Are you getting your 40 winks?

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Getting every one of your 40 winks is crucial for concentration, according to a renowned Australian sleep doctor.

Sarah Blunden, a psychologist and founder and director of the Australian Centre for Education in Sleep, believes sleep is key to our overall wellbeing.

“Essentially sleep is the foundation of all good health. So without sleep nothing else will function as well as it should. Whilst we talk about the importance of diet and physical activity, sleeping not only is part of the triad of importance but the foundation of the other two,” Professor Blunden says.

“Without sleep that is the right quantity, right quality and time of the day and the right regularity, a whole range of our body systems don’t work well.

“The national sleep foundation of America and Australia have put out guidelines recently to suggest that there is no magical number for how much sleep we need, it depends on age, gender and it even depends on genetic disposition.”

Cameron Flood, 19, is studying a  degree in Law at Adelaide University and knows what it is like to have not have enough sleep. “By the time I attend all of my lectures and tutorials, then go home and study it takes up about eight hours a day. I also do a lot of reading for law, sometimes up to four hours a night. So with that plus working part time as a barista and then trying to fit in a social life, sometimes I only get four to five hours sleep a night. I know that when I don’t have enough sleep I find it so hard to concentrate and I sometimes fall asleep in lectures for a couple of moments,” he says.

Getting the right amount of sleep for the right age is very important, Professor Blunden explains.

“So, for example, a school-aged child sleeps somewhere between 11 and 14 hours in a 24 hour period. In adults it is somewhere between eight and 10 and seven and none, depends on which research you use, so somewhere between seven and 10. So what does that mean, that person one does fine on seven hours. They are growing fine and developing fine, their mood is stable and their physical health is good. However person two might need way more than seven hours as they are not feeling well. They are sleepy and tired, they don’t function well, they are irritable and may even be putting on weight so they might need nine or 10 hours,” Prof Blunden says.

“There is no magic number, the only way that you would really know how much time you need to sleep is when you don’t have any time constraints. If you don’t have to go to work or go to school and you are on holidays and you sleep when you want to and wake up when you want to. By doing this you get a bit of idea of how much time you need to sleep.

“There is another part to this; there is the amount of sleep that you need and how you cope with less sleep. So if you are an optimistic temperamentally disposed person you are more likely to cope with less sleep to a person that is less optimistic.”

Jessica Wake, 28, a psychology student studying online through Open Universities Australia, is used to having little sleep after raising two children and working full time. “I run on no sleep now but I do know that when you get the right amount of sleep your concentration and being on the ball is 100% rather than being what I normally work on which is about 70%,” she says.

“Because I sleep so little I also feel like I never get into a proper deep sleep because I am always worrying or thinking about things. I think I may have to try some sort of meditation to relax my thoughts.”

University students and those studying can suffer when they do not get enough sleep, Prof Blunden says.

“Absolutely, there are two things that happen when you don’t get enough sleep, along with a whole range of things, but talking in terms of duration. Let’s say you get four hours of sleep a night, the way that sleep cycles and sleep patterns are set up, the first three hours are very deep sleep. This period is very good for growing and very important for immune and physiological function, it fills up the petrol tank if you like. Then you start moving into the lighter stages of your sleep including REM sleep and that is when you dream,” Prof Blunden says.

Sleep researchers believer that this is the memory consolidation period of sleep. Dreaming is part of the processes of putting information and memories into our long term memory. Prof Blunden says, if you only have four hours sleep, not only are you going to cut your sleep short but you are also going to be tired, you are more irritable and you are also cutting down your potential to learn in this lighter period of sleep.

Mayo Clinic online suggests the top six tips to a better night’s sleep

  • Stick to a sleep schedule. Set aside no more than eight hours for sleep.
  • Pay attention to what you eat and drink. Don’t go to bed hungry or stuffed. 
  • Create a restful environment. Create a room that’s ideal for sleeping. 
  • Limit daytime naps. 
  • Include physical activity in your daily routine.
  • Manage worries

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