Good Sleep Hygiene and Tips to Better Sleep
Let’s be honest - many of us do not get a good night’s sleep. There are usually more things to do than there are hours in the day. And sleep is usually first to be sacrificed. As a result you put yourself at higher risks of disease and mishaps. Getting a good night's sleep is a minimum for a healthy life. And to do this we need to adopt good sleep hygiene practices.
So what exactly is sleep hygiene and what are some tips to better sleep?
What is Good Sleep Hygiene?
Good Sleep hygiene is the combination of habits and routines together with an optimal bedroom environment that promotes uninterrupted quality sleep. When done correctly and consistently, it helps you develop the positive sleep behaviors that make it easier for you to sleep through the night and wake up well-rested. Because each person is different, sleep hygiene practices can be tailored to your specific needs with great results.
Why Is Good Quality Sleep Important?
The best way to think about the importance of sleep is as the body's downtime. Just like your computer system needs to go offline in order to be repaired, so too does your body. During this downtime the body rebuilds tissue, grows bone and muscle and reinforces the immune system. Sleep also helps your brain consolidate memories and process information.
The truth is we actually don't know everything that happens in our sleep. We understand enough to realize that without it the body deteriorates along with the mind.
Each night you cycle through three stages of sleep including light sleep, deep sleep and Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (REM). Each of these phases are essential but the last stage - REM Sleep - is especially crucial. Deprivation of this final stage of sleep can seriously decrease your health and efficiency and make you more prone to accidents and chronic diseases or disorders
Throughout deep sleep, brain activity that manages feelings, decision-making processes and social interaction shuts down. Though these areas become inactive other areas of your brain that are typically inactive during the day come to life. It is also at this phase that cell development and cell repair happens. There is also some truth to the expression "beauty sleep". Missing these important areas of sleep deprives your body of the possibility to revitalize our skin and organs.
Sleep is also integral in eradicating infection. When you are ill or bedridden, as any person who has actually been sick can testify, the need for sleep is even more important and necessary. Part of the reason for this is because our body is attempting to shut down other elements of your system in order to send much needed energy to your immune system and other parts of the body that help to combat infection and sickness. This is an essential action in the recovery process. Depriving someone with a serious health problem of sleep can do major damage to their overall health.
Signs of Bad Sleep Habits
If you’ve ever spent the night tossing and turning at night, or you didn’t get your recommended number of hours sleep, you wake up feeling tired, groggy and cranky.
The impacts of sleep deprivation are numerous, varied and very real. When we are deprived from sleep, hallucinations and mood swings are typically the first symptoms you will feel. There is also a sense of irritability that pervades your waking mood. Other symptoms of sleep deprivation that you may experience include:
- Memory recall issues - both short and long term memory can be impacted
- Trouble thinking and concentrating - your mental abilities such as concentration, creativity and problem-solving skills are drained, so you are not able to focus or concentrate
- Mood changes - chronic sleep deprivation can lead to depression and anxiety
- Accidents - you are at increased risk for accidents and injuries from other areas in your life
- Weakened immunity - your defenses against viruses like the common cold are significantly reduced. You’re more likely to get ill when exposed to these germs
- High blood pressure - if you sleep less than five hours a night, you are at increased risk for developing high blood pressure
- Diabetes - because your body is not allowed the time to get to the later stages of sleep, you will have higher blood sugar levels and be at increased risk for type 2 diabetes
- Weight gain - the chemicals that signal to your brain when you are full are off balance. You are therefore more prone to overeating.
- Lower sex drive - people who don’t get enough sleep often have lower libido
- Heart Disease - the increased blood pressure and other chemicals in the body that promote inflammation can increase the risk of heart disease
- Poor balance - your balance and coordination are affected leading to falls and other physical accidents
How To Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
Now that you know what sleep hygiene is and why sleep is important to your overall health and the physical and mental impacts to your wellbeing, you might be wondering how you can create and practice good sleep hygiene behaviors. There are some simple steps that you can take that will have a direct impact on the quality of your sleep. Optimizing your sleep schedule, daily, pre-bedtime and bedtime routines are all part of making it easier for you to get quality sleep. At the same time creating a relaxing and cozy environment for sleep will make it easier for you to doze off. Here are some tips to better sleep that will help you along your way:
Create a Sleep Schedule
Having a sleep schedule normalizes sleep as part of your daily routine.
