Feel tired? A recent study found more than a quarter of Australian workers don’t get enough sleep and 42% of working mothers are chronically tired. Is under sleeping the biggest risk to your physical and emotional wellbeing?
Many Australians are suffering from an “unrecognised epidemic” of tiredness according to the study. Those working more than 45 hours a week or doing the double shift of full-time work and parenting are most likely to barter an hour or more of sleep to squeeze in some extra work or down time at night.
Under sleeping or “sleep restriction” is defined as getting less than seven hours of sleep a night. While some people may brag they need less, studies into the impact of under-sleeping on health and wellbeing reiterate the clinical relevance of this magic number.
Regularly sleeping less than seven hours a night can lead to:
- feeling tired
- poor decision-making
- sadness or depression
- short-term memory impairment
- weight gain
- poor immunity, leading to more infections
- greater financial risk taking
- impaired driving (similar to drink driving)
- increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, immune dysfunction, diabetes and other endocrine conditions
- decreased libido.
The new normal
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed with a sense that there’s not enough hours in the day to meet the demands of paid and domestic work, let alone have time for a partner, friends, family or self-care. For many people working over 45 hours a week or in paid employment plus doing the bulk of the parenting at home, it can seem like getting to bed later or up earlier in the morning is the only way to attempt to keep on top of everything.
Unfortunately the more under slept and tired we become, the less efficient we are at completing routine or complex tasks. It can be hard to gain perspective when you’re already doing the best you can.
8 ways to get more sleep
- Stop kidding yourself that you don’t need more sleep. The individuals who famously “thrive” on five-or-less hours of shut-eye each night are rarer than we’re led to believe.
- Go to bed at least eight hours before you need to get up in the morning. Aim to wake up around the same time every day.
- Romance the bed. Stop thinking of an earlier night as a punishment, it’s actually a delicious reward.
- Don’t sleep with your phone. There’s good evidence that using your phone in bed, especially to send messages or check email, can reduce your amount of sleep and increase your fatigue the next day. If you absolutely cannot turn off your phone at night, at least use the do not disturb or airplane function and literally keep it at arms length.
- Avoid watching TV or using any electronic devices in bed – it upsets our hormones. The light impacts on the release of melatonin, which signals that it’s time to go to sleep. Playing games or even watching the news can trigger the “fight-or-flight” response. Neither are conducive to falling or staying asleep.
- Try to avoid alcohol. Although you might fall asleep easily, it can harm sleep quality and lead to feeling tired the next day.
- Be patient. Give these changes at least two weeks before reassessing them. If under sleeping is an old habit it could take anywhere from 18 – 254 days to change it! At first it can feel uncomfortable taking care of yourself and prioritising your sleep.
- Accept you’re not superhuman. Try asking for help. Consider adopting Elizabeth Gilbert’s motto of “done is good enough” or stop the urge to please people.
Under sleeping is only one sleep-related dysfunction. If you have trouble prioritising your sleep, experience other sleep disturbances or have ongoing fatigue when getting at least seven hours of shut-eye a night, book a wellbeing consultation.
Updated 14 February 2015: Want to see if you’re tiredness is negatively impacting your ability to work or react? Try this fun fatigue test (that might sound like a contradiction in terms but most people find it fascinating) from NSW Police.