your worry.
  4. Exercise for 20 minutes a day: Exercise can really help alleviate stress, the doctors say, and helps you sleep better. They say working out also promotes creativity and mental alertness.
  5. Get a sleep routine: Try not to eat before going to bed to avoid acid reflux. Avoid alcohol before bed because it can disrupt your sleep. Also stay away from activities that get you excited, like an action-packed TV show – go for something more relaxing like yoga or colouring instead.

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