Our clinical psychologist, Carly O’Sullivan, writes about difficulties with sleep. Drawing on the science and psychology of sleep, Carly offers concise and useful information to help you get a good night’s sleep.

Most of us are aware that sleep is important for our overall health and wellbeing, yet many of us struggle with sleep. According to the Sleep Health Foundation, more than a third of Australian adults are not getting the sleep they need.

Sleep science has advanced considerably in recent years to show us the positive impact that good quality sleep has on our bodies and minds, and the techniques that can effectively improve our sleep. Despite the advancing science, it is common to encounter many myths about sleep. This false information can unfortunately lead to unhelpful beliefs and poor sleep habits.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when searching for answers to a good night’s sleep. Here is what you need to know.

Myth #1: Your Body Gets Used to Getting Less Sleep

When you are living a busy life, it can be tempting to cut down on sleep hours. Unfortunately, we cannot ‘train’ our bodies into needing less sleep. Whilst you may grow more accustomed to daytime drowsiness after consistently getting less sleep, persistent sleep deprivation does have long-term negative impacts on cognitive skills (e.g., motivation, decision-making, creativity), mood, and physical health.

While there is some natural variation in our population, most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night to function at their best.

Myth #2: Waking Up Early is Always Best

Our culture often equates early rising to success – in other words, ’the early bird catches the worm’. However, the science does not necessarily support this.

Generally speaking, going to sleep at roughly the same time each night and sleeping when it is dark outside does help to keep the body’s circadian rhythm (our internal ‘body clock) aligned with the environment. This can be important for our overall sleep quality. However, the notion that waking at the crack of dawn is the healthiest pattern for everyone is not necessarily true.

If you are someone who performs at your best later in the day and find you are more sluggish in the morning, practice self-compassion and set yourself up for greater success by keeping your morning errands to a minimum. Plan your outfit and breakfast the night before, give yourself permission to move tasks like going to the gym until after work, and start your day a little later to get the sleep you need.

Myth #3: Waking Up During the Night Makes You a “Bad Sleeper”

Many people think it is abnormal to wake up during the night and can accidentally place a lot of pressure and stress on themselves if they do find themselves waking up during the night, which in turn can make it much harder to fall back asleep.

According to sleep scientists, it is normal to wake up a couple times during the night between sleep cycles. Practicing acceptance, flexibility, and self-compassion towards yourself during brief awakenings is an important skill to develop.

If you are waking more than three times in the night, your awakenings last for more than half an hour at a time, and you’re feeling frustrated or fatigued as a result of these awakenings, you may wish to seek further treatment for insomnia.

Myth #4: It’s Harmless to Hit Snooze

Hitting ‘snooze’ in the morning can be incredibly tempting. It may feel like you are giving your body some precious extra sleep between alarms. However, this habit may be causing you more harm in the long-term.

Fragmented sleep is generally not restorative and will not contribute meaningfully towards your health. In fact, this kind of interrupted sleep can leave you feeling more tired for the rest of the day. This is because repeatedly hitting ‘snooze’ disrupts our regular sleep patterns, increasing your chances of the alarm interrupting a deep sleep phase, which can leave you feeling tired and disoriented for the day ahead. It may be more helpful to set one alarm that goes off at a realistic time, and pairing this with a task that gets you out of bed straight away, such as opening the blinds or drinking a glass of water.

Myth #5: Cutting Down on Screen Time and Caffeine Will Solve All Your Sleep Problems

Good ‘sleep hygiene’ (having a bedroom environment and daily routine that facilitate sleep) is an important component of sleeping well. It is true that things like too much caffeine or blue light from phones and other devices can keep you awake. But if there are deeper underlying issues impacting your sleep such as high levels of stress or anxiety, chronic pain, or medical conditions, then good sleep hygiene alone will not solve your concerns.

Coming up with your own personalized sleep routine can be useful, because we are all different and need to account for different commitments, needs, circumstances, and preferences. If you’d like support to come up with your own personalized sleep plan, or to navigate your sleep issues in more depth, our psychologists at Sydney City Psychology are here to help. We offer individual therapy, as well as a group program to learn more sleep skills and create your own sleep routine.

Sleep Well is a 5-week online sleep program using psychology and science to improve your sleep. Our next groups begin on Wednesday 5th April 2023 and then Wednesday 10th May 2023, from 6pm – 7pm. Future group dates will be advertised on our website. Contact us today to sign up, find out more, or enquire about future dates.