It would not be very inaccurate to believe that in today’s lifestyle, almost all of us eagerly await time to catch up on our sleep, as being such a precious and sought after goal. At the same time, getting out of the bed in time is a challenge that almost all of us can identify with, be it children, adolescents and even adults.

Though we do appreciate the fact that sleep makes us feel better, we often find ourselves craving for a holiday just to catch up on our sleep. This is not surprising, as despite of being aware of the need for at least seven to nine hours of sleep per day, most of us end up consuming our precious hours of sleep by utilising the time to complete our ‘more important and urgent’ jobs, and planning to compensate for these hours later.

As we usually forget the critical role of sleep in our lives, in the International Sleep Awareness Week, we need to recall that sleeping serves a protective as well as an adaptive function. It helps us preserve our physical as well as mental energy, while at the same time repairing and restoring our bodies’ resources that have been depleted after the day’s toiling. We all have our own body clock, which operates on a 24-hour cycle, biologically attuned to make us feel sleepy when it’s dark and awaken us in the daylight.

There are many myths related to sleeping habits. For instance, it’s not true that we need less sleep as we get older. In fact, studies have demonstrated that though ageing adults above the age of 65 years might have an increased number of night-time awakenings and frequently awaken quite early in the morning, they actually require around 7 to 8 hours of total sleep time.

The following are some tips for sleep hygiene which are designed to enhance good sleeping and there is evidence that suggests that these strategies can provide long-term solutions to sleep difficulties.

  • Pay heed to the body clock – In case there has been a disruption of our sleep cycle, it often becomes difficult to regulate the time we should be going to sleep, and often a person who has been working during the night shifts, now finds it difficult to sleep during the night. However, you should try to make sure that you get up at the same time every day. This is possible by being stern and disciplining yourself, and this will also help regulate your body clock to start feeling sleepy also at a fixed time every night.
  • Do not laze in bed – Once we are awake, we should not lie in bed, lazing around, and just keep thinking of getting up. While many of us prefer to lie in bed form sometime in the morning, and just keep thinking of getting up before shaking ourselves out of our sleep, evidence shows that we must form the habit of getting out of the bed as soon as we awaken.
  • Avoid stimulants – We should not consume any caffeine (in coffee, tea, cola drinks, chocolate, etc.) or nicotine (cigarettes) for at least 4-6 hours before going to bed, as these substances act as stimulants and interfere with the ability to fall asleep. Many people believe that alcohol is relaxing and helps them to get to sleep at first, but it actually interrupts the quality of sleep, also creating dependence in the long term.
  • Use the bed only to sleep – We should go to the bed only when it is time to sleep, so that our body gets used to associating bed only to sleep. If the bed is used as a place to watch TV, eat, read, or work on the laptop, our body will not form this connection.
  • Hot bath – Having a hot water bath one or two hours before getting into bed can also be helpful, as studies have demonstrated that as our body temperature reduces, we tend to get sleepy more easily.
  • Have a ‘no technology’ zone – We should switch off our mobile phones and television sets two hours prior to sleeping, as looking at the screens of these electronic gadgets actually stimulates our brain cells, thereby increasing our alertness. Instead, we can read a paperback book or listen to relaxing music, while having a technology free time just before we sleep.
  • Sleep time needs to be distraction free – We should make an effort to sleep at a time when there is least likely to be chance for any noise or distraction. For instance, if you are expecting to have some noise or disturbance at a particular time, it is not a bad idea to prepone the time you go to bed, so that you can fall asleep before the distraction. Try and make sure that your bedroom is quiet and relaxing. It is important that the environment is sleep inducing.
  • Physical exercise – Regular physical exercise done daily helps not only in relieving our stress and improving our overall health, but also helps us get a restful sleep at night.
  • Avoid napping – Often in our efforts to make up on our lost hours of sleep, we tend to nap en-route our travels, or take short power naps during the day. However, studies have shown that sleep is best obtained in a single and continuous block. Sleep is best obtained in a single and continuous block.
  • Regularity – Finally, it is important to remember that it is not just the number of hours of sleep that should be adequate, but also the ‘time’ at which we sleep makes a difference to the amount of adequate sleep we get.