Sleep Hygiene

Why do we need sleep?

We need sleep to reduce inflammation, repair and grow, consolidate memory, combat the build-up of damaging free radicals in the brain and to build a healthy immune system. Chronic lack of sleep contributes to increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, anxiety and depression, obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, and dementia. Even short-term sleep deprivation delays wound healing and increases our susceptibility to colds and flus.

What makes us sleep?

Sleep is initiated by the action of melatonin, which increases the release of the neurotransmitter GABA. Melatonin is produced from the amino acid tryptophan, which is converted first to serotonin, then to melatonin with the help of the nutrients zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6 , folic acid and vitamin B12. Its release increases at night and drops off during the day because it is increased by darkness and reduced by bright light.

How to improve your sleep


The Mediterranean diet has been shown to help with sleep. It contains nutrients which are the ingredients you need to make your melatonin and serotonin and is low in sugar and food additives, which can delay or disrupt sleep. The general principles are to eat an abundance of plant foods –vegetables, fruit, wholegrain cereals, nuts, seeds and legumes. The main source of fat should be olive oil. Sources of protein should be consumed in amounts in decreasing order: legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, poultry, eggs, yoghurt, cheese, red meat, processed meat. For more information see our information sheet on Mediterranean Diet.

Restful bedroom:

Dark, quiet, comfortable mattress, pillows and temperature.

No digital clocks, preferably no clock at all, put it under the bed if you need an alarm. It is better if you don’t know the time in the middle of the night. Clock watching can lead to frustration, which fuels the fire of insomnia.

No screens in the bedroom – no television, laptop, tablet, or mobile phone

Regular bedtime routine:

Plug in all your screens away from the bedroom.

Have a warm bath – increasing your body temperature and then allowing it to fall mimics the normal body temperature variations and so may promote sleep.

Reading a novel in bed may take your mind off the day’s thoughts, don’t fall asleep in front of the TV

Daytime exercise:

30 minutes every day, preferably before midday, not after dinner. See note below regarding sunlight and combine the two ie go for a walk in the sunshine to increase the benefits. 


Expose your eyes to 30 minutes every day in winter and 10 minutes in summer, not between 10 and 2. You need bright light early in the morning, but not at night


Maximum of 2 cups coffee per day, or 3-4 cups tea. Not after about 2pm as the effect lasts for about 6-8 hours, depending on dose.

Reduce evening stimulation:

Using your computer or other activity with bright screen or light may reduce melatonin production and increase body temperature. Exercise and heavy meals late at night may keep you awake.

Reduce stress:

Stress causes elevated cortisol at night, causing disturbed REM sleep, resulting in non-refreshing sleep. Sleep deprivation causes cortisol to rise, creating a vicious cycle.

Rule out obstructive sleep apnoea:

Obstructive sleep apnoea affects 9% of Australian women and 25% of men. The airway becomes blocked for up to several minutes during sleep. When the brain oxygen levels fall, the body is triggered to wake up briefly, just long enough to start breathing and then fall back to sleep. This may repeat many times each hour through the night, leaving you unrefreshed upon waking and exhausted the following day. The long-term complications of untreated sleep apnoea are diabetes, cardiovascular disease and psychological disorders.

A simple questionnaire is used to assess your risk for sleep apnoea (OSA50):

       Score if yes:
Obesity      Waist circumference >88cm for females and >102cm for males        3
Snoring      Has your snoring bothered other people?        3
Apnoeas      Has anyone noticed that you stop breathing during your sleep?        2
50      Are you aged over 50 years?        2
     TOTAL        /10

A total score of 5 or more indicates a high risk for sleep apnoea. Please talk to us about a referral for a sleep study.

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