Did you know that if you live to the ripe old age of 80, you will have spent around 26 to 30 years of your life asleep?

Sleep is a fundamental biological necessity – as important as food and water – yet it’s one of the first things to fall by the wayside when life gets busy. As a nation, we are chronically sleep deprived, according to a study by the Sleep Health Foundation. Between 33 and 45 per cent of Australian adults reportedly sleep poorly or not long enough, and these statistics are only getting worse.

What causes us to have trouble sleeping?

There are a number of reasons why people become deprived of sleep. You may be someone who has never had trouble sleeping your whole life and then are suddenly hit with a sleep problem.  Common causes include:

  • Shiftwork
  • Forcing yourself awake with TV or smart phones
  • Drinking coffee close to bedtime
  • Certain medications
  • A noisy, hot or cold sleep environment
  • Being a parent with young children
  • Sleep apnoea
  • Illnesses that cause gagging or snoring and, consequently, wake you up

How much sleep do we need?

Children and teenagers need approximately nine to ten hours, while adults need between seven and nine. Although eight is the figure typically recommended, every individual is different so let your own body guide you. If you don’t feel very alert during the day, you probably need more. Read more about ideal sleeping hours here.

The impact of sleep deprivation

A lack of sleep has been linked with many problems, ranging from the minor to the very serious. These include:

  • Fatigue (of course)
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Poor memory
  • Short attention span
  • Reduced concentration
  • Blurred vision
  • Weight gain
  • Increased stress
  • Diabetes
  • Mood disorders
  • Cardiovascular disease

Fatigue and inattention caused by sleep deprivation have also been linked to mistakes at work and car accidents, so it’s a problem we shouldn’t trivialise.

How to solve your sleep problem

The very first step towards healthy sleeping and a more alert and energetic life is to develop good sleep hygiene. You need to practice this over a period of time because it’s not enough to have just one or two nights where you get a little more sleep. It doesn’t make up for the many months or years of sleep deprivation, and you have probably built up what’s called a ‘sleep debt’ that isn’t easily erased.

How to develop good sleep hygiene:

  • Go to bed when you start to feel sleepy. Try to make this at the same time each night.
  • Get out of bed at the same time every morning (this is often easier to control than going to bed at the same time).
  • Avoid caffeine at least four hours before bed. If you’re more sensitive to caffeine, do not have any after lunchtime. Or, if you can, try giving up caffeine for a week.
  • Relax in the hour before bed and avoid certain stimulating activities. These include exercise, important discussions, TV, iPad and smart phones, computer games, and bright lights.
  • Don’t try to sleep on a full stomach. Have your evening meal at least two hours beforehand.
  • The bed should be mentally linked with sleeping and intimacy only, so don’t study or take phone calls in bed.
  • Get out into natural light in the morning.
  • Exercise is good for sleep, but not right before bed. Make sure you’re getting some physical activity earlier in the day or, at the latest, before dinner.
  • There shouldn’t be any distractions in your bedroom. It should really be your sanctuary. Keep it fairly warm, comfortable and quiet. Use earplugs or a face mask, if necessary.

Read more about good sleep habits from the government’s Sleep Health Foundation.

What next? How Kinesiology can help

If you’ve been practising good sleep hygiene for a month or so and you still can’t get decent shut-eye, it might be time to visit a healthcare professional.

Complementary therapies are unsung heroes when it comes to treating lifestyle-related sleep problems – especially Kinesiology. The whole-body holistic approach works by balancing the structures and pathways that make us sleep. There are a few different ways Kinesiology can help:

Resetting out-of-whack hormones

We’re designed to get sleepy at certain times of the day. Basically, when it gets dark, we produce the hormone, melatonin; when it gets light, we stop producing it. Far too often, we override these natural mechanisms to stay up and watch TV, scroll through social media feeds, work night shift, and so on. Our body adjusts a little to this new circadian rhythm, but research shows it will never truly adapt. The body is impressive at compensating but we will – without a doubt – feel the full effect over time.

This is why is can be hard to sleep, even after adopting good sleep hygiene. Kinesiology stabilises these processes so the brain can reset itself back to your natural ‘factory setting’. If you’re hormonally in a better state, your chances of sleeping well are significantly improved.

Balancing the stress response

Stress is unavoidable in life, and it is part of what makes us human. It’s when stress becomes overwhelming and unmanageable that it can have a profound effect on our wellbeing. In the 1930s, endocrinologist Hans Selye not only coined the term ‘stress’ but also identified the body’s three-part process of dealing with stress, ‘Generalised Adaptation Syndrome’ (GAS).

It’s this process that can affect sleep, is a significant factor in anxiety, decreases libido, makes you feel generally unwell, and is even linked to heart disease and diabetes. Kinesiology is highly effective for balancing the body’s stress mechanisms – both when stress is only a minor problem and once it becomes chronic.

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