why is sleep important
Posted in: Lifestyle

Expert Sleep Tips for Your Best Rest Yet 

how can i improve my sleep habitshow can i improve my sleep habits

As part of our Real Deep Sleep campaign, we here at Sheridan conducted a white paper to find out how Australians are really sleeping — which you can read more about.

But with statistics like 56% of us claiming we’re not getting enough sleep, we had to go straight to the experts to discover just how we could all develop healthy sleep habits (or improve them, if you’ve already started your journey to better sleep).

Enter Rosemary Clancy, Sleep Psychologist at Sydney Sleep Centre, and Founder of Let Sleep Happen. When it comes to rest & relaxation, it’s (very) safe to say that she knows her stuff.

So fluff your pillows, pull your quilt up, and let’s dive straight into it — talking about everything from why is sleep important, to what deep sleep even is and even why the myth of eight hours of sleep is wrong (yep, we said it).

Why Sleep Is So Important

Let’s start with the basics. Sleep is important — well, the word Rosemary uses is “essential” — in terms of our “physical mental health.”

When you sleep poorly, it brings on poor physical and mental health — which, in turn, brings about more poor sleep…and so the cycle continues. However, this cycle works at the other end of the spectrum — “Good sleep begets optimal mental and physical health, promoting good sleep,” explains Rosemary.

Nightly deep sleep offers “physical recovery, tissue and cell repair, human growth hormone production, immune health.” And REM sleep — also known as dream sleep — assists with “memory consolidation and emotion regulation functions.”

How Much Sleep Is Needed Per Night

how to sleep betterhow to sleep better

Trick question — it’s not the eight-hour figure we’ve been hearing our whole lives. 

“Individual sleep needs range from night to night, and over the lifespan.” Just compare the sleep of babies to toddlers, teens to adults, all the way to the elderly — it’s different at each stage. 

“An adult may experience 8 hours one night, then 6 hours the next.” In fact, Rosemary cited one investigation that looked at the “night-to-night” variability of 18 participants, and found there were “large differences between subjects” — and that specific daily activities and lifestyle factors could be a significant contribution to this.

The Difference Phases of Our Sleep

The majority of our sleep is considered to be “light sleep” — approximately 60%, Rosemary tells us. And there are two stages of this type of sleep: 1 and 2.

REM sleep — rapid eye movement sleep, where the majority of dreams occur — is “approximately 20% of the night’s sleep.”

Deep, slow-wave sleep can range from 13% to 23% of the night’s sleep. Yep, almost a quarter of your sleep every night could be deep sleep. And this is dictated by “how long [an individual] has been awake during the day, building up that sleep pressure.”

And if you think you can control each stage and how much you get — think again. “The brain regulates how much of each phase of sleep we experience,” explains Rosemary. “We don’t have conscious decision-making and control over this process.”

How Can I Improve my Sleep Habits?

It’s not surprising that our sleep has been suffering recently, says Rosemary. Citing “COVID work-from-home routines, [a] loss of daytime structure leading to bedtime procrastination” she also believes it comes from a “growing prevalence of mental health concerns.”

As for her main sleep recommendations? It includes “a regular routine,” as this will in term created a “conditioned ‘rest and digest’ response, and sleep cues to the bed environment” — without the classic move of lying there, trying to sleep with no luck at all.

How to Sleep Better

1. Get up and get morning sun exposure.

“This resets your circadian clock and protects your mood.” 

2. Avoid naps during the day, or take less than 30-minute power naps.

"This is to build a large wave of homeostatic sleep pressure, which will converge powerfully with your circadian process at night, to take you into sleep.” 

3. Go to bed when sleepy.

Don’t go if you’re “just tried, but still alert.” Why? This helps you “associate your bed with sleep.” 

4. Get out of your bed if you’re unable to sleep within 20 minutes.

Or, if your “emotion intensity” (think: frustration, anxiety) is greater than 60%. “[It] reassociates your bed with sleep, if you’ve developed a conditioned negative association of your bed with wakefulness.” 

5. Allow your sleep quantity to differ each night. 

No explanation here, we’ve already talked about different hours of sleep. 

6. Don’t compare your sleep.

And last but not least — don’t sit there with friends or colleagues, discussing and judging your sleep quantity against theirs. Performance anxiety is real, and it exists in the realm of “sleep performance”.

And if you’re wondering ‘How can I improve my sleep habits, like today?’. Rosemary’s got three principles for you: “Keep the sleep environment dark, quiet and cool”— 19-20 degrees Celsius.