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Staying Healthy Over Winter - A Guide To Healthy Sleep

For those of you with a snoring spouse, bedwetting children, or a hungry newborn; a good night’s sleep will be few and far between. But getting a good night’s sleep should be a priority for all of us, young or old.

The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School tells us that a lack of good sleep can affect your judgement, mood, ability to learn and retain information, and increase your risk of serious accident or injury. And when it comes to long term sleep loss, you can end up with a range of health issues like obesity, diabetes, or heart problems. All of these things can affect your quality of life and your ability to get health insurance or life insurance, so they’re best avoided.

But just what constitutes a good night’s sleep?

How much sleep is enough?

Sleep experts at the American National Sleep Foundation provide recommendations on how much sleep each of us should be getting. It ranges depending on age, and some of their results are a little surprising.

The average adult age 18-25 should be getting 7-9 hours of sleep, whilst adults 65+ only need 7-8 hours. Infants and toddlers need a lot more, with newborns (0-3 months) needing the most, 14-17 hours per day.

Many of us take sleep for granted and need to stop cutting back on sleep to make way for our busy lives. Massey University Professor Philippa Gander says that there are 3 important requirements for good health.

  • diet

  • exercise

  • sleep

The first two seem to have a great focus in the media, but sleep always seems to get left by the wayside. Let’s take look at some causes of inadequate sleep and how we can curb them.

Common Sleep Problems faced by New Zealanders

Driving whilst fatigued or sleepy is a familiar cause of road accidents all over the world and New Zealand insurance companies have reported an increase in insurance claims owing to sleep deprived drivers.The causes for this sleepiness are many and varied, but here are just a few of the common problems when it comes to getting a good night’s rest.

Sleep apnoea is due to difficulty breathing whilst asleep. Sleep apnoea is more common in people who are overweight, those who use sleeping pills, people who drink alcohol before bed, and middle aged adult males. There are various treatments for sleep apnoea so it’s important to see your GP if you suspect you’re having trouble with your breathing during sleep.

Insomnia is where someone may have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep. Insomnia can be caused by a variety of things, including stress, and can affect people during different stages of their life for varying periods of time.

Jet lag is a common phenomenon - when you’ve been travelling in another time zone or country and dinner time doesn’t feel like dinner time anymore. Your body gets confused as to what time of day it’s meant to be, and this brings on fatigue and and irritability. Some people may even get this feeling at the shift of time during daylight savings.

Shift work sleep disorder happens when you’re working irregular hours (i.e. a night shift) and your body isn’t synchronised to the natural environment. Your body likes to keep in time with the rising and setting of the sun, and if you’re forcibly doing the opposite (rising at sunset and sleeping at sunrise) your body can eventually get out of whack.

Why you shouldn’t sleep with your pets on (or in) the bed

Apparently one third of dog owners let their dog sleep on their bed. Even though the comfort of sleeping with your cat or dog at the end of the bed can be enough to convince us the pillow fluff and fur is manageable, sleep experts are going to tell you otherwise.

By having a cat or dog at the end of (or middle of!) the bed your body will subconsciously react when you’re sleeping. You may even refrain from tossing and turning to ensure you don’t propel them off the bed, and the noise they make sleeping can be enough to stop you falling into a deep slumber.

That aside, animals are always going to bring dirt and germs inside and you certainly don’t want your bed - a space where you spend up to one third of your life - infected with all that grime.

Sleeping with your pets

More sleepless nights when you share a bed

Sleeping with a partner can mean more sleepless nights than sleeping without. One study found that couples suffered from 50% more sleep disturbances if they shared the bed. Disturbances ranges from ‘blanket hogging’ to snoring to simply one person’s movement waking another.

Sleep specialist Dr Neil Stanley says that couples co-sleeping was not commonplace until after the industrial revolution when towns and cities became short of living space and co-sleeping become efficient, both in a spatial and budgetary sense.

Technology to help you sleep

Smart earplugs for a better sleep

Hush have developed state of the art ear plugs that cancel out all the noise from your surroundings. But! They can also be connected to your wireless devices so that you can ensure you won’t miss your morning alarm or emergency phone calls. These headphones also have a sound machine built in so that you can fall asleep to the soothing sounds of the ocean, white noise, or gentle rain.

White noise sleep machines

Sleep machines, or white noise machines, are credited with helping to block out things like street and traffic noises to help you get a better sleep. Most of them have a range of pre-programmed sounds that you can choose from dependent on your mood and surroundings.

The best sleep apps

With the rise of smartphone technology we’ve seen a huge range of healthy living apps come out, and unsurprisingly some of these are to help with your sleeping patterns. Here are just a few you could try:

Sleep As Android (Android) - this app tracks your sleeping pattern and aims to wake you up at the optimum time.

Sleep Cycle (iPhone & Android) - a sleep tracker for your iPhone, this app monitors your sleeping pattern by sensing your movements during the night. It wakes you up during your lightest sleep phase and provides graphs of your daily sleeps.

SleepBot - packed with tips on how to sleep better, this app works on most devices and tracks your sleep to wake you during your lightest sleep phase.