Health & Fitness

Seven habits that help promote sound sleep

Get enough sleep to avoid ill health. PHOTO |
Get enough sleep to avoid ill health. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH 

Getting a good night’s sleep is probably one of the most important things you can do for your health, as your body repairs and helps restore itself during those precious six to eight hours each night.

Many people, especially in urban areas struggle with sleep and feeling well-rested. A lack of sleep has been linked to several chronic conditions affecting the cardiovascular, nervous and immune systems, as well as disrupting the metabolic functions of the body. And if you have ever been around a sleep-deprived person before, you know that moodiness and irritability are two of the most noticeable side effects.

Before you run to the pharmacy in search of dangerous and addictive sleeping pills or potions, you may want to take a good look at your sleep hygiene. The American Sleep Association defines ‘sleep hygiene’ as behaviours that one can do to help promote good sleep using behavioural interventions.

Most people understand that limiting naps and stimulants are part of the behaviours recommended for a good night’s sleep. Yet even with good habits in place to prepare for a good night’s rest, sleep hygiene can be a problem. The effects of how one sleeps should be examined.

This can be the reason for not feeling well-rested and energised. How you sleep is very much part of sleep hygiene.

The majority of the working population today complain of neck and back pain. It has been found that many people are not able to sleep well because they lack proper sleep hygiene.

Here are tips to ‘clean up’ your sleep hygiene and feel the best you can be:

1. Be aware of sleep posture

Try to avoid sleeping on your stomach since this can cause hyperextension of your back and neck which will later translate to pain.

2. Use a pillow for hip alignment

If you sleep on your side, place a pillow between your knees to help keep your hips level. If you sleep on your back, a pillow underneath your knees can help remove pressure from your lower back and help your back lie flat on the mattress.

3. Check pillow height

Collapsed pillows provide little or no neck support. If pillows are doubled up, this can raise your head too high and in turn affect your neck and back and you will wake up feeling stiff and sore. When you lay on your side, your nose should be parallel to the ground and in neutral alignment without angled upward or downward. An orthopaedic pillow — preferably memory foam — should be sought for this.

4. Stretch and roll up

The way you wake up in the morning can be as important as the way you sleep. Sitting up too quickly and hopping out of bed can cause strain on your entire body including your lower back. Stretch without pulling on your joints and roll yourself to a sitting position.

5. Mattress

Be sure to use a firm mattress that will help you maintain proper back support. Make sure you invest in a quality mattress and replace it every few years if it is a high-density mattress. Also be sure that the mattress suits your needs. Do you have a partner or pets that share the bed? Do you need more or less support? Is the mattress only comfortable for one of you, and leaves the other tossing and turning? Be sure to invest in a suitable mattress for your situation.

6. Keep your bedroom dark

The presence of light interferes with your body’s ability to secrete the sleep-promoting hormone, melatonin.

Prepare your body for sleep by dimming the lights and turning off all electronics, especially televisions. Make sure your room is as dark as possible once you are in bed by turning off hallway lights, as well as closing blinds or curtains to block out any outside lights.

7. Keep work outside the bedroom

You would not sleep in your office (though you may have been tempted), so do not work in your bedroom.

Remove anything that does not have to do with sleeping or implies work or stress-related activities. That means no exercise equipment, computers, telephones or tablets.

There is no need to be reminded of unanswered emails or missed workouts — you can tackle those problems tomorrow.

Nellie Nthiga, BDM, C&P Health Centre.