Sleep well

The best start for a productive, safe day on the farm is a great night’s sleep. Recent research showed that 4 out of 10 farmers reported ‘disturbed sleep’. This means having difficulty falling asleep, waking often and having trouble getting back to sleep.

Sleep expert Matt Beattie provides facts and tips and answers farmers’ questions and on how to achieve a quality night’s sleep.

Sam Whitelock's sleep tips

Tips for better sleeping

Devote 7 to 8 hours

Our natural body rhythms are designed to support 16 hours awake and 8 hours asleep. Life can get tough when you don't get the balance right.

Catch the sleep wave

In the early evening our body gears up for sleep and releases melatonin to start the slide into sleep. It builds like an ocean wave, but if you miss the 'sleep wave' you can recreate it by having a hot shower or bath before you go to bed.

Things to avoid before sleep each night

No TV, smartphone or computer an hour before bed. The light they emit triggers your sleep/wake switch and keeps you alert. Limit your daily caffeine intake of tea, coffee and energy drinks. Don’t drink caffeine after 3pm as it takes up to 7 hours to metabolise. Limit how much alcohol you drink and none 2 to 3 hours before bed.

Farmers questions on sleep

What happens when you sleep?

Sleep is vital for recharging your batteries and staying healthy. When you sleep:

  • your muscles get a chance to repair themselves and grow stronger
  • your brain rests and recovers, so that it can focus the next day
  • memories are consolidated, making it easier to remember and learn new things
  • hormones are released to regulate energy, appetite and growth.

People sleep in 90-minute cycles and during a good night’s sleep you can expect four to five of these cycles. Sometimes you will wake between cycles, at other times you seamlessly start a new cycle. For optimum performance of body and mind, 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night is the goal.

Why do poor sleepers wake up at 3am and toss and turn and struggle to go back to sleep?

You wake up because your brain is processing either back of mind things like long term big life issues, or front of mind immediate things  you need to do.

One solution is to write them down and number them in terms of importance to address at a later date. Then tell your mind that you have done what you need to do and can go back to sleep.

If that doesn’t work, get out of bed and start your pre-sleep night routine again. Have a warm milk or hot shower to help convince your brain that you’re going back to sleep.

How do you avoid taking worries to bed?

Before you go to bed write your worries out as a list. Study each point and ask, “What evidence is there for that thought to be true?” If the evidence is skimpy, give it a low rating like 1 or 2. If there’s evidence it’s true, give it a high number and make a short plan of how or when to address it.  If it is a major issue then include who or where you can get some help or advice to solve it.

Now re-write the list from 1 to 10. And watch how the lesser issues fall away. Then say to yourself, “OK brain, I’ve done it. I know how I’m going to deal with the important stuff, now leave me alone so I can go to bed and sleep!”

Why is lack of sleep a problem?

Sleep deprivation attacks your physical and mental health, which is why it has been used as a form of torture throughout history. Studies show people who sleep 5 hours or less a night increase their chance of early death by 15%. Lack of sleep can also make you put on weight, because it revs up your appetite.

From a mental health point of view, lack of sleep puts you in a bad mood. Your body releases too much of the stress hormone cortisol, which makes your grumpy, irritable and anti-social. Studies show that chronic lack of sleep contributes to mood disorders, such as depression. Most of all, sleep deprivation makes you tired, intolerant and exhausted.

Fatigue is a risk factor in farm injuries. Statistics show that many farm accidents happen between 2pm and 4pm, when a poor night’s sleep shows up as the ‘afternoon slump’.



How do I know if I am sleep deprived?

More than two ticks on the list below suggests you need to improve your sleep habits. That means more sleep and/or better quality sleep.

  • Are you working longer hours and getting less done?
  • Are you forgetting things?
  • Are you starting the day feeling lethargic?
  • Are you grumpier or more irritable than usual?
  • Do you have trouble making decisions and thinking through issues?





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