Whats really keeping you awake?

This week is Sleep Awareness Week; a timely reminder of the important role sleep plays in overall health and wellbeing.  Sleep affects our physical health, mental and emotional health, it impacts our relationships and how effectively we work, yet so many of us suffer from sleep problems. A 2019 report by Sleep Health Foundation revealed 60% of Australian adults are suffering from lack of sleep and this statistic is not surprising with the state of the world and the pace at which we operate. Whilst some aspects of our lifestyle undoubtedly contribute to our drowsy state, others like the human phenomenon of aging are completely out of our control. Many people do not realize that as we age and our bodies deteriorate, so does our sleep. So perhaps as we blow out the growing number of candles each year, we should gradually lower expectations of our sleep.

But let’s not get all cynical about our health because there are many aspects of our life that we are still in control of and many of our lifestyle choices will contribute to a better night’s sleep. First cab off the rank is… you guessed it; diet and exercise. These two things are inherently linked, with a healthy diet leading to many positive outcomes including quality sleep. Sleep experts recommend you monitor your caffeine and alcohol intake as well as fatty foods or those that are high in sugar before bed. They will not only affect how easily we fall asleep but also how likely we are to stay asleep. Although the jury is out as to exactly why exercise helps improve sleep, the research suggests there is a strong link. Sleep experts recommend avoiding exercising within 3 hours of bedtime as to allow the body to cool down. Optimal sleep requires the body to be at a cooler temperature.

It is common amongst older adults to experience difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep and aside from the physiological impacts, there may also be social, emotional or environmental factors that come into play. Older adults are more likely to experience heightened levels of worry or anxiety and this is counterproductive to good sleep. There is a mutual relationship between sleep and sound mental health and the vicious cycle of sleep deprivation, worry and anxiety can be hard to break. Clinical Psychologist, Kathryn Smith, co-founder of Psychology Consultants, recommends using a ‘Worry Window’ during the day to re-shift worrisome thoughts away from the bedroom and valuable sleep time. It’s perfectly normal to worry but Kathryn recommends goings to a quiet place during the day to think about your cause for concern.  She says; “writing down your worries and even speaking out loud about them, either to yourself, or someone you trust, can help provide some resolve and clarity. Once you have entertained your worries, let them go for a while and refocus your energy on more positive thoughts”.


In short, healthy daytime habits and the lifestyle choices we make can lead to a better night’s sleep. Here are a few healthy habits recommended by Clinical Psychologist Kathryn Smith:

  • Get regular exercise, particularly weight or resistance training as this has been shown to increase and deepen sleep.
  • Learn a relaxation routine, this will vary according to what relaxes you most.
  • Avoid alcohol. Contrary to popular belief, it won’t help you sleep. It might put you to sleep but can disrupt your sleep throughout the night.
  • Form a worry list. If you are a worrier, write down your worries on a worry list and review them during the day rather than thinking about them at night.
  • Attempt to delay your bedtime to decrease chance of early morning waking.
  • Stay out of bed when you are not sleeping.


If you are experiencing ongoing insomnia and sleep difficulties or worrisome thoughts are getting the better of you, it is important to discuss how you are feeling with your GP.