Australians routinely take their laptops to bed, keep their mobile phones at their bedside and clock watch in the wee small hours, a survey of sleep habits has revealed.
A web study of 1,500 people by the Sleep Health Foundation shows Australians are indulging in bed time activities that significantly boost their chances of a bad night's sleep.
The foundation's sleep psychologist Professor Dorothy Bruck says she was most concerned by results showing 45 per cent of those surveyed regularly used a laptop, electronic devices or watched TV in bed.
"A standard guideline for good sleep is that the bed should be reserved for sleep and intimacy only," Professor Bruck says. "So it was alarming to learn that so many people were using their sleep sanctuary to email, cruise the web and watch movies, all activities that are not conducive to sleep."
The survey was conducted during Sleep Awareness Week in September/October to gain an informal indication of some of the sleep habits, disturbances and bedroom environments of Australians.
The results add to the findings of a 2013 Sleep Health Foundation representative study of 1,500 Australians that found sleep was a problem for many Australians. This study found many often woke during the night (35%), had difficulty falling asleep (20%) and/or woke up too early (25%).
The new web survey results highlighted some other concerning sleep-related habits. A quarter of the sample admitted drinking coffee after 2pm, 22 per cent drank too much alcohol, and over a third failed to take time to wind down before bed.
A large number - four in 10 of those surveyed - were disturbed by a snoring bed partner, while others were bothered by noisy pets, felt too hot or too cold at night or found their bed or bedding uncomfortable.
Professor Bruck says the results suggest many Australians are not taking their sleep seriously enough.
"Solutions exist for many of these disturbances but this data reflects a widespread failure to prioritise sleep," she says. "A quiet and comfortable bedroom environment is an obvious prerequisite for maximising sleep quality."
An unexpected finding was that 70 per cent said they 'often look at the clock' when they wake up during the night. Professor Bruck says it's hard to know how many of these people are clock watching and how many have a quick look at the time as they visit the toilet in the middle of the night.
People tend to clock watch when they wake a lot during the night or wake up too early, but the habit leaves them feeling frustrated and anxious.
Sleep specialists advise those with sleeping difficulties to cover the clock, a strategy many recovered insomniacs will claim as very effective for helping their sleep.
Professor Bruck says while the research, gathered via a poll on the foundation's website, is not representative of the Australian population it is an important starting point for future research. "Small changes to behaviour and the sleeping environment can make huge improvements to a person's sleep and the overall health of the community," she says.
Sleep Habits and the Bedroom
2014 Web Survey Results
- Regularly use a laptop or tablet, or watch TV in bed: 45 per cent
- Have their phone in their room at night without silent mode activated: 30 per cent
- Have sleep disturbed by a snoring bed partner: 39 per cent
- Look at the clock when they wake at night: 70 per cent
- Sleep disturbed by pets, light or outside noises: 37 per cent
- Body temperature feels uncomfortable in bed: 34 per cent
- Regularly drink coffee after 2pm: 26 per cent
- Drink more alcohol than they should: 22 per cent
- Take time to unwind before bed: 35 per cent
- Their bedding could be more comfortable: 32 per cent
How To Sleep Well - The Ten Commandments of Sleep
- Reserve the bed for sleep and sex. Don't use the bedroom as an office, workroom or recreation room
- Fix a bedtime and a waking time that matches the amount of sleep you need
- If you are in the habit of taking afternoon naps, keep them short
- Avoid excessive alcohol four hours before bedtime and do not smoke
- Avoid caffeine six hours before bedtime. This includes coffee, tea, energy drinks and colas
- Avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods four hours before bedtime. A light snack before bed is acceptable
- Exercise regularly, but not right before bed
- Use comfortable bedding
- Find a comfortable temperature setting for sleeping and keep the room well ventilated
- Eliminate as much noise and light as possible
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