The ultimate guide to getting a better night’s sleep

Insufficient shut-eye has a huge impact on our mood, memory, concentration and quality of life. Here’s your one-stop-shop for the best sleep tips.

Lack of sleep affects us all at some point – be it from work stress, as a parent of young children, excitement, illness, or even from a big night out.

Sleep for Health managing director Dr Carmel Harrington says most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night.

What happens when you do not get enough sleep?

Even one night without proper sleep can leave us tired and drowsy, irritable, short-tempered and compromise judgment.

“There are people who are healthy on five or six hours of sleep a night, but it’s only 10 or 20 per cent of the population,” sleep specialist Dr David Cunnington says.

“Generally speaking, the health risks associated with a lack of sleep start to increase below seven hours of sleep a night and really kick in when people sleep for less than five hours.”

Research has found up to 45 per cent of Australian adults sleep poorly or not enough most nights, impacting productivity, putting safety at risk and damaging mental health.

In fact, researchers found staying awake for 24 hours leads to reduced hand-eye coordination similar to having a blood alcohol content of 0.1.

“There’s a mistaken belief that sleeping is a waste of time and that we can get away with less than is needed,” sleep medicine consultant Dr Mark Levi tells The House of Wellness TV team.

“The truth is that people who choose to reduce the time they spend sleeping are not as mentally sharp, vigilant, attentive or patient.”

De-stress before bed

Dr Levi says it is hard to expect a good night’s sleep to come naturally after rushing home from work then dealing with kids, dinner and homework, and staring at the computer, TV and emails.

“Relax your muscles and brain with a five-minute de-stress – chamomile tea, warm chocolate milk, warm bath, candles, dim lights, Michael Buble playing quietly,” Dr Levi suggests.

Magnesium may help you sleep

If you are restless in bed, or toss and turn all night, the answer may lie in taking a magnesium supplement.

Magnesium helps the body relax, reduce stress and allows you to sleep longer.

About a third of Australian adults don’t get enough magnesium every day.

How much sleep is enough?

How much sleep you need can depend on your age.

0-3 months – 14-17 hours
1-2 years – 11-14 hours
3-5 years – 10-13 hours
6-13 years – 9-11 hours
14-17 years – 8-10 hours
18-25 years – 7-9 hours
26-64 years – 7-9 hours
Over 65 years – 7-8 hours

What is the best position for sleeping?

Pain physiotherapist Marelle Wilson says sleeping on your back reduces pressure on your hips and shoulders.

But she says it can increase the likelihood of snoring or sleep apnoea and is also linked to teeth grinding.

Sleeping on your side – or even “halfway between sleeping on the side and the tummy” – is generally considered the best option as it supports the neck and spine, Marelle says.

better sleep

Find the right pillow and mattress

Pillows should be changed regularly and mattresses should be flipped often to avoid a large concavity and make for a better night’s rest.

Specialist musculoskeletal physiotherapist Professor Trudy Rebbeck says your pillow should keep your neck “neutral – the position where your head sits straight on your shoulders”.

10 tips for great sleep and more energy:

  1. Take a multivitamin tablet with magnesium.
  2. Check your pillow and mattress.
  3. Keep regular times for going to bed and getting up.
  4. Relax for an hour before going to bed.
  5. Avoid going to bed on a full or empty stomach.
  6. If you’re not asleep after 20 minutes in bed, go to another room until you feel tired again.
  7. Keep distractions out of the bedroom.
  8. Get some sunlight during the day.
  9. Most adults should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep.
  10. Avoid evening naps as it can make it hard to sleep at night.

More helpful sleep advice:

Updated by Dan Imahoff 20/04/22.

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