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12 tips for getting a better night’s sleep

Struggling to get a good night’s sleep? You’re not alone

A young woman and her dog nap together
A young woman and her dog nap together

Struggling to get a good night’s sleep? Don’t worry – you’re not alone. In fact up to 40% of Aussie adults get inadequate ZZZs.

If you’re spending hours in bed trawling through Instagram, thinking about what you’re going to eat for breakfast and counting down the hours until your alarm goes off, it might be time to take a different tack.

We spoke with Associate Professor and Clinical Psychologist, Aliza Werner-Seidler from the Black Dog Institute, who took us through the most up-to-date research about all things sleep-related and offered us some tips on what we can do to get a good night’s rest.

“Sleep plays a pivotal role in maintaining our overall health and wellbeing, influencing our cognitive, emotional, and physical health,” explains Aliza.

So, what can we do to get a better night’s sleep?

Credit: nib health insurance

1. Prioritise sleep regularity

"Research spanning nearly eight years reveals that sticking to a regular sleep-wake pattern – where you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day – is more crucial for longevity and health outcomes than the total duration of sleep," Aliza explains. Maintain a regular sleep-wake schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends if you can. You may need to consult your GP if you are a shift worker or experience sleep disorders.

2. Aim to sleep 7-9 hours each night

Everyone's sleep needs vary, but typically, most people feel their best with around seven to nine hours of sleep each night.

3. Dim the lights and create a relaxing bedtime routine

Develop a relaxing bedtime routine to signal to your body that it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep. Things like reading, taking a warm bath, practicing relaxation techniques, or listening to calming music can help you relax and ease into sleep.

"Bright lights are known to suppress the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles, making it harder for your mind and body to relax," says Aliza.

"Dimming the lights in the evenings helps signal to your body that it's time to sleep."

4. Put your phone down before bed

Reduce exposure to electronic devices before bedtime, as the blue light emitted by screens can suppress melatonin production and disrupt sleep patterns. Aliza recommends avoiding electronic devices one or two hours before sleep.

An infographic explaining the four stages of sleep and their benefits

5. Consider your diet before bed

Avoid heavy meals, caffeine, nicotine, vapes and alcohol close to bedtime, as they can interfere with sleep onset and disrupt sleep patterns.

Aliza says that researchers have found that caffeine intake reduces total sleep time, diminishes sleep efficiency, and prolongs sleep onset latency.

"On average, people sleep better when they last consumed caffeine eight to nine hours before going to bed," explains Aliza.

6. Get physical

"Recent research has unveiled compelling evidence suggesting that engaging in physical activity, regardless of intensity or form, can significantly improve sleep quality," says Aliza.

From brisk walks to basketball, physical activity has been shown to have a positive influence on sleep. Even low-intensity activities such as housework can enhance your sleep quality.

Aliza suggests aiming for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week, but avoiding vigorous exercise close to bedtime.

7. Welcome the morning sun

Research has shown that being exposed to the morning sunlight can boost your alertness for the day ahead.

8. Limit your daily cat naps

While short naps can be beneficial for boosting alertness and energy levels, avoid long or irregular naps during the day, as they can disrupt your sleep-wake cycle and make it harder to fall asleep at night.

9. Create a healthy sleeping environment

Create a comfortable sleep environment by keeping your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool. Aliza recommends investing in a comfortable mattress and pillows, use blackout curtains or eye masks to block out light, and using earplugs or white noise machines to minimise noise disruptions.

"This is particularly important as heatwaves are becoming more common and are associated with higher night-time temperatures, which can significantly impact sleep quality especially in vulnerable groups such as older adults, children, pregnant women, and people with mental health conditions," Aliza explains.

10. Prioritise mindfulness

Make relaxation a part of your daily routine to enhance your sleep and overall wellbeing. If you need additional support, Aliza suggests talking to your GP about counselling or therapy options.

11. Get help with menopausal symptoms

"During menopause, hormonal changes can lead to various symptoms that significantly disrupt sleep," explains Aliza. Some of these symptoms include hot flashes and night sweats, insomnia (difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early and being unable to fall back asleep), mood changes, sleep apnoea, Restless Leg Syndrome, and psychological stress.

Speak with your GP if these symptoms are affecting your sleep.

12. Seek help and support

"If you're still struggling with sleep issues despite trying these tips, it might be time to reach out to a healthcare professional or a sleep specialist for additional support and guidance," says Aliza.

The most important thing to remember is making long-term changes to your sleep patterns won’t happen overnight. Keep with you bedtime routine for a few weeks so it becomes a habit and work your way up to the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep a night to keep you looking and feeling your best.

nib foundation partner, the Black Dog Institute, offers a free, evidence-based smartphone app called Sleep Ninja®, which has been shown to be effective in helping young people with sleep problems. Based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I), Sleep Ninja teaches strategies across six ‘training sessions’ to develop healthy sleep habits and improve sleep quality. For more information, head to the Black Dog Institute website.