What is sleep hygiene?
Brushing your teeth on a consistent basis, washing your hands often, and showering all constitute as ‘hygienic’ practices, but what about hygiene in terms of the time we spend snoozing? The phrase ‘sleep hygiene’ refers to consistent, healthful practices that promote a good night of truly restful sleep.
When we are sleeping well everything we do during our waking hours comes more easily and we are less stressed, which is exactly why good sleep hygiene is key. Once we understand the importance of good sleep and the tremendous benefits we feel compared to multiple nights of sleeplessness, taking the time to practice healthy habits around sleep will feel like just another part of our nightly routine.
Why is it important to practice good sleep hygiene?
Getting good sleep on a consistent basis does more for us than help us to feel more awake and alert during the day. Good sleep is essential for optimal physical and mental health. A site called Healthy Sleep, a resource from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, explains that many people do not realize that a lack of sleep is related to “long-term health consequences, including chronic medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, and that these conditions may lead to a shortened life expectancy.” Additionally, research shows a significant correlation between mood and the amount of sleep one gets on average and that less sleep has patients reporting significantly lowered mood.
The Healthy Sleep site explains that “in one study, subjects who slept four and a half hours per night reported feeling more stressed, sad, angry, and mentally exhausted. In another study, subjects who slept four hours per night showed declining levels of optimism and sociability as a function of days of inadequate sleep. All of these self-reported symptoms improved dramatically when subjects returned to a normal sleep schedule.”
What’s bad sleep hygiene?
Bad sleep hygiene happens from consistent poor habits around sleep that have become ingrained as normal parts of our nightly routines. If you have trouble falling asleep or continue to feel tired during the day even though you slept for 7-9 hours, it’s time to take a good look at habits you have that may be contributing to poor sleep quality. Reasons for poor sleep may be obvious such as drinking caffeinated or sugary beverages close to bedtime, but there may also be some less obvious habit you’ve adopted that you don’t even realize are contributing to night after night of unsuccessfully counting sheep. Stress at work may be one of the leading causes of insomnia.
Asking yourself when your sleeplessness began and considering your levels of stress during the work week may allow you to point the finger at your job. Looking at your phone, tablet, or computer screen at night, even just a half hour before bed, may also be a large factor in messing with your sleeping. An online article from Scientific American explains that “the light from our devices is “short-wavelength-enriched,” meaning it has a higher concentration of blue light than natural light—and blue light affects levels of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin more than any other wavelength.” This is bad news for those burning the midnight oil, trying to squeeze in those extra few hours of productivity.
How to practice Healthy Sleep Habits? – 20 Tips
If you’ve admitted to yourself that you maybe need a bit of help in the sleep hygiene department, we’ve got you covered. Below we’ve listed some key strategies to implement as part of your nightly sleep hygiene routine.
- Maintain a regular sleep routine
Our bodies are pretty smart and they run on an internal clock where hormones and natural chemicals regulate our sleep/wake cycles throughout the day. An online article from Better Health Channel explains that you should “get up at the same time every day” because this strict routine will help to “‘set’ your body clock and you’ll find yourself getting sleepy at the same time everyday.” Once you’re consistent about sleep and wake times it’ll be much easier to fall asleep and to wake up.
- Know how much sleep you need
A good rule of thumb for adults is sleeping between 7 and 9 hours, but this number greatly depends on a person’s individual needs. It’s likely that you already have a pretty good idea of how much sleep you need per night to feel alert, energized, and ready for the next day. If your sleep schedule has been all over the place that you’re not really sure how many hours are optimal for you, start to experiment. Plan to sleep a good 8 hours every night for two weeks and notice how you feel. Even if you don’t hit that 8 hours each night if you notice that you feel tired because you have only been getting 6 or 7, you know that you’ll want to aim for at least 8 or more.
- Go to sleep when you’re truly tired
This tip is part and parcel with the regular sleep routine tip. If you’ve been going to bed at midnight for the past week and then all-of-a-sudden decide that you want your bedtime to be 9pm, your body will have a difficult time adjusting. Instead, train your body to be tired when you want it to be by maintaining that strict bedtime. Then you will be able to fall asleep at the time you want because your body will naturally be tired.
- Have a comfortable pre-bedtime routine
Taking a warm bath or shower about an hour before bed can be the perfect relaxation-inducing routine. Not only will you feel a ritualistic sense of “washing away” the day, but dousing yourself in warm water can help to relax you.
- Don’t watch TV or read in bed
This one may be especially hard for people who like to unwind with a fun TV show or the book that they are currently reading, but this may cause difficulty when it’s time to sleep. Instead, watch your shows before you head to bed or read in your favorite reading spot in your house. Save your bedroom for sexy times and sleep, otherwise you may find your mind continuing to stay alert after your head has hit the pillow.
