Welcome to Ask Doctor Zac, a weekly column from news.com.au. This week, Dr Zac Turner reveals the ideal number of hours we all need to sleep at night.
If there’s one thing to get right in life, it’s sleep. And it turns out most Australians are failing to count the right amount of sheep each night. Everyone’s lucky number should be seven, as that’s how many hours of sleep you need each night.
The Great Aussie Debate surveyed 50,000 news.com.au readers and it revealed one in four Aussies have interrupted sleep most nights of the week. That’s roughly 6.5 million people facing an increased risk of chronic disease and poor health outcomes.
The data has shown that the older you are the more likely you are to have better sleep. Respondents from the 70+ age group are most likely to have a full week of good sleep, whereas those in the 30-39 age group are most likely to have a full week of bad sleep. That means that Boomers are far and away better at sleeping than any of the generations since and certainly Gen Y.
There are many possible reasons for sleeplessness, including your sleeping habits, lifestyle choices and medical conditions. Some causes are minor and may improve with self-care, while others may require you to seek medical attention, such as sleep apnoea, insomnia or restless legs syndrome.
Other common causes include too much stimulation before bedtime (such as watching television, playing video games or exercising), consuming too much caffeine or alcohol, or work related stress or depression.
Another is simply stress, which can be caused by work, relationships, children and – a big one that I am hearing regularly at the moment – financial.
There are a lot of Gen Y and younger people who are identifying that their living arrangements are a big factor in their poor sleep hygiene, with many being forced into large share house accommodation.
So how can you sleep better?
Here’s my Dr Zac Tips for healthy sleep.
Reflect on how much sleep you need to feel alert and function well day-to-day. For most adults it is somewhere between seven and nine hours, but may be as low as six and as high as 10 hours. Prioritise giving yourself an opportunity to get this much sleep each night.
I recommend keeping a sleep diary even for a week to keep note of how you feel after different amounts of sleep and also what activities seemed to influence it … for better or worse.
Create a healthy sleep environment – make the room dark, quiet, and ensure the right temperature to be comfortable.
Where possible, go to bed and get up at roughly the same time every day. Having a regular rise time is particularly helpful.
Before bed, do things that help your mind and body unwind and relax. It’s helpful if the things you do are similar most nights, so they become your cue to sleep. It might be helpful to consider whether you’re using smart phones or tablets to unwind. They aren’t advisable but if you do, use a blue light filter and limit use in bed.
Limit the time you spend in bed to roughly the amount of time you usually spend sleeping.
Having sex and intimacy is not only a great way to exercise, there are lots of studies showing the benefits of intercourse for sleeping.
Eat a balanced diet and be active during the day. If you can eat and exercise at roughly the same time each day, this has additional benefits for sleep.
Lots of people use regular herbal supplements such as camomile and magnesium, but before you spend lots of money on supplements, make sure they’re the right ones for you.
Trialling some prescribed products as well can help, though I try to recommend natural ones, which could also include cannabinoids such as CBD or THC.
I recommend chatting to your doctor if you do struggle with sleep. Things get trickier as you get older, so having lots of tricks in your arsenal will be important.
Got a question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Zac Turner has a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Sydney. He is both a medical practitioner and a co-owner of telehealth service, Concierge Doctors. He was also a registered nurse and is a qualified and experienced biomedical scientist along with being a PhD Candidate in Biomedical Engineering.