You’re deep into a brilliant new series on Netflix. The credits roll on a cliff hanger and it’s already getting late but you think – “Just one more episode before bed”. One turns into two and before you know it you’re binge-watching TV instead of getting much-needed sleep. Sound familiar, then you need to learn how to improve your sleep hygiene.
What Is Sleep Hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is made up of your daily routines and practices, especially those leading up to bedtime, that affect the quality of your sleep. It also takes into consideration some environmental factors such as noise and light levels of where you sleep. Having poor sleep hygiene can significantly impact the quality and the amount of sleep you get.
Why is sleep important? For so many reasons. Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of deep, restorative sleep every night. Not getting enough can eventually lead to all sorts of health problems, from minor things like puffy eyes and acne, to more serious things like diabetes and depression.
According to the CDC, more than a third of Americans are getting less than the recommended amount of sleep each night. The statistics are similar for most of the Western world. Almost all of us have some bad habits that are taking their toll on our nightly rest, but many of us don’t realise the importance of sleep.
If you are serious about taking care of your health, looking your best, performing at your best and basically living your best life then you need to get serious about your sleep. It’s time to improve your sleep hygiene.
Good Sleep Hygiene – How does it feel?
Ever had one of those days when you wake up looking like the heroine of a Disney film? The birds are tweeting, the cat is purring and you feel rested, refreshed and ready to take on the world. Not something that happens very often for most of us, but that’s what good sleep hygiene feels like. Without the cartoon animals, obviously.
You should sleep easily from your regular bedtime to the time you normally get up. If you wake in the night it should be easy to fall back to sleep. When you get up in the morning your body and mind feel rested and restored. You’re energized and feel awake all day long.
You have clarity of mind, and find it easy to learn and remember new information since your brain has ample time at night to perform it’s task of consolidating memories and clearing waste. You don’t stress the little things and life seems to just be better.
You have a general sense of well-being, body, mind and spirit. Now doesn’t that sound like something worth making a little effort for?
What Is Considered Good Sleep Hygiene?
1. Avoid Chemical Stimulants
You should stop your intake of caffeine and nicotine at least 4 to 6 hours before bedtime. Don’t forget that caffeine isn’t just in coffee. You’ll find it in tea (even green tea), coca cola, chocolate, and even some painkillers.
Nicotine is also a stimulant so avoiding tobacco products for a few hours before bed will help you rest easier.
Alcohol is another thing that should be avoided before bed. Even though you might think that a glass or two of wine will help you sleep, it will actually impair the quality of your sleep making you more restless during the night.
2. Eat Well & Early
You should finish dinner a few hours before bedtime so you have time to digest and don’t lay down with a full stomach. Avoid heavy, rich, greasy food at night, and anything else that may cause indigestion such as fizzy drinks or citrus fruits.
If you must snack before bed then keep it light. Dairy is a good option as it contains tryptophan which is a natural sleep inducer.
3. Exercise, But Not Before Bed
Regular exercise during the day is a great way to stay healthy and feel tired by bedtime. Don’t do any strenuous exercise within a few hours of going to bed though, it will energise you and keep you awake.
4. Nap Early, Or Not At All
Naps can interfere with how tired you feel in the evening so if you can go without then do. If you feel very tired in the middle of the day then do take a nap, but keep it short and preferably be up again by 4pm.
5. Establish A Bedtime Routine
Just as with babies, establishing a relaxing bedtime routine will let the body and mind know that it’s time to wind down and get ready for sleep. Any activity that is restful and not stimulating will work.
A bath is a good idea. The rise and then fall of your body temperature will make you feel sleepy. Reading, watching calm TV, some breathing or stretching exercises all work well.
Avoid anything that stimulates you like work, playing computer games or having emotional discussions. If you get revved up your body will produce cortisol which will make you feel alert and interfere with getting to sleep.
If you’re someone that goes to bed and lays there worrying about things going on in your life then try writing your worries down before bed. You may think that there’s no way this would work but you might just be surprised. Getting your feeling out into the physical world can stop them looping around in your head.
6. Make Your Bedroom A Sanctuary
Your bedroom should be a restful place, without a TV or other electronics. In fact, you should establish it as a phone free zone. If noise is a problem then use earplugs or get yourself a white noise machine. Ocean waves and rainstorms are great soundtracks to fall asleep to.
Invest in a good mattress and quality bedding, you spend a third of your life there so it’s worth it. It should really be a place you can escape to. Keep the lighting dim and the air cool. Blackout curtains or an eye mask are extremely helpful in getting the brain to produce melatonin, the chemical that promotes sleep.
Your bed should be for sleeping and sex only, nothing else. This way your body knows what’s expected of it when you’re in there.
7. Regulate Your Internal Clock
Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, or as close as you can. Your body will fall into the rhythm of sleeping at the same time every night. You need to understand your own rhythm by noticing when you start to feel tired and going to bed then.
If you find yourself laying awake in bed then get up and try to sleep a bit later. You can move your bedtime back or forward by 15 minutes or so to figure out when is the best time for you, personally, to go to bed.
Don’t forget the importance of our sleep cycles. Each cycle is 1.5 hours long and you’ll feel more refreshed if you wake between cycles rather than in the middle of one. Decide what time you need to get up and the work backwards. Ideally you’ll want to sleep for 5 or 6 cycles each night.
8. Don’t Watch The Clock
Knowing you have to get up early and not being able to fall asleep is so frustrating that you end up getting all worked up thinking –
“Now I’ve only got 5 hours to sleep”.
“Now I’ve only got 4 hours to sleep”.
And on it goes. The worst think you can do is keep looking at the clock. If you’re still awake after about 30 minutes then get up out of bed and do something calming for a while. Keep the lights dim and listen to some music or do some breathing exercises. Avoid doing anything that involves looking at a screen as the blue light is a melatonin inhibitor and will make it even harder to sleep.
9. Be Consistent & Carry On
If you keep at it and try to implement these measures on a daily basis your body clock will eventually fall into its natural sleep rhythm and you should find yourself getting good, quality sleep every, or at least most, nights. The key is to stay consistent. If you do have a sleepless night do try to carry on with your plans for the next day as usual. If you change your plans because you feel too tired you can start to enforce the pattern of insomnia. If you carry on as normal you’ll probably be able to sleep well the following night.
Sleep Hygiene – Sorted.
Just following these guidelines on how to improve your sleep hygiene should have you sleeping better in no time, assuming you have no underlying problems that are affecting your slumber. Use these simple sleep hacks to really reap the benefits that quality sleep offers, from general well-being and good looks to disease prevention and a better memory.
There are so many reasons we need to prioritise sleep. Just change a few little habits to improve sleep hygienic and see how much better you feel.
If you have any questions or any other good tips then please go ahead and leave them in the comments below. Thank you.
Goodnight Everyone x