A little R&R every day can help your body and mind

In today’s fast-paced world being constantly ‘on the go’ is seen as a virtue. Busy-ness can be worn as a badge of honour and make us feel productive, hard-working and important.

9 July 2020

However, research tells us that being continuously busy and getting too little sleep can actually make us less productive.

Without enough rest, our bodies will start to suffer, impacting memory and concentration, causing irritability, and lowering our immune system. The key is to strive to balance our activity level with quality rest, every day.

The best ways to help our minds and bodies rest and recharge are by sleeping well and finding time to relax daily. This allows us to handle any challenges with greater energy, focus and clarity.

Set yourself up for a good night’s sleep

Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep, and adults over 65 years need around seven to eight hours a night.

Sleep problems are common among veterans, and may be associated with mental or physical health issues. Sleep problems can be exacerbated by medication, past traumatic experiences, or a history of long term work cycles. Luckily, many sleep problems can be improved with a number of simple changes.

Getting fresh air and sunshine during the day helps to set your body clock so that you feel alert during the day and sleepy at night. Develop relaxing routines, like doing stretches or reading a book directly before bed time. If you can’t get to sleep after about 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something calming or boring until you feel sleepy, then try again.

Try to avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine before bed, as they can exacerbate sleep difficulties. It is also helpful to avoid using TV, mobile or computer screens in the hour or two before bed.

You can monitor your sleep patterns and identify problem areas by using a sleep tracking phone app (for example: Sleep Cycle, Sleep Time, Sanvello). Some of these apps can also monitor mood to track how it relates to your sleep.

Getting help with nightmares

Traumatic events can also have a debilitating effect on sleep, often causing nightmares. The relaxation methods recommended above might help, but if the nightmares are interfering with your life there are treatments that can help.

‘There are a variety of treatments that can be helpful for posttraumatic nightmares — some are aimed at underlying sleep disorders, like pressure ventilators in the case of sleep apnoea, others include cognitive behavioural therapy and imagery rehearsal. A good night’s sleep is a matter of finding the right type of treatment for nightmares,’ says Associate Professor Andrea Phelps, Deputy Director, Phoenix Australia — Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health.

Ask your GP if medical intervention could be helpful. They can also refer you to a mental health professional for treatment to address trauma-related nightmares.

Rest and relaxation is not just about resting your body

You might find that your mind is always so busy with thoughts and worries about the past or the future that you can’t wind down. There are many things that you can try to calm your mind. Here are a few ideas.

Instead of drinking your coffee or tea while you keep working, take a proper break and really focus on the act of drinking: feel the warmth of the cup, inhale the aroma, and appreciate the taste.

To help centre yourself, learn simple, effective techniques like deep breathing exercises. Try taking up yoga, or going for a regular walk. Make the most of that time by giving your full attention to what you are doing.

Sometimes it may not feel like we are allowed to take things slowly, to take a break or feel tired, but prioritising rest and relaxation is essential to living a healthy lifestyle.