Health and wellness

Have trouble sleeping? Follow these four tips from sleep experts and get a good night’s rest

  • Experts give advice on power naps, vitamins, and what you should and shouldn’t do at lunchtime
  • Four out of 10 Hongkongers have sleep-related problems according to a study
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2018, 9:46pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 December, 2018, 7:01pm

It’s no secret that many Hongkongers are sleep-deprived. If it’s not our packed schedules preventing us from getting our required seven to nine hours a night, it’s the stress that keeps us awake.

A 2012 study led by Dr Wong Wing-sze, associate professor at the Department of Psychological Studies at The Hong Kong Institute of Education (now the Hong Kong Education University), found that four out of 10 adults in Hong Kong, or 2.2 million people, suffered from insomnia, citing stress as the main reason.

Power naps: why you shouldn’t hesitate to put your head down

Spending time on our smartphones when we’re supposed to be dozing off, eating a big meal or drinking alcohol too close to bedtime, and being in an environment that is not conducive to relaxation can also affect the duration and quality of our sleep, leaving us tired, grumpy and unable to concentrate the next day.

But the good news is that you do not have to suffer after a sleepless night. These expert tips will help you stave off the lethargy the next day.

1. Take a power nap.

A power nap is an excellent way to feel more alert between 3pm and 5pm, when our feelings of sleepiness are at their greatest, says Dr Carmel Harrington, a sleep scientist and author of The Sleep Diet and The Complete Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep. She suggests napping for no more than 20 minutes – set the alarm, and when it goes off, get up and do a few minutes of physical exercise to wake up your body.

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“A 20 minute nap will not affect your ability to sleep that night, plus, it reduces the likelihood of falling into a deep sleep. You do not want to get into a deep sleep when you’re napping, otherwise you’ll wake up feeling worse than before you took the nap.”

In addition to reducing sleepiness, naps can improve cognitive performance. “The benefits of a five to 15 minute power nap can be almost immediate but may last one to three hours, which is perfect for helping you get through a big project or an afternoon meeting,” adds Philip Watkins, a naturopath at the Integrated Medicine Institute in Central.

2. Try a B-vitamin supplement 

One of Watkins’ favourite ways to help people out of that mid-afternoon slump is a high-quality B-vitamin supplement. He says that the B-vitamin family, which includes thiamine (B1), biotin, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12, helps the body create and sustain both energy and cognitive health. “I find that having one capsule after breakfast and one after lunch can turn a tough day into an easier one,” he explains.

3. Avoid caffeine after midday

If you barely slept a wink last night, you might think it’s a good idea to load up on coffee and other caffeinated drinks to stay awake the rest of the day. But Harrington advises against drinking these after 12pm.

“When we have coffee at the wrong time of the day it can wreak havoc on our sleep,” she explains. “Depending on our metabolic rate, coffee can take up to eight hours to leave the body, making it difficult for us to get to sleep later that night. So if you want to get your sleep back on track, quit the caffeine after midday. This is especially important if you’re over 35, because as we age our metabolic rate slows down.”

It’s a similar story with energy drinks, which typically use caffeine and stimulant-based herbs such as guarana to boost energy.

Watkins says that such drinks are fine in small amounts, but because they also contain a lot of sugar and other sweeteners, they can actually make you feel sleepier during the day because they cause your blood sugar levels to spike and crash.

4. Eat a low glycaemic-index lunch

You’ll function better if you avoid high glycaemic-index (GI) carbohydrates, like white bread, short-grain white rice and potatoes, at lunchtime. Because such foods are rapidly digested they can cause substantial fluctuations in blood sugar levels, and in the short-term make you feel even more lethargic.

“While that 3pm energy slump can’t be fixed instantly – because it may take a few days for your blood sugar levels to balance out – you can at least reduce the severity of the slump by choosing low-GI carbohydrates, along with some vegetables and protein, at lunchtime,” says Watkins.

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“Many people benefit from leaving out carbohydrates altogether at lunchtime or having just soup or a vegetable-based smoothie.”

Low-GI foods include soy products, beans, fruit, whole grain bread, lentils and oat porridge.