There are so many things that can get in the way of good sleep. Pain, caffeine intake, hormones, stress, trauma; the list goes on and on. However, not all the contributors to poor sleep are big challenges like those reasons previously listed. Sometimes it’s the difference between no screen time before bed and watching one more YouTube video that can make or break a good night’s sleep. There are lots of small adjustments that folks can make in their nighttime routine to create the optimum context for high-quality and easeful sleep. These little actions all fall into something called sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene consists of actions that help to improve sleep and make access to sleep easier and faster than it might otherwise be.
What is Sleep Hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is a term used to describe a set of healthy sleep habits and practices that can help you get a better night's rest. These habits usually have a low barrier to entry and increase the likelihood of a restful night’s sleep considerably. By following these actions, you are likely to improve the quality and duration of your sleep so you can wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day.
Maintain a Consistent Sleep Schedule
One of the most critical aspects of sleep hygiene is sticking to a regular sleep schedule. Your body has its internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm, which regulates your sleep-wake cycle. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (yes, even on weekends) helps regulate your body's internal clock. This consistency reinforces your circadian rhythm and can significantly improve the quality of your sleep.
Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine
A bedtime routine can help signal to your body that it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep. This routine can include activities such as reading, taking a warm bath, practicing relaxation exercises, or listening to calming music. A strong and consistent routine can signal to your body that it’s time to start preparing for sleep. Even basic things like brushing your teeth, moisturizing your hands and brushing your hair fall into this category. To maximize the impact of your routine, try to do things slowly and in almost the same order every night. Mindful repetition can be soothing to the nervous system. Avoid stimulating activities like watching action-packed movies or engaging in intense discussions before bedtime along with ripping off your clothes and throwing yourself into bed after a long day. As tempting as these things may be, they don’t allow your body time to down-regulate before sleep.
Make Your Sleep Environment Comfortable
Your sleep environment plays a crucial role in the quality of your sleep. Ensure that your bedroom is dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. Dr. Andrew Huberman, associate professor of neurobiology at Stanford University School of Medicine and well-known wellness expert, suggests keeping your bedroom cool. Whatever the temperature, make sure it’s not extreme and that you feel at ease. Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows that provide adequate support for your body. Keep your linens clean (it’s amazing how aggravating the smell of unclean sheets can be) but be sure not to wash your sheets or pillowcases with scented fabric softeners. Instead, opt for unscented detergent and use essential oils on dryer balls to lightly scent your sheets with calming natural chemicals rather than synthetic chemicals that can upset your endocrine system. Remove electronic devices from your bedroom, as the blue light emitted by screens can interfere with your body's production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. Finally, consider using white noise machines, essential oil diffusers and other tools to make your bedroom feel spa-like and calming.
Watch Your Diet and Caffeine Intake
Avoid large meals, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol close to bedtime. These substances can disrupt your sleep patterns. Try to finish your last meal at least two to three hours before going to bed. If this isn’t possible, try to eat meals in the evening that are easy to digest (think soups, warm rice and veggie dishes, etc). If you need a bedtime snack, opt for something light and easy to digest.
Stay Active, but Not Too Late
Regular physical activity can promote better sleep, but it's essential to time your workouts properly. Engaging in vigorous exercise too close to bedtime can make it difficult to fall asleep. Instead, try to finish exercise at least a few hours before bedtime to allow your body to wind down. Ideally, work out, eat an easy-to-digest meal and then get ready for bed.
Stress and anxiety are common culprits when it comes to sleep disturbances. Practice stress-reduction techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or gentle yoga to calm your mind before bedtime. Managing stress in your daily life can also improve your overall sleep quality but that’s a whole different article.
Limit Screen Time
The blue light emitted by screens can interfere with your sleep-wake cycle. Try to limit screen time in the hour or two before bedtime. If you must use electronic devices, consider using blue light filters or night mode settings to reduce the impact on your sleep. I know so many folks love to read from their Kindles before bed but ideally, a real book or a calming audiobook are what you should reach for if you need something to do before bed.
Seek Professional Help
If you've tried these sleep hygiene tips and still struggle with sleep problems, it may be time to consult a healthcare professional or a sleep specialist. There could be underlying medical conditions or sleep disorders that require specific treatment.
Sleep hygiene is a fundamental aspect of achieving a restful and rejuvenating night's sleep. By incorporating these habits into your daily routine, you can improve your sleep quality and overall well-being. Remember that it may take some time to see significant improvements, so be patient and consistent with your efforts. A good night's sleep is within your reach, and practicing proper sleep hygiene is often the first step to unlocking its benefits.