30 Apr 2020

Five daily habits for a better sleep

From Nine To Noon, 10:07 am on 30 April 2020

If you're having trouble sleeping at the moment, you're definitely not alone.

Stress is often the root cause of poor sleep and we can combat it – and improve our energy levels – with some healthy habits, says Wellington doctor Giresh Kanji.

His new book Brain Connections: Sleep Well & Energise - A No-Pills Approach.

sleeping pug

Photo: Public domain

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Dr Giresh Kanji Photo: Rosemary Morris

Although some argue not everyone needs a solid eight hours, Dr Kanji believes the ideal sleep for almost everyone is seven to nine hours.

This duration is important because we tend to enter deep sleep only in the latter half of our sleep, he says. (This is why in the mornings it can seem like we're able to quickly re-enter a dream.)

Stress chemicals are the biggest obstacle to a good night's sleep, he says.

So how do we reduce the activity of our "stress brain" – and thereby increase energy and improve sleep?

Sleeping pills aren't all bad if you take them once a twice a week or as required and taking melatonin helps some people, Dr Kanji says, but we're better off aiming at the root of the problem – stress.

One of the biggest barriers to people changing their behaviour is the question why, Dr Kanji says. 

"If we can say these are the five habits that will reduce the activity of your stress brain, you'll have a calmer mind and you'll sleep better… it creates reason. All of us need some logical reason to change our behaviour."

He recommends these five habits:

  • Exercise – the more rigorous the better

Walking isn't enough, Dr Kanji says.

"About 20 to 30 minutes intense exercise 4 to 5 days a week reduces your stress brain activity and helps you sleep."

  • Heat – in the form of hot baths, spas or saunas

Heat is known to reduce stress chemicals. When Dr kanji is stressed, he takes a 20-minute hot bath every day. (Before lockdown, he says he'd run into patients in the spa at Wellington's Freyberg pools)

  • Yoga

Yoga involves deep breathing and stretching our lungs which reduce the activity of stress brain Dr Kanji says.

But you need a bigger dose - 45 mins to 1 hour 5 days a week will reduce activity in your stress brain within 6 to 8 weeks

Yoga involves deep breathing and stretching our lungs which reduce the activity of stress brain

  • Tai Chi 

This gentle martial art has been proven to reduce the activity of the stress brain, Dr Kanji says.

"I believe that a lot of the yoga and tai chi benefits come with the breathing incorporated into the movement."

  • Meditation and breathing exercises 


  • Dr Michael Mosley: the secrets of a good night's sleep
  • Darian Leader: why can't we sleep?
  • Tips for a good night's sleep
  • The science of sleep
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