Many people suffer from sleep problems simply because they do not have good sleep hygiene. Studies show that up to 30% of adults suffer from chronic insomnia,while 35.2% of adults in America reported that they have less than seven hours of sleep per night. However, what exactly is sleep hygiene and how can we develop it to counteract sleep issues such as insomnia and sleep deprivation?
The article discusses some effective tips that will help you to improve your sleep hygiene.
What is good sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene, in layman terms, refers to healthy sleep habits. Many sleep problems are a result of poor sleep hygiene practised for years in a person’s life. As such, it is possible to improve sleep quality by making a few adjustments to our lifestyle, attitude and other sleep-related factors.
Why is sleep hygiene important?
We know that lack of sleep can potentially cause a myriad of problems, including health issues such as obesity, a weakened immune system, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Long term sleep deprivation has also been linked to depression and anxiety, memory loss and difficulties in concentration. The inability to focus can then lead to accidents in the workplace and on the road.
Good sleep habits can pave the way to better quality and quantity of sleep, thereby affecting our overall health. Everyone can benefit from better sleep and sleep hygiene plays a large role in reaching this goal.
While making adjustments to our environment and habits can feel strange and difficult, good sleep habits will help you to feel rested and refreshed when you wake up.
Aside from the initial part of getting used to the new habits, improving sleep hygiene has virtually no cost and no risk, making it one of the most effective and easy to combat sleep problems such as insomnia and circadian rhythm disorders.
Signs of poor sleep hygiene
Signs of poor sleep hygiene include having a difficult time staying and falling asleep, experiencing interrupted sleep frequently as well as daytime sleepiness. Additionally, overall poor sleep quality and inconsistent sleep quantity can also point to poor sleep hygiene.
Sleep hygiene tips
Following are some ways in which you can improve your sleep hygiene:
1. Have a consistent sleep schedule
Having a consistent bedtime and wake up time every day reinforces your body’s internal clock. Your body will become accustomed to the scheduled sleep and wake up time, making it easier for you to fall asleep at night.
Make sure to budget your time to get enough deep sleep so that your body can rejuvenate while you rest. Here are some useful tips to set a sleep schedule:
- Fix your wake up time. Wake up at the same time every day regardless of whether it’s a weekday, weekend or holiday. Fluctuating schedules will prevent you from getting into a consistent sleep schedule.
- Prioritize sleep even though it might be tempting to stay up late. Remember that sleep is important for your health. Prepare for the coming day by getting enough rest.
- Shift your sleep times gradually if you’re trying to make adjustments. Adjusting your sleeping time one hour at a time instead of in one swoop will help your body settle into the new sleeping schedule.
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2. Have a nightly routine
A bedtime routine will help your body realize that it’s almost time to sleep and thus, help you to fall asleep quicker.
Your bedtime routine should be consistent and relaxing. Budget about 30 minutes to wind down, dim your lights and unplug from electronic devices. Here are some relaxing ideas that you can incorporate into your bedtime routine:
- A warm bath or shower will aid relaxation. Cooling down can help you to fall asleep.
- Meditation and deep breathing also helps relax your mind and body. It is especially useful if you find yourself having racing thoughts during bedtime.
- Gentle stretches can help your muscles to relax.
- Put on some calm, soothing music.
- Read a book
Do try to avoid over-stimulating and stressful activities as these will cause your mind and body to be alert.
3. Optimize your bedroom for sleep
A large part of sleep hygiene is your sleeping environment. To fall asleep quicker, you want your bedroom to be peaceful and conducive to rest.
Following are some things you can do to get your sleep environment to work for you:
- Choose a comfortable mattress and pillow as they provide comfort and support that promotes restful, pain-free sleep.
- Choose bedding that you like. Sheets and blankets are the first things you come in contact with when you get into bed.
- Ensure that your room temperature is cool, yet comfortable.
- If you’re a light sleeper, ensure that your room is quiet. A white noise machine helps to drown out sounds. Earplugs may also work, but might be uncomfortable for some people.
- Ensure that your room is dark. Prevent light from disturbing your sleep by using blackout curtains or an eye mask.
- Try aromatherapy. Light and calming smells such as lavender can help you to relax.
4. Limit naps
While napping is an easy way to help you regain energy during the daytime, it often makes it difficult to fall asleep at night. To prevent this, keep napping to 30 minutes or less in the early afternoon.
Napping after lunch or in the evening can no doubt affect your sleep patterns.
5. Avoid electronic devices before bedtime
Your phones, laptops, TVs and other electronic devices emit blue light, which inhibits the release of melatonin in your body. As melatonin works to regulate your sleep/wake cycle, low levels of it will make it hard for you to fall asleep.
Besides blue light, just having a phone near you during bedtime can disrupt your sleep. Buzzing and notifications from your phone can cause interrupted sleep.
6. Exercise often
Research shows that exercise can help with sleep-related problems. 30 minutes of aerobic exercise daily will not only benefit our overall health but promote sleep quality as well.
Try exercising outside if possible, because exposure to natural light will also assist in regulating your sleep cycle. Avoid exercising within two hours of your sleep time as increased energy levels and body temperature can make it hard to fall asleep.
If you must exercise at night, do low impact exercises such as stretches.
7. Limit caffeine and alcohol
Caffeine, which is a stimulant, can keep you awake even when you want to sleep. Be aware of when and how much you are consuming.
It is recommended to avoid caffeine post afternoon to avoid any disruptions to sleep. This is because caffeine can remain in your bloodstream for up to 10 hours. Remember that different people will have different tolerance levels for caffeine.
Some people are able to sleep well even after drinking a cup of coffee in the later afternoon while others cannot. Thus, always be mindful of how much caffeine your body can take.
Additionally, alcohol too can reduce sleep quality so it’s best to avoid it if you’re finding it hard to fall and stay asleep.
8. Reserve your bed for sleep
It can be tempting to be in bed while working, reading or watching TV especially if you have a comfortable one. However, this can weaken your brain’s association of the bed with sleep, making it harder to fall asleep. Use your bed only for sleep.
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9. Go to bed when you’re tired
If you are unable to sleep long after you're settled in your bed, get up and stretch or do a relaxing activity until you feel tired. Then, head to bed and try to sleep again.
Inability to sleep can be frustrating and this can keep you awake even longer.
10. Manage stress and anxiety
Thinking about your worries can keep you up at night. Check out the following tips:
- Jot down your worries so that you can get them out of your head.
- List down your to-do list if you’re thinking about things that you have to get done. Prioritize the list.
- Try using a weighted blanket
- Try meditation and deep breathing techniques to calm your mind.
- Safe and natural sleep supplements can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, and promote relaxation.
11. Use a sleep diary
A sleep diary helps in tracking your sleep patterns and habits. Recording information such as your bedtime and wake up time, sleep interruptions, perceived sleep quality and caffeine consumption can help you to better understand your sleep habits.
Additionally, it can show you the habits that you need to change or improve on.
12.Have a healthy diet
A well-balanced diet will help with your overall health. However, timing is important. Large meals before bedtime can hinder you from having a restorative sleep.
Going to bed empty stomach can also be distracting for some people. A light snack or a glass of warm milk can help induce sleep if you can’t go to bed on an empty stomach.
If you’re experiencing sleep issues, the first thing you want to do is to check your sleep habits and routines.
Good sleep hygiene will help your body recognize sleep and wake time as well as get you into a regular sleep/wake cycle. Consult your doctor if your sleep problems seem to be getting worse even when you’ve put the above-mentioned tips into practice.