- Limit your daytime naps
There’s nothing wrong with a nap during the day, especially if we didn’t get a good night of rest the night before. Naps become a problem, however, if they are too close to bedtime or if we are sleeping more than a quick 20 or 30 minute nap. Limiting yourself to a short nap or skipping a nap all together can help you to feel more sleepy at night when it’s time to actually go to bed.
- Lighten up on evening meals
Often when we eat a big dinner our bodies feel a bit drowsy afterward. This is because your body is expending more energy than normal to digest what is in your stomach, which is why eating a large meal close to bedtime is not always the best idea. Indigestion and gas issues may also be an uncomfortable side effect after a large meal as well.
- Exercise during the day
Exercising at any time of day or night is better than not exercising, but exercising during the day will help to energize you and make you feel more tired at night. If you exercise at night your heart rate and blood pressures levels increase, and may make it more difficult to wind down.
- Don’t stay in bed awake
If you can’t sleep, don’t stay in your bed.. Change it up by sitting up, maybe moving to the floor or a chair and do something breathing exercises, meditation, or read a book. Sometimes all it takes is a bit of a change to release your frustrations around sleep.
- Turn Your bedroom into a sleep-Inducing environment
Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary. Light some incense, put lavender oil on your sheets and pajamas, hang a poster that reminds you of someplace serene, use soft lighting. Whatever it takes to start helping your brain associate your room with sleepiness will have you drifting off in no time.
- Don’t be a nighttime clock-watcher
We know it’s tempting, but staring at the clock when you can’t sleep will only increase your feeling of frustration. Instead, try disassociating yourself from whether or not you will fall back to sleep. Often it’s when we aren’t thinking or stressing about sleep that we find ourselves naturally drifting off.
- Stay calm when you can’t sleep
Instead of feeling frustrated, anxious, or stressed out about the sleep that you aren’t getting or the time that you are wasting just lying awake in bed, take time to do some meaningful meditation. Create a list in your head of all of the things you are grateful for. Reshape what your sleeplessness means and you may find that in no time your head is back on the pillow in a dream world of your own.
- Avoid inappropriate substances that interfere with sleep
Namely, alcohol and caffeine. Though delicious, neither of these beverages are good antidotes to finding some shut eye.
- Find a quiet place to sleep
A quiet place, maybe with some white noise in the background, is essential for getting some shut eye. No one likes waking up in the middle of the night feeling frustrated because someone is making a racket outside of their door. Talk to roommates or family members if this is a problem. Maybe try to come up with a “quiet hour” solution after a certain time of night to ensure a peaceful slumber.
- Keep your bedroom dark and cool
Sleep.org talks about the ideal room temperature for getting the best sleep, saying that “in general, the suggested bedroom temperature should be between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal sleep. When lying in bed trying to snooze, your body temperature decreases to initiate sleep—and the proposed temperatures above can actually help facilitate this.”
- Dedicate your bed to sleep and sex, and nothing else
If we are doing any activity unrelated to sleep or sex in our beds, our minds begin to unconsciously associate this activity with our environment, and this may inhibit our ability to relax into sleep. Similar to the no reading or no watching tv in bed, try to keep your bedroom use strictly for sleep and sex.
- Avoid drugs
Certain drugs may keep your body and mind stimulated throughout the night, so if this is a concern you may want to consult your doctor about your specific medications or combination of medications that could be keeping you awake.
- Relax your mind
Meditating, reading some poetry, listening to soothing music, or having some sort of white noise (rainymood.com, anyone?), can all help to relax your mind from the day’s stressors. We’ve all had those days (maybe even weeks, months, or years!) where it seems as though every single worry we have eeks it’s way into our consciousness the moment our head hits the pillow. Having something that relaxes your mind and helps you to gently doze off before bed can be a lifesaver.
- Get some sunshine
Sunlight exposure in the early morning can help to regulate your body’s internal clock and promote wakefulness in the daytime. Get some sunshine in the day to help your sleepiness improve at night.
- Get help when you need it
Sometimes, even after it seems like you’ve tried everything, you still aren’t able to sleep. Know when it’s time to reach out to a doctor to find assistance in getting the sleep you deserve.
Don’t give up! As with any new habit or routine you’re trying out, it’s important to start out slow, and experiment with different ideas for sleeping better. If something doesn’t work for you, don’t get discouraged. Keep trying out different patterns, habits, and routines until you find something that sticks. In the meantime, thank yourself for even taking the time to begin to improve your sleep in the first place. Understanding the important role that sleep plays in your life is the very first step on a path towards peaceful rest.