Recent statistics show that an estimated 15 million Australians aged 20 years and over, have sleep disorders. With lives getting increasingly busier for the modern-day Aussie, it is getting increasingly important that we are getting enough sleep – and have the tools to do it! Many sleep disorders are also strongly connected to cardiovascular disease (CVD), with poor sleep quality potentially causing or contributing to CVD, and CVD also potentially disturbing sleep. In fact, more than 50% of patients with heart failure have sleep abnormalities.
Question: How many hours sleep does the average adult, require?
Dr Justin Hundloe: While sleep requirements do vary from person to person depending on age, level of daily activity and overall health, the average adult usually needs between 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night to maintain their health and function at their best. An adult's regular sleep schedule also needs to be consistent for the body's internal clock to work at its best. A consistent sleep schedule is required to promote melatonin production and release, a hormone which regulates the sleep cycle. We cannot suggest a 'one size, fits all' sleep schedule and sleep length as they both vary from person to person, so it is best to set a schedule that works best for the individual and promote consistency. If the sleep schedule and length needs to be adjusted, it is best to be done slowly. When the sleep pattern and length is disrupted, it may result in increased daytime tiredness or difficulty getting to sleep.
Question: How is poor sleep associated with cardiovascular disease?
Dr Justin Hundloe: Research shows that if sleep timing is misaligned, it can be associated with some of the risk factors that can lead to cardiovascular disease and diabetes, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and insulin resistance. Obstructive sleep apnoea is the most common sleep disorder, affecting an estimated 775,000 Australians. Obstructive sleep apnoea has been linked to a number of cardiovascular diseases, such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, heart failure and stroke.
Question: What should our sleep environment look like?
Dr Justin Hundloe: If your sleep environment is sub-optimal, it can have a significant impact on your ability to get a good night's sleep. There are several simple things that you can do to help create an ideal sleep environment, which may lead to a better night's sleep, including:
• Go to sleep at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning
• Refrain from taking naps during the day
• Go to bed only when you are drowsy
• Avoid caffeine and alcohol within six hours of bedtime
• Avoid the use of nicotine close to bedtime or during the night
• Obtain regular exercise, but avoid strenuous exercise four hours before bedtime
• Avoid eating a heavy meal late in the day
• Minimise light, noise and extreme temperatures in the bedroom
• Follow a routine to help you relax before sleep. Read a book, listen to music, or take a bath
• Avoid using your bed for anything other than sleep or sex
• Try making a to-do list before you go to bed. This will prevent "Worry Time"
• Avoid clock watching
• If you have ongoing sleep issues seek professional medical advice
Question: How does our sleep environment contribute to restless sleep, and how does an optimal sleep environment encourage better sleep?
Dr Justin Hundloe: Your sleep environment can be a very important factor contributing to you getting either a restless or good night's sleep. The sleep environment consists of the conditions within your bedroom, your habits in the hours leading up to going to bed and whilst you are trying to fall asleep, and your physiological and psychological state, including your overall health and wellbeing. If you are not getting a good night's sleep, one of the first things you should do is minimise the light, noise and extreme temperatures in your bedroom. Extreme heat and cold can disrupt your core body temperature, which in turn can prevent you from achieving a deep enough sleep to actually let your body rest, so ensure your bedroom is a comfortable room temperature and that there is minimal light and noise.
As people are working longer hours, are constantly 'switched on' and are more connected to technology now than ever, it becomes even more important to ensure good quality sleep health is maintained. To help ensure you are in the optimal condition to get a good sleep, you should avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, strenuous exercise and eating heavy meals in the hours leading up to bedtime. You should also avoid spending too much time on your phone, computer or TV in the hour before bed, as this can also have a negative effect. Conversely, one of the best things you can do to help get a good night's sleep is wait until you are drowsy to go to bed. You should also follow a routine each night to help you relax whilst you are trying to fall asleep, such as reading a book, listening to music or making a to-do list for the next day, as this can take away any lingering stresses you have about the next day and help your brain recognise that it is time for you to go to sleep. Moreover, while it can be tempting to lay in bed and watch TV at night, you should avoid using your bed for anything other than sleep and sex, as this can create a link in your subconscious between your bed and being awake consuming content, rather than sleeping. This can make it increasingly difficult for your mind to relax and allow you to fall asleep when you get into bed to go to sleep, resulting in a disrupted night's sleep.
Beyond the sleep environment, one of the most common factors affecting sleep is stress, whether it be due to problems at work, financial difficulties, a strained relationship, other personal issues or mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and trauma. If you are stressed or living with depression or anxiety, it can affect your entire mental, physical and physiological health and wellbeing, including causing you to experience a disrupted night's sleep and leaving you feeling exhausted during the day. If you are having ongoing sleep issues, the best thing you can do is seek professional medical advice.
Interview by Brooke Hunter
Photo by Tonny Tran on Unsplash