What can I do as an employee?
You don’t have to wait for a workplace program to improve your sleep habits or get checked out for sleep disorders. If you suspect that you might have a sleep disorder, visit your GP. More information is available here.
Getting more sleep
If you simply want to get more sleep, there are a number of steps that you can take that can help. Different people will respond in different ways so what works for one person may not work for another, but if you try various approaches, you should be able to find the one that works for you. The suggestions below are not exhaustive and there are many more detailed resources out there to help you manage your sleep.
This may seem obvious, but you will only sleep more if you schedule more time to sleep. You don’t sleep for the entire time that you are in bed, and so you should schedule slightly more time than you want to sleep – for example, if you want to sleep 7.5 hours, then schedule 8 hours in bed.
Plan your sleep time: Ideally, try to sleep at the same time every day, and include it in your daily schedule so that you don’t double-book that time with other things. Protect the time you have set aside for sleep.
If you know that you have a late night coming, plan ahead to try and get extra sleep beforehand and make sure you have longer recovery sleep episodes afterwards. If you have to be up earlier than normal, gradually shift your sleep earlier in the several days beforehand so you can get a full nights’ sleep and still wake up on time.
Prioritise your children’s sleep over nearly everything else
Sleep is essential for learning and growth and sleep loss affects children much more than adults. Ensure that your children have an early and regular bedtime, with a calming pre-bed routine in dim light. More information can be found on the Sleep Health Foundation website.
Avoid behaviour that adversely affects sleep in children
Do not let children use electronic devices (tablets, laptops, smart phones etc.) for at least one hour before bed (ideally longer) as the blue-enriched light emitted by such devices alerts the brain for as long as two hours after the lights are turned off, and will reduce the amount of deep sleep needed for growth.
No caffeine for children
Do not let children take caffeine at any time of day (cola, energy drinks, tea, coffee etc.) as this will make it harder for them to fall asleep at night and will affect their sleep quality. Their smaller size makes the caffeine dose much higher than in adults, with bigger negative effects.
Keep a regular schedule
The 24-hour circadian body clock controls the timing and quality of sleep. It is therefore best to try and sleep and wake at the same time each day. Light is the most powerful time cue for resetting and synchronising our 24-hour rhythms and therefore exposure to a regular light-dark cycle – bright days and dark nights – is also important in helping to maintain a regular cycle. Try and get as much daylight exposure in the daytime but then sleep in as dark a room as possible, or use an eye mask, to create a large day-night contrast.
Gradually exposure yourself to less and less light and ideally to more orange-red lights to reduce the alerting effects of light before bed. When you wake, open the curtains and get as much daylight as possible. In the winter, turn on your indoor lights as bright as you can during the morning and day.
Short naps (up to 20 minutes) can be a useful short-term measure to improve daytime alertness if you are tired, but should not become a substitute for night-time sleep. Long naps in the daytime will affect your ability to sleep at night and so if you do nap, keep it short.
Create a good sleeping environment
Make your bedroom as dark as possible at night by using black-out curtains, and/or an eyemask, and minimise nightlight exposure during the night. Cover any bright spots of light coming from alarm clocks and other devices. Do not have a TV in the bedroom and do not use electronic devices for at least one hour before bed. Do not sleep with your phone in your room, to reduce the temptation of checking it or exposing yourself to light. Your bedroom also needs to be cool and comfortable. As part of the process of falling asleep, your body needs to lose heat and so the room should not be too cold or too hot. If you are too cold, bed socks will help with maintaining circulation and heat loss, particularly in women. Air-conditioning and fans will help cool you down if too hot.
Noise can be disruptive and so reduce the impact by using earplugs, or a ‘white-noise’ or sleep machine, which can help nullify the impact of noise. It’s also important to review sources of noise disruption and think how your actions affects others’ ability to prioritise sleep.
Caffeine is a powerful stimulant and even a cup of coffee at 10am will affect your sleep quality that night. Try and minimise caffeine use to improve your alertness and sleep. If you have to use caffeine, use it ‘little and often’ and stop it at least five hours (ideally nine hours) before you plan to sleep.
Alcohol is often used as a sleep aid to help with falling asleep, but it actually worsens sleep quality and increases the number of times you need to wake up to use the bathroom, and so it is not an advisable sleep solution. Minimise alcohol intake and stop consumption for as long as possible before sleep. More information can be found on the Sleep Health Foundation website.