Tips on how to get a good night’s sleep.

Sleep is as vital to life as food, water and air. Yet, according to a recent poll at least 67 per cent of Asians don’t get the sleep they need. Sleep researchers say that women require 15 minutes more sleep than men. Many try sleep compensation; i.e. when they don’t get enough sleep during the week, they try to catch up with the lost hours over the weekend. Here’s a news flash: it doesn’t work that way.

According to sleep specialist Dr. Robert W. Clark, “Most people think they have nothing to be concerned about because they get six or seven hours of sleep every night. Most adults, however, require eight hours or more to maintain optimum health. Losing as little as one or two hours of sleep a night can have adverse effect like daytime drowsiness and impairment of mental faculties. It also disrupts the immune system, which could lead to an increase in the likelihood of infections and disease.”

Sleep deprivation weakens the immune system and allows illnesses — from cancer to the common cold — to attack us. It numbs the mind causing irritability, aggression and a lack of concentration, which in turn leads to errors in judgment, accidents at home, work and on the highway.

Almost everyone suffers from occasional attacks of insomnia. These can last from one night to a lifetime. So here are a few factors that can affect your sleep pattern:

Lifestyle: Work schedules and parties leave few hours for sleep. Illness, pain from injuries and sleep disorders can also disrupt one’s sleep.

Stress: Worrying about that new job, safety of children or the exam in the morning? Instead of getting the sleep needed to face tomorrow’s challenges, you toss and turn, sit up and pound your pillow, maybe even get up and pace the floor.

Anticipation: You lie awake thinking of what will happen tomorrow. Will your grandchildren be visiting? May be you’ll know the results of that promotion tomorrow? In all these cases, you would get as much sleep as a kid on Christmas eve waiting for Santa.

Noise: Sudden noises like a door slamming, a telephone ringing can jolt a sleeper into wakefulness. Less startling noises like traffic or a barking dog also disrupt sleep. Does your spouse snore? If the noise is constant and loud, move to another room.

Temperature: Research suggests that room temperature above 75° causes restlessness and precludes the deeper levels so necessary to maintain mental and physical health. If you sleep with the air conditioner on, make sure it is set at a normal temperature.

Lighting: The brain produces melatonin, a hormone that tells us when it is time to sleep. Decrease in melatonin levels due to lights signals that it is time to wake up. The amount of light in the room when you’re trying to sleep is an important factor. If streetlights, automobile headlights or flashing neon signs are visible through the window, draw the curtains or do something to keep the bright lights out.

Pets: Don’t let your pets into the bedroom. Cat and dog hairs on the bed increase chances of allergies. Feathery or soft toys can cause sleep disruption in kids.

Position: Don’t sleep with your face half or completely buried into the pillow. This leads to improper breathing and may affect your heart as it restricts the passage of oxygen to your brain. It also results in snoring, as it constricts breathing.

Diet: Do you know lack of sleep can cause an increase in weight? Avoid heavy meals and excessive fluids shortly before going to bed.

Scents: Scented candles help us relax, but not to sleep. Using air spray, fresh flowers or scents in the bedroom is not advisable as the body can’t handle them when we try to sleep.

Bed: A very soft mattress may feel great initially but, by morning, you may have to deal with aching muscles and sore bones because of the lack of support. The mattress should be firm enough to give you support where you need it, but not so firm that it feels like you are lying on a rock.

We consciously practice personal hygiene, keep our surroundings clean, eat proper food and get adequate exercise. Sleep hygiene is as important, if not more, to lead a healthy life.