By Dr Murray McDonald
Study after study keeps rolling out saying the same thing: for good health and prevention of disease, you HAVE to get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis. It is estimated that people should try to get 7-9 hours of sleep most nights with minimal interruptions. 

Sleep can improve your mental and muscular performance, mood, immune function, metabolism, and blood pressure. It prevents heart disease, stroke, cancer, dementia, etc, etc. Sleep is a vital part of your body’s repair processes. 
So do it. And here’s how:

Photo by Maeghan Smulders on Unsplash
  1. Keep your bedtime the same as often as possible. This lets your body’s internal clock settle into a pattern of being awake and then sleeping. This can be tough if you have shift work or unruly deadlines, but do your best.
  2. Have a routine that prepares you for sleep. This also lets the body and brain know that sleep is approaching and will react accordingly. Things like bathing, reading, meditation, physical intimacy and a whole host of other things can be built into your routine – just make sure they ultimately wind you down for the night. So NO stimulants of any kind (caffeine, vigorous exercise, etc.).
  3. Reduce exposure to light and electronics an hour before bedtime. Your eyes and brain use light as a signal to decide when to sleep and when to wake up. Therefore if you reduce the exposure to light (dim the lights, turn off the TV, etc) you send the signal that it’s time for some shut-eye (anyone who’s been camping can attest to this – an hour or two after sunset and you are crawling into your sleeping bag). This may also include getting black-out curtains if the sun rises long before your wake-time. If you absolutely HAVE TO work until bedtime, most screens these days have a “night mode” or “red-shift” function that removes the blue light coming from your screen - it looks a little weird, but it will reduce the effect the light is having on your brain.
  4. A really interesting resource on how to set up your bedroom for optimum sleep: Sleep Foundation
  5. Ensure a comfortable sleep posture
  6. If you do wake up and can’t get back to sleep straight away, have something relaxing to do by the bed to lull your mind back into a sleepy state. Examples like reading and meditation are good ideas. Work, TV and turning on the lights are usually bad ideas.
  7. If you can’t sleep because your to-do list keeps popping into your head, keep a pen and paper next to the bed. Often just writing these things down is enough to keep them from stressing you out.
Photo by Chris Thompson on Unsplash
This is just a basic rundown of good sleep hygiene. If none of this is helping, you NEED to include professional help. I cannot over-stress how important sleep is – if you are not getting it, you need to do everything in your power to rectify the situation. Here are some sleep clinics in the W. Cape.

Thank you for reading.