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April 30, 2007 | by  | in Opinion |
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A Few ZZZs Short of a Good Night?

Good sleep is as important to our health as nutrition and exercise. Sleep can make a huge difference to our day-to-day functioning, relationships, health and work performance.

Unfortunately, many people struggle with sleep. Research has found that university students are particularly vulnerable to sleep difficulties, especially sleep deprivation.

Factors associated with sleeping difficulties tend to fall into four areas: psychological wellbeing, lifestyle, physical health, and environment. Stress is regarded as the number one cause for sleep deprivation. Stress can be a response to specific situation (e.g. an upcoming exam/ relationship break-up) or to longer-term ongoing difficulties. Other emotional states, such as depression, can also interfere with our sleep pattern.

Simple day to day lifestyle behaviours can disrupt sleep. For example: taking some prescription and non-prescription drugs, drinking caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, exercising or doing mentally intense activities close to bedtime can all lead to poorer sleep. Physical pain, hormonal shifts in women, daytime inactivity, and shift work can also interfere with sleep. Our bedroom environment as well as the habits of our sleep partner can also play a role.

The good news is that most sleeping difficulties can be sorted out with good sleep management practices. They aim to promote psychological, lifestyle, physical and environmental factors that positively impact on sleep; strengthen the association between sleep and the bed/bedroom; and help develop a regular sleep-wake routine.

Regaining control of our sleep, and breaking the cycle of poor sleep patterns often begins with making sleep and rest a priority in our lives.

The following are general tips are recommended by the National Sleep Foundation:

• Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol in the late afternoon and evening. Caffeine and nicotine can delay sleep, and alcohol may interrupt sleep later in the night.
• Finish eating at least 2-3 hours before bedtime.
• Exercise regularly, but do so at least three hours before bedtime.
• Have a hot bath or shower early on in the evening.
• Create a regular, relaxing bedtime routine that will allow you to unwind and send a “signal” to your brain that it’s time to sleep.
• Make your sleep environment as pleasant, comfortable, dark and quiet as possible.
• Avoid daytime napping.
• Don’t use your bed for anything other than sleep or sex.
• Develop relaxation techniques or learn to meditate.
• Rather than associating the bedroom with anxious thoughts about spending a night struggling to sleep, try and develop a sleep-positive attitude. Focus on the enjoyment of being in bed and relaxing- e.g. how nice it is to snuggle into clean sheets.
• Go to bed when you are sleepy. If you don’t go to sleep after 30 minutes, get up and involve yourself in a relaxing activity, such as listening to soothing music or reading, until you feel sleepy. The goal is to associate the bed with falling asleep quickly. Do this as often as you need to throughout the night.
• Get up at the same time each morning, regardless of how much sleep you got that night. This will help your body to develop a consistent sleep rhythm.
• If sleep continues to evade you consider speaking to a counsellor, psychologist or doctor.

Sweet dreams!
Student Services

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About the Author ()

Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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