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Tips for healthy sleep

Sleep disorders affect more people than you think. Many New Zealanders have trouble sleeping at various stages of their lives; particularly those with a chronic illness or poor health.
Even if you don’t have a sleep disorder, lack of healthy sleep can lower your immune system and impair your ability to concentrate, drive, work, and study.

Healthy sleep handouts

Good sleep habits

  1. Reduce light, noise, and extremes of temperature in the bedroom.
  2. Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol before bedtime.
  3. Avoid a heavy meal within two hours of bedtime. However, a light snack may help if you are hungry.
  4. Regular exercise late in the afternoon or in the early evening may deepen sleep, but do not exercise vigorously within three hours of bedtime.
  5. In order to achieve relaxation at bedtime, allow about one hour of quiet activity prior to bedtime - such as reading, watching TV, or listening to music.
  6. Develop a bedtime ritual such as reading or listening to relaxing music, clean your teeth, etc, so that your body knows that you are getting ready to go to sleep.
  7. Don't go to bed too early. That is, don't go to bed unless you are feeling sleepy. If you try to go to sleep too early before feeling sleepy, you will have difficulty getting to sleep. This may make you feel irritated and frustrated about not feeling sleepy and not falling asleep, and it may make you anxious about how you will cope the next day.
  8. Do not stay in bed if you are awake. If you go to bed when you are feeling tired and sleepy but do not fall asleep within about 15 to 20 minutes (estimated time only—do not use a clock), get out of bed, go to another room and do something mundane until you feel sleepy again. Repeat this procedure until you fall asleep quickly.
  9. Get up at the same time in the morning, as this will help train your body clock. Do not sleep in on weekends or after a late night.
  10. Try not to nap during the day, as this tends to reduce your sleepiness at night and results in poorer quality sleep during the night.
  11. Do not worry if you can't get to sleep at night, because worry and anxiety will delay sleep even more. The harder you try, the worse it will be. If you get very little sleep one night, you will still function the next day although you may be a little more irritable and tired than usual.
  12. Try to get about eight hours’ sleep per night.

Information sheet - The effects of caffeine (PDF 108 KB)

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Tips for coping with shiftwork

  1. Make sure you get enough sleep. The quality of your sleep is just as important as the amount you get. Try to aim for one or two blocks of uninterrupted sleep per day.
  2. When working night shift, try and sleep as soon as possible after you’ve finished work. At this time, your body is still prepared for sleep.
  3. When sleeping during the day, use blackout curtains or an eye mask. This is because light entering through a closed eyelid will stop your body preparing for sleep.
  4. Minimise noise. Lasting noise such as a TV may impair the quality of your sleep.
  5. Avoid alcohol. Alcohol usually helps people to get to sleep but interferes with the quality of sleep.
  6. Avoid caffeine (tea, coffee, chocolate, cola) for 2–3 hours prior to sleep.
  7. Learn to associate the bedroom with sleep and positive emotions (and not TV, wakefulness, worry, trauma, or study).
  8. Avoid sleeping pills.
  9. Learn a relaxation technique.
  10. Eat light food when you are working a night shift. Carbohydrates are ideal as they provide you with energy while also being easy to digest.
  11. Try to multitask. This will help you keep awake during your night shifts.
  12. Learn to ‘power-nap’. A short sleep will make you more alert for the rest of the shift.
  13. Try using light as an alerter during your night shift. If you are feeling sleepy, take a break in a well-lit room.
  14. Do not try to change or adapt your body clock orientation. It’s important that you try to keep to your meal times as close to normal as possible to that of a day-time worker.
  15. Teach your family and friends to respect your sleep time. They wouldn’t want to be woken during their night-time sleep.
  16. Fatigue is the cause of many accidents; some of them lethal. Learn to recognise the signs that it is setting in and take immediate steps to counter it.

Information sheet - Tips for coping with shiftwork (PDF 149 KB)

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Tips to reduce the risk of drowsy driving

  1. If you feel tired or drowsy, don't drive. Sleepiness is a major cause of motor vehicle accidents. It accounts for 40% of all fatal crashes on major motorways in the USA. No matter how much you think you can control sleepiness, you can't.
  2. Ensure you follow your doctor’s advice about the treatment for your sleep disorder. For example, if you have sleep apnoea and use CPAP, ensure you use it fully the night before your trip.
  3. Get a good night's sleep before driving. Do not cut yourself short of sleep if you plan a long drive the next day. Get to bed early and do not stay up late packing.
  4. Avoid alcohol - both the night before your trip and during your trip. Alcohol will disrupt sleep and make you more tired the next day, increasing impairment of your driving ability.
  5. Avoid any sedative medications the night before you drive, including sedative antihistamines that are often contained in cold or allergy medications. These medications may have long-lasting effects the next day.
  6. Travel during non-sleeping hours. Accidents due to sleepiness are more common at night.
  7. If sleepy, stop and rest. Drink coffee, walk around, or have a brief nap in your car. Have a 10–15 minute break after every two hours of driving.
  8. Drive with a companion. Share the driving. Relax in the back seat until it is your time to share the driving again.

Information sheet - Tips to reduce the risk of drowsy driving (PDF 179 KB)

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Further information

Please contact us at wellsleep@otago.ac.nz for more advice on managing your sleep.