There’s more to optimal health than diet and exercise. Sleep is just as important, yet not as many consider their bedtime habits when they’re trying to lose weight, build muscle, and avoid disease.
If we want to be the healthiest version of ourselves, we need to practice good sleep hygiene. That entails getting regular sleep in the right amounts and avoiding things that interfere with our ability to obtain adequate rest.
In this article, we’ll share our top tips on achieving and maintaining proper sleep hygiene. Like diet and exercise, it does require some discipline and planning, but it’s not as hard as you might think.
What is Sleep Hygiene?
Typically, hygiene refers to practices and habits centered around physical cleanliness. The idea is that being clean allows people to prevent disease and stay healthy.
Sleep hygiene is similar in that it’s all about maintaining healthy sleeping habits. It involves getting enough rest every night and waking up feeling refreshed with enough energy to stay focused and motivated all day long.
One of the first rules of practicing proper sleep hygiene is to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. So, if 11 p.m. is bedtime, and the alarm goes off at 6 a.m., you should strive to follow this schedule every day, even on weekends.
Why is it Important?
Sleep may seem like a simple and easy task, but with one out of every three people reporting that they have at least mild insomnia, it deserves more attention. Doctors recommend around seven to nine hours of shut-eye per night, and frankly, not everyone is getting enough.
More alarmingly, even when people do get enough rest, they still feel tired. That has led scientists to conclude that it’s not only the number of hours of shuteye people get, there’s also a quality component to it.
When people don’t get adequate rest, it can have both short and long-term consequences. Over time, sleep-deprived individuals are at a higher risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, depression, and death.
Though the side effects of poor sleep hygiene are severe, the habits that will allow you to clean up your sleep act aren’t all that difficult.
Sleep Hygiene Tips
Limit Daytime Naps
Feeling your energy levels drop in the afternoon, especially after lunch, is fairly common. Entire cultures in parts of South America and Europe have made afternoon naps a part of their routine. Though an occasional siesta can help you revived and refreshed, making them a regular habit can wreak havoc on your schedule.
Many people find that if they take a catnap in the afternoon, they’re unable to fall asleep at their designated bedtime. Another equally awful scenario is that they wake up from their nap feeling even more drained than when they decided to lie down in the first place. If you’re going to maintain a constant schedule, naps should be limited to emergency situations only.
Avoid Stimulating Food and Drinks
Caffeine, spicy and rich food, and even citrus can stimulate you and keep you awake. In the case of spicy food, you could end up with acid reflux, heartburn or indigestion that will have you trying to count sheep to fall asleep.
If your body tends to react to these foods, then limit them to early parts of the day and avoid them in the late afternoon and evening.
Getting between 10 to 45 minutes per day of cardiovascular exercise can help regulate your schedule. It releases hormones that provide you with energy throughout the day while also balancing sleep-inducing hormones at night.
Our only caution here is to avoid physical activity too close to bedtime (within about three to four hours). The rush of endorphins you get from exercising stays in your system for a while, and if you try to fall asleep too soon after a workout, you could end up lying in bed, tossing and turning.
Expose Yourself to Natural Sunlight
As soon as you wake up in the morning, get some sunshine. Either open the window and let the light shine in or go outside and take a walk. The early sunlight will help keep your body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm synced with the earth’s cycle of day and night.
Maintaining your 24-hour body clock is critical, not just because it helps you fall asleep at night, but it also influences hormone levels, appetite, body temperature, and mood.
Relaxing Bedtime Routine
A relaxing bedtime routine is helpful for a couple of reasons:
- The activities you do before bed can help calm you and prepare you for slumber.
- The habit of doing certain things before falling asleep can become a trigger, meaning that just by following the routine, it can make you drowsy.
Your bedtime routine can be anything that helps you relax. Some people enjoy a warm shower or even a cup of herbal tea with no caffeine. It's often discussed that meditation and deep breathing exercises can also put you in the mood for bed and may allow you to get better quality rest as well.
Pleasant Sleep Environment
Your bedroom is a sanctuary. To get the best possible rest, keep it clean and uncluttered. Maintain a room temperature that is comfortable for nighttime, usually between 60 and 68 degrees. The room should be dark, and as cave-like as possible. Make sure you’ve banned electronic devices into another room. You may want to take a closer look at your mattress as well to make sure that it’s still providing ample support and isn’t causing you to wake up sore or stiff in the morning.
Avoid Stimulating Activities
We’ve already cautioned against exercise late at night, but other activities that could keep you alert should be avoided as well. Arguments are a prime example of something to avoid until morning. If you get into a heated debate right before bed, then the chances of you getting a full night of quality rest are practically zero.
One exception to this guideline is sex. If you’ve got a partner, then indulging in some intimate time right before bed could be relaxing and sleep-inducing for both of you.
You might be tempted to check your work email or handle a stressful task at the end of the day to “get it done with.” However, we suggest remaining calm in the evening hours. Your problems and task list will still be there tomorrow, and if you get wound up right before it’s time to rest, you might find it’s a challenge to fall asleep.
Limit Screen Time
The blue and LED lights from electronic devices inhibit melatonin (sleep hormone) production, which can make it take longer to fall asleep. Added to that is the fact that these devices can be a source of stress.
Scrolling through social media, watching disturbing movies or television shows, playing online games, and firing off angry emails to an inconsiderate coworker all serve to adversely affect your bedtime.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I go to sleep immediately?
Counting sheep may help you fall asleep faster, but it won’t put you instantly to sleep. A breathing exercise taught by alternative medicine doctor, Andrew Weil, however, is more promising. It’s called the 4-7-8 technique. Here’s what to do:
- With your mouth closed, place the tip of your tongue against the back of your front teeth.
- Exhale through your mouth, emptying your lungs of air. Because of your tongue placement, you may hear a whooshing noise.
- Close your mouth and take a deep breath through your nose. The inhale should last for a count of four.
- Hold your breath for seven seconds.
- Keeping your tongue in place, exhale for a count of eight.
- Repeat three more times.
By the end of this breathing exercise, you should be 100% ready to fall asleep.
How can people with sleep problems practice better sleep hygiene?
Tips that are mentioned earlier in this article will go a long way to improving habits. It won’t happen overnight but sticking to a schedule and avoiding food and drinks that interfere with shuteye will also help.
What are the benefits of good nighttime hygiene?
People who have healthy sleeping habits may enjoy the following benefits:
- Live longer
- Improved memory
- Perform better athletically
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Longer attention spans
- Lower stress levels
- Fewer accidents
- Better moods
Keeping a healthy nighttime schedule also means you decrease your chances of going into sleep debt. Most people suffer from this condition, and they don’t realize it.
It’s when people are sleep-deprived during the week and try to make up for lost time on the weekends by sleeping in. Unfortunately, all that does is perpetuate a cycle, making it harder to fall asleep on Sunday nights and wake up on Monday morning. Talk about a case of the Mondays!
Sources and References:
- Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep – healthysleep.med.harvard.edu
- What is Sleep Hygiene? – sleepfoundation.org
- Tips for Better Sleep – cdc.gov