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The Importance of Sleep


Sleep is an important part of a person’s overall health and wellbeing, and a lack of sleep can have significant effects on our physical and mental health.  Everyone has a “body clock”, which is called a circadian rhythm.   This body clock releases chemicals into our body throughout the day, which is how our body knows when to go to sleep and when to wake up. Environmental factors such as light and darkness also have an effect, because our body has a natural pattern of wanting to sleep during the night, and be awake during the day.    Our need for sleep also changes over the lifespan, and we need less sleep as we get older.  The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has recommendations for adults to aim for at least 7 hours of sleep a night.  For teenagers, 8-10 hours is recommended.  Of course, this can be difficult to achieve when factors like busy schedules and shift work can disrupt our body clock.  When a person is having difficulty sleeping, their sleeping habits and routines should be considered, to see if any positive changes can be made.   These habits are called sleep hygiene, and having good sleep hygiene can make a world of difference in the quality of a person’s sleep.  
Here are some easy ways to try and improve your sleep:
  • Have a consistent routine for when you go to bed, and when you wake up.  Consistency is key to making sure you get enough hours each night!
  • Try to reduce the non-sleep activities that happen in your bed. You want to train your body to associate being in bed with being asleep.  If you lay in bed to work, study, watch TV, or do other activities, this can affect your sleep.
  • Make sure that your bedroom has a comfortable temperature and level of light.  When your bedroom is too hot, too cold, or too bright, this can make it difficult to sleep.
  • Turn off electronics at least half an hour before bedtime.  Phones and other technology creates blue light, which disrupts our body clock and supresses the chemicals that our body uses to tell us when it’s time to sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon or evening.  This includes coffee, energy drinks, pre-workout drinks, and even some soft drinks.   
For more information about sleep, check out https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/ or http://sleepeducation.org/.  Both websites have excellent information and resources if you would like to learn more about sleep.