What is Sleep Hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is a term that you may have heard a lot of recently. But what is it? According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep hygiene is defined as “a variety of practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness.”
Frequent sleep disturbances and daytime sleepiness are the most telling signs of poor sleep hygiene. In addition, if you’re taking too long to fall asleep, you should consider evaluating your sleep routine and revising your bedtime habits. Just a few simple changes can make the difference between a good night’s sleep and night spent tossing and turning.
Why is Sleep Hygiene Important?
Our quality of sleep is not only determined by what we do before bed, but rather by the sum of how we spend our entire day. Think of your sleep routine as starting the moment you get up in the morning.
Why is Sleep Loss So Common?
Let’s face it: we live in a fast-paced crazy world! Sadly, the lifestyle most of us adopt to get through our crazy days often make it hard to sleep at night. Lack of sleep may be caused by many factors but in my experience the two most common factors are stress causing an overstimulated nervous system and poor blood sugar management.
Quantity Versus Quality:
Getting at least 7 hours of sleep every night is needed for optimal energy and overall health. However, sleep quality is equally as important as the number of hours spent in bed. Getting adequate, good quality sleep means that you should wake easily and feel rested and refreshed.
How Hormones Affect Sleep:
There also appears to gender differences when it comes to sleep, and a strong link between female sex hormones and sleep. While women report higher duration and quality of sleep than men, they also frequently report sleep issues. Women are more likely to have insomnia than men, the latter of which report higher incidences of sleep apnea or obstructed sleep. Menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and menopause can alter sleep, as well as a combination of environmental, social, and cultural influences on these biological factors, not to mention pre-existing medical conditions.
Simple Ways to Get a Better Sleep:
It’s clear that there are many benefits to getting enough good quality sleep. Here are some tips that can help to improve your sleep hygiene and establish good sleep habits:
- Be consistent: As best as you can, maintain the same sleep and wake patterns every day. This will help your body establish a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
- Limit daytime naps: You’ll sleep better at night if you eliminate naps. However, if you need to nap, limit them to 30 minutes or less, keeping in mind that napping does not make up for inadequate nighttime sleep, but can help to improve mood, alertness, and performance.
- Exercise at the right time: Regular exercise helps to improve sleep, as long as your workout isn’t too close to your bedtime. Aim to finish any vigorous activity 3 to 4 hours before you plan to go to sleep. On the other hand, gentle exercises before bed, such as yin or restorative yoga, can help the mind and body calm and prepare for sleep.
- Adequate exposure to natural light: This is particularly important for individuals who may not venture outside frequently. Exposure to sunlight during the day (especially when you first wake up), as well as darkness at night, helps to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
- Limit caffeine intake to before noon
- Choose a healthy bedtime snack: snacking before bed can be especially helpful for individuals with poor blood sugar balance. The best bedtime snacks contain tryptophan, and amino acid that helps the body make serotonin, a chemical in the brain that aids in the sleep process. My favourite go-to’s are raw pumpkin seeds (or other nuts/seeds) or a rice cake with nut butter.
- Power down: The soft blue glow from a cell phone, tablet, or digital clock on your bedside table may hurt your sleep. Turn off TVs, computers, and other blue-light sources an hour before you go to bed. Cover any displays you can’t shut off.
- Make you sleep environment pleasant: The Academy of Sleep advises that we think of our bedroom as a cave. Meaning, your room should be cool, dark, and quiet (i.e. free of distracting electronic devices). Your sheets should be clean and your bedding appropriate for the time of year, so your sleep is not disturbed because you are either too hot or too cold. If you share your bedroom, communicate your sleep needs with your partner, so you are both on the same page, sleep-wise. This will help limit partner-related sleep disturbances.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine: For example, dim the light 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. At least an hour before bed, (if hungry) eat tryptophan-rich snack, turn off all electronics, enjoy a cup of chamomile tea, or take a bath with essential oils like lavender. Half an hour before bed, do a little light yoga and/or mediation, or read. You can also journal about anything that’s on your mind. Fifteen minutes before bed, make sure your room is quiet, cool, and dark, and your bedding is fresh and appropriate for the weather. At bedtime, slip under the covers, and practice some deep breathing techniques, or read (no electronics!) until you’re tired enough to drift off.
- Make your room 100% dark: make your room dark enough that you can’t see your hand in front of your face when you go to bed. Blackout curtains are a great investment or simply wear an eye mask. Note: If you don’t fall asleep in about 30 minutes, try repeating some of these steps, until you feel tired enough to drift off. There’s no point in suffering and becoming more frustrated.
- National Sleep Foundation: https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/sleep-hygiene
- Sleep.org: https://sleep.org/
- WebMd: http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/10-results-sleep
- Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School: http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/consequences
- PubMed: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19774533
- Life script: http://www.lifescript.com/diet-fitness/articles/archive/diet/eat-well/bedtime_snacks_that_help_you_fall_asleep.aspx