Are you a night owl or a lark? Either way, you need the right amount of sleep to feel good and function well. Living Well writer Amy Hamilton Chadwick delved into the subject to bring us this story. Pick up the latest issue of Living Well at your local Unichem – it’s full of inspirational ideas, products and information to live well every day.
With young children, busy lives and stressful jobs, there are times in all our lives when we have trouble sleeping. When it starts to have a negative impact on your waking life though, you may find yourself with a sleep problem.
Are you getting enough sleep?
The most widespread sleep problem is simply not getting enough. Sleep deprivation isn’t always obvious; when you’ve been surviving on five hours a night for several weeks, yawning all day can start to feel normal. There is one test that can help you identify sleep deprivation: do you fall asleep within five minutes? Nodding off very rapidly can be a sign that you need to catch up on your sleep.
How much sleep do we need?
Dr Anna Clarkson, a clinical psychologist who specialises in sleep and works with the NZ Respiratory and Sleep Institute, says, “The myth is that we all need eight hours, so everyone gets obsessed with that number, but it’s highly individual. For most adults it’s between seven and nine hours – the average is seven and a half. What matters is how refreshed you feel in the morning and how well you can function during the day.”
Are you a lark, an owl, or somewhere in-between?
Around one percent of people are extreme ‘larks’, waking early (as early as 4am) and have plenty of energy as soon as they get out of bed. Another 17 percent of us are night owls – avoiding breakfast, staying up late and working productively into the middle of the night. However, the majority of people – about 80 percent of us – fall somewhere in between these extremes, operating within the structures of the normal working day. Whether you’re an owl or a lark, there are three main factors at play when it comes to your personal sleep phases.
The first is your genes: research strongly indicates that you have a predisposition towards being more of a morning person, or an evening person. The second factor is your stage in life. Children tend to be more active in the morning, while ‘owliness’ peaks in the late teens and early 20s. When we get older, we move back towards ‘larkiness’ again, often waking early and sleeping earlier than ever. Despite the forces of genetics and age, you can have some control over your circadian rhythms (these are physical, mental and behavioural changes that follow a 24-hour cycle based on a response to light and darkness) because the third factor – and the only one you can change – is lifestyle.
DIY sleep therapy
If a sleep disorder is having a negative impact on your life, talk to your GP or Unichem Pharmacist about treatment. There are also lifestyle changes that can improve the quality of your sleep:
Get into a routine of going to bed and waking up at the same time
From the time you get into bed tell yourself you’re on holiday until morning and any problems can be dealt with then
Switch off your screens at least an hour before bedtime because the blue light they emit is very effective at keeping you awake
Exercise daily – but not too late at night
Practice meditation and mindfulness
Try abdominal breathing
Have your bedroom as dark as possible – use blackout curtains and switch off appliances with standby lights
Try to not to drink caffeinated products (coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks) after 2pm
Try a hot bath before bedtime
Supplements like magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin C and dark cherry juice can assist with sleep
Talk to your Unichem Pharmacist to find out what’s most suitable for you. They can help you devise a strategy that incorporates the use of sleep aid products with positive lifestyle changes.