Have a set sleep and wake time. This helps your brain and body accustomed to getting the full amount of sleep you need and normalizes sleep as part of your daily routine.
Make sleep a priority. Don’t be tempted to skip sleep time to work, study, or other activity. Calculate your bedtime based on your wake time and the hours of sleep that you need.
Make gradual adjustments. Don’t try to shift your sleep times all at once. Make small changes of one to two hours at a time until you get to your optimal time.
Establish a Nightly Routine
How you prepare for bed can determine how easy it is for you to fall asleep.
Keep your routine consistent. Follow the same steps each night to reinforce to your mind that it’s bedtime.
Budget 30 minutes to two hours for winding down. Each person is different so time would vary, but take advantage of whatever puts you in the state of calm - soft music, reading, meditation - for as long as you need to promote sleepiness. Try different methods initially to see which works best for you.
Avoid medications at night, if possible. Unless prescribed, avoid taking medicines before bed, given that a number of these block the deepest levels of sleep, which are most required for our body.
Dim your lights. Bright lights hinder the production of melatonin, the hormone that facilitates sleep. So minimize exposure to bright lights.
Unplug from electronics. The blue light from electronic devices also decreases melatonin production. Also using these devices simulates the brain - the opposite of what you want to happen at this time - making it harder to get into that relaxed frame of mind for sleep.
Don’t stay in bed if you’re not sleepy. You want your brain to associate the bed with sleep (and sex) only. If after 20 -30 minutes you are not asleep get up and do something relaxing until you begin to feel sleepy again.
Develop Healthy Daytime Habits
Your daytime habits are also important in helping you get a good night’s sleep.
Regular exposure to sunlight. Sunlight is a necessary driver of the circadian rhythm that encourages quality sleep.
Regular Exercise. Being physically active can make it easier to fall asleep at night. Exercise also has a host of other health benefits.
Don’t smoke. Nicotine stimulates the body which in turn would disrupt or prevent you from sleeping.
Limit alcohol consumption. Initially you may feel that alcohol helps you sleep, but the effects wear off, affecting your sleep at night. It’s best to reduce alcohol consumption and avoid it all together late evening into night.
Reduce caffeine intake in the afternoon and evening. Caffeine is a stimulant. It will keep you awake and alert when you should be winding down for bed. Also be aware if you’re consuming a lot of caffeine to manage your lack of sleep.
Don’t eat late. Eating late, especially if it’s a big, heavy or spicy meal can mean that you are still digesting food when it’s time for bed. Your body has to finish that process before it can get to the restorative aspects and later stages of sleep. Therefore your sleep quality is affected.
Restrict In-bed Activities. The bed should only be used for sleep, with sex being the one exception.
Limit naps. Naps are handy to regain energy during the day, but they can throw off your sleep schedule at night. Limit naps to no more than 30 minutes.
Optimize the bedroom
Besides the habits discussed above, the sleep environment is just as important to helping you fall asleep easily. Try one or more of these tips to better sleep.
Have a comfortable mattress and pillow. Choose your mattress and pillow wisely. You want to avoid aches and pains that would interrupt your sleep.
Use quality bedding. Since the sheets and blankets would be touching your skin, make sure they suit your needs, so that you’re not disrupted as you sleep.
The bedroom should be at a cool, yet comfortable temperature. A cooler temperature helps promote sleep. Use whatever is comfortable for you.
Block out light. Use heavy curtains or an eye mask to block out light.
Minimize noise. Ear plugs can help block out noise. If this is uncomfortable, try a white noise machine.
Use calming scents. Light scents like lavender may induce a calmer state of mind in preparation for sleep. Make sure you introduce scents slowly though as too much can have just the opposite effect.
Incorporating the tips for sleep hygiene as outlined above into your regular routines will surely help you optimize your sleep. Remember, you don’t have to change everything at once. Take it slow and steady; small steps will help move you towards better sleep hygiene.
Now that you have the information, which of the above tips for sleep hygiene are you going to start to incorporate into your routine? Let us know in the comments below.