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None Of Us Are Getting Enough Sleep And Here's How To Fix It

We’re sleeping less than ever before and it's not doing us any good.

This week is Sleep Awareness Week, and for most of us that just means we think about how much sleep we're not having.  You can't walk into a workplace or cafe anymore without hearing people talking about how tired they are...

It's exhausting.

You see, none of us are sleeping enough. And according to Australia's Sleep Expert Elina Winnel, it's because our sleep health isn't what it should be.

"Sleep health refers to the 'wellness' of our sleep," she told ten daily. "In other words, how easy is it for us to fall asleep, sleep through the night, and get quality sleep. Someone who has good sleep health is likely to fall asleep within approximately 20 mins of going to bed, and will not wake up more than once. They will sleep seven to nine hours, and achieve quality sleep, feeling refreshed upon waking."

READ MORE: The Sleep 'Sweet Spot' To Reduce Heart Problems

Oh, but we can dream...

"Both our sleep quality and quantity have declined," Winnel continued. "We are sleeping two hours less per night than we did just 150 years ago according to a recent National Geographic documentary. In 1942, less than eight percent of the population was trying to live with six hours sleep or less, yet in 2017 that figure was almost one in two people. "

Tiring stuff, right?

And it gets more exhausting when you realise that all this sleep we're not getting is having a severe affect on our physical health.

"Sleep is critical to your physical health. It boosts your immunity; your body’s ability to fight off insults from bacteria, viruses and pathogens. It is your body’s way of recovering from the day and restoring balance at a cellular level.  With less than four or five hours’ sleep, your natural killer cells (the ones that attack the cancer cells that appear in your body every day) drop by 70%," said Elina.

And a lack of sleep  is also shown to affect our mental health. "People suffering insomnia are five times more likely to suffer from depression, and 20 times more likely to suffer from anxiety," added Elina.

Even just moderate sleep deprivation can affect us significantly. Studies have shown that after 17-19 hours without sleep, our performance is impaired to the equivalent of having a blood alcohol level of 0.05%.

It's enough to lose sleep over, if there was any more to lose...

The thing is, how do we get more sleep?  Well that is the million dollar question for many of us, right? So there's good news and bad news.

"Ironically, we can't try to sleep better," Elina told ten daily. "As soon as we put pressure on ourselves to sleep, it has the opposite effect. However, we can change patterns and behaviours during the day, which assist our ability to sleep well at night. What many people don't realise, is that our daytime is what determines the ease and quality of our sleep. A good night's sleep starts from the moment we wake up."

The good news? You can change your behaviour to make it easier to drop off.

"The single most important factor in achieving good sleep health, is having a well balanced nervous system," she said. "This means having the ability to balance our stress response and relaxation response. Many people today live the bulk of their day in a state of stress, which has a huge impact on their sleep. They may go to bed "wired" or with high levels of stress hormones in their bodies.  So if we are living the majority of the day in a state of stress, and it becomes "normal", we typically no longer realise we are in a stressed state."

READ MORE: How To Fall Asleep In Two Minutes -- Guaranteed

One way you can begin to balance this is to begin to tune in with your body more. We can calm our nervous system, by slowing and deepening our breathing, opening our posture, and relaxing tense muscles."

"You can also begin to change the way you think," she added, For example, do you catastrophise about future scenarios that may or may not happen? Do you constantly judge and criticise yourself?"  All this is stressful for your body, and can stop you getting the rest you need.

In terms of lifestyle things you can change right now, getting sufficient regular exercise is important, along with minimising blue light from screens during the evening -- turn off that phone an hour before bed, and don't take it in to the bedroom unless you have an app installed that blocks out this “blue” light (try f.lux).

Image: Getty

You should also limit caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine has more than one negative associated with it when it comes to sleep.  According to the Sleep Health Foundation if you are desperate for shots of caffeine during the day you might even have a sleep disorder like sleep apnoea, where breathing is paused during sleep, and you are unaware that this is making sleep light and fragmented. And of course, high caffeine consumption or caffeine too close to bed may be reducing the quality of your sleep.  This makes you tired the next day, needing jolts of caffeine to stay on top of things.

Image: Getty

What a tangled sleep deprived web.

And finally, according to Elina, you need to prioritise your sleep. "Our “doing” obsessed culture often places more importance on ticking off the to do list, than placing our head on the pillow. Make a conscious effort to remember how important sleep is and bump it up to the top of your to do list!"

Feature image: Getty