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How to get a good night's sleep, according to science

A lack of quality sleep affects up to 4 in 10 Australian adults. Sleep is very important for several reasons including: good health - poor sleep has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and more. Lack of sleep also affects mood, motivation, judgment and learning. Along with good nutrition and exercise, sleep is now recognised as a pillar of good health.

Here are a few evidence-based ways to improve the duration and quality of your sleep.

Have a regular sleep pattern

Try to go to bed at around the same time every evening and get up at around the same time every morning. Improved sleep won’t happen immediately, but if good sleep habits are maintained, sleep will certainly get better. Find what time works for you and stick with it.

Spend the right amount of time in bed

Most adults need about 7 to 8 hours sleep every night. However, many poor sleepers spend much more than 8 hours in bed - this makes fragmented sleep a habit. So, try to limit your time in bed to no more than 8.5 hours. If you often take hours to fall asleep, go to bed later.

Bed is for sleeping, not entertainment

Electronic devices like TVs, smartphones and game consoles can interfere with your sleep. It is better not to sleep with your TV or other devices on. Your mind needs to be in the habit of knowing that if you are in bed, you are there to sleep. Don’t stay in bed if you are wide awake.

Wind down and relax before going to bed

Have a ‘buffer zone’ before bedtime. Sort out any problems well before going to bed, so consider setting aside a ‘worry time’ earlier in the day, not before you go to bed. Try to avoid using your computer or other electronic screens within one hour of bedtime. Find a relaxation technique that works for you and practise it regularly, during your wind-down period.

Make sure your bed and your bedroom is comfortable

You should have a quiet, dark room with comfortable bedding and good temperature control. A quality mattress that supports your specific body type is important to provide you with quality rest. If your mattress is more than 8 years old, consider purchasing a new mattress.

Avoid Alcohol, caffeine and cigarettes

Alcohol may help you to get off to sleep, but it will disrupt your sleep during the night. Caffeine (tea, coffee, cola drinks) and the nicotine in cigarettes are stimulants that can keep you awake.

Avoid daytime naps

Sleeping during the day will make it much more difficult to sleep well at night. If a nap is absolutely necessary, then limit this to about 20-30 minutes – set a timer to wake you up. Make sure that you are awake for at least 4 hours before going back to bed. Plus, don’t allow yourself to fall asleep in front of the TV – this becomes a bad habit that will inhibit your bedtime routine.

Don’t lie awake watching the clock

Watching the time on a clock just makes you anxious about not being asleep. If you need the clock for the alarm, turn it around so that you cannot see the time. Or, place the clock outside of your bedroom. Also, resist the temptation to look at the time on your various electronic devices - these should ideally be charged outside of the bedroom.

You may need professional help

If you are still having trouble sleeping, if you have persistent problems with mood, if you have excessive daytime sleepiness, restlessness in bed, severe snoring or wakening unrefreshed despite what should be adequate length sleep, make sure that you go and see your doctor

If you are having ongoing sleep problems sleeping, talk to your GP. Further information is available via these websites:

• Sleep Health Foundation (
• Beyond Blue (
• ReachOut (

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