The steps I took to improve my sleep

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The steps I took to improve my sleep

Only a quarter of Australians are getting a full eight hours of sleep every night, with about a third of us suffering from poor rest. Spooning with technology isn’t helping, but it’s not the only culprit keeping us up at night. Melbourne writer ED PITTS discovered a few decent formulas to master the science of sleep.

I slept eight hours almost every night…until I hit 30. I found that, as I got older, it became harder to fall and stay asleep. A stressful full-time job didn’t help, nor did an increased sensitivity to light and noise. Plus, I wasn’t making the best diet and exercise decisions in general.

Lack of sleep severely impacted my life. It affected everything from my performance at work to my relationships with my family, friends and partner. The worst part was that this all just made sleeping even harder. Anxiety is a night light you can’t switch off; my brain was always going faster than it needed to, and lying still in darkness seemed to amplify it by 100. I dreaded going to bed every night.

Limiting caffeine is probably the most important thing I changed. The half-life of caffeine – which is the time taken for the average body to eliminate half of the caffeine from your body – is about six hours, but it stays in your system a lot longer, so I avoid anything stronger than peppermint tea after lunch.

Exercise made a huge difference. It doesn’t seem to matter when I do it, but exercise (even walking) knocks me out at night. Plus, exercise helps to reduce my stress and anxiety, which makes it easier to get some Zs.

Booze isn’t great, but you don’t have to give it up. While research  seems to suggest that sleep and booze don’t mix, I do love my red wine. I still have a glass or two, I just usually make sure it’s pre- or with dinner during the week.

Technology makes our lives easier, but not our sleep. The light and brain activity involved in checking screens impacts sleep horrifically, so I dodge my phone an hour before bed. I can’t stress enough how much of a difference this makes.

A friend recommended reading before bed. I hardly ever used to read, so this was an adjustment, but it was worth it. It doesn’t have to be a book – even magazines are effective. It makes sense when you think about how kids love a story before bed.

Meditation helps (in less than 10 minutes). There are heaps of meditation apps out there to help you get to sleep. I don’t have the time or interest for longer meditations, so small seven-minute doses are both lifestyle-friendly and super helpful for calming me down before bed.

Rhythm is your friend. On weekends, I usually go to bed and get up within an hour or two of my weekday times to stick to a routine. Sleeping in late on Sunday makes getting out of bed impossible on Monday. Trust me, I have almost 15 years of proof.

Lastly, invest in a decent bed. Since you should be spending a third of your life there, make sure it’s something you look forward to.

It took experimentation, but my sleep has improved dramatically. I still wake up for short periods at night a lot, but I think that’s natural with age and stress. The main thing is that getting to sleep is easy and not something I have to worry about anymore.

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