Good sleep is a reachable dream
Massey University health researchers are backing the message that a good night’s sleep is vital for health and
wellbeing, in support of World Sleep Day this Friday.
This year’s theme is “Good sleep is a reachable dream”. Yet sleep problems are common among New Zealanders and include
not getting enough sleep, and suffering from sleep disorders such as insomnia and obstructive sleep apnoea.
A quarter of New Zealanders report suffering from a sleep problem that has lasted at least six months. A recent survey
of 5,000 New Zealanders showed approximately one quarter of us do not get the recommended amount of sleep of seven to
nine hours per night.
Dr Karyn O’Keeffe, from Massey’s Sleep/Wake Research Centre, says short sleep is more pronounced on weekdays and we tend
to try to catch up on sleep at the weekends. However, studies show that it may take more than two full nights of sleep
to recover from substantial sleep loss.
“Sleep problems are not restricted to short sleep. A survey of 4,000 New Zealanders showed that approximately half of us
never, or rarely, wake feeling refreshed in the morning and have difficulty getting back to sleep when we wake in the
middle of the night. A third of us have difficulty falling asleep at night,” she says.
Dr O’Keeffe says some people suffer from a sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnoea. “This occurs when the upper
airway is partially or fully blocked during sleep, leading to episodes of reduced airflow. These episodes occur many
times overnight and lead to frequent awakenings from sleep, resulting in problems with daytime alertness and
functioning, and health problems. It is estimated 13 per cent of New Zealand men and three per cent of New Zealand women
suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea.”
She says although this paints a bleak picture, it is important to remember the majority do get enough sleep. “There is
evidence that New Zealanders who report getting enough sleep have better quality of life and overall wellbeing.”
Dr O’Keeffe says there are a number of things you can do to get enough good quality sleep:
•Make sleep a priority. In the short term, missing out on sleep can lead to being less productive, less creative and less flexible in your
thinking. You can have slower reaction times, make poorer decisions, have trouble getting on with others, and have
poorer concentration and motivation. In the long-term, poor sleep may lead to health problems like high blood pressure,
increased weight, stroke, heart disease and diabetes.
•Create an ideal sleep environment. You get the best sleep in a dark, quiet, cool room. Try to remove any distractions from the bedroom, including TVs,
computers and mobile phones.
•Keep a regular sleep routine. One way to promote a healthy routine is to keep a regular wake up time. Try to get up at the same time every day, even
•Get regular exercise. Exercising in the late afternoon/early evening can help promote a regular sleep routine. Exercise at any time of the
day can lead to improvements in the quality of your sleep.
•Avoid bright lights in the evening as this can affect your internal body clock and make it difficult to fall asleep and get up in the morning. Try dimming
computer, TV and cellphone screens in the evening, and if possible avoid using devices with bright screens two hours
•Avoid alcohol and caffeine. They change the structure of your sleep so you miss out on vital sleep stages. Avoid caffeine in the five to eight
hours and alcohol in the two to three hours before bed.
•If you suffer from sleep problems on a regular basis, talk to your doctor. Many sleep difficulties and disorders can be treated. An overnight sleep study or consultation with a sleep
professional could be recommended.