A good night’s sleep is imperative to physical and mental well-being, productivity and overall quality of life. Unfortunately, more than one-third of adults do not get the recommended seven hours of sleep per night. With summer coming to an end and kids heading back to school, there’s no better time to evaluate your level of sleep hygiene.
The term sleep hygiene refers to a series of healthy sleep habits that can improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Having a hard time falling asleep, experiencing frequent sleep disturbances and suffering daytime sleepiness are the most telling signs of poor sleep hygiene. An overall lack of consistency in sleep quantity or quality can also be a symptom of poor sleep hygiene.
Strong sleep hygiene starts with building routines and environments that promote consistent, uninterrupted sleep. Keeping a stable sleep schedule, making your bedroom comfortable and free of disruptions, following a relaxing pre-bed routine and building healthy habits during the day can all contribute to sleeping well each and every night. Here are some helpful tips and tricks, which can be adapted to your individual circumstances:
Set your sleep schedule
Having a set schedule normalizes sleep as an essential part of your day. This gets your body and mind accustomed to getting the proper amount of sleep you need every night.
- Have a fixed wake-up time. Try to wake up at the same time every morning, whether it is a weekday or weekend. A fluctuating schedule keeps you from getting into a rhythm of consistent sleep.
- Prioritize sleep. It’s easy to allow things like exercise, socializing and work take priority over sleeping, but it’s important to treat sleep as a top priority. Figure out your ideal bedtime based on your fixed wake-up time, and do your best to go to bed at that time every night.
- Make gradual adjustments. Looking to change your sleep times? Make small adjustments in increments of 30-60 minutes so that your body can adjust to a new schedule.
- Don’t overdo it with naps. Naps can be a convenient way to reenergize during the day, but they can throw off sleep at night. Ideally, keep them to 10-20 minutes long and only during the early to mid-afternoon.
Follow a nightly routine
How you prepare for bed helps determine how easily you’ll be able to fall asleep. Utilizing these tips will help get your mind and body in the proper state for quality sleep on a regular basis.
- Keep your routine consistent. When getting ready for bed, follow the same steps each night to alert your brain that bedtime is approaching.
- Budget 30 minutes for winding down. Take time before bed to participate in activities that make you feel calm — listen to soft music, journal, stretch, read, meditate, etc.
- Dim your lights. Bright lights hinder the production of melatonin, the hormone your body produces to facilitate sleep. Instead, use soft lamps or candles — though make sure to blow them out! — prior to sleep.
- Unplug from electronics. Stop using your cell phone, tablet and laptop 30-60 minutes prior to sleep. Devices cause mental stimulation that is hard to shut off and create blue light that may limit production of melatonin. Consider using the sleep focus mode on your cell phone to limit notifications during certain hours of the night.
- Test methods of relaxation. Instead of focusing on the act of falling asleep, make relaxation your goal. Meditation, breathing and/or visualization exercises, muscle relaxation and other forms of mindfulness can help you get in a better mindset for sleep.
- Don’t toss and turn. If you haven’t gotten to sleep in 20 minutes, get up and stretch, read or do other wind-down activities in calming, low light before trying again. This helps your brain associate being in bed with actually being asleep.
Cultivate healthy daily habits
Practicing positive routines during the day can heavily influence your sleep cycle and limit sleep disruptions.
- Get daylight exposure. Light — sunlight in particular — is a key part of your circadian rhythm and helps encourage quality sleep.
- Be physically active. Moderate to vigorous exercise can increase sleep quality by lowering stress levels and reducing the time it takes to fall asleep. Base your exercise time and intensity on what best fits your sleep schedule.
- Don’t smoke. Nicotine stimulates the body in ways that disrupt sleep and is correlated with lower sleep duration and quality.
- Reduce alcohol consumption. While alcohol may appear to make it easier for some to fall asleep, it is likely to disrupt the sleep cycle and decrease overall sleep quality. It’s best to moderate alcohol consumption and avoid it later in the evening.
- Cut down on caffeine later in the day. Caffeine is a stimulant and can keep you wired even when you want to rest. Avoid it later in the day and refrain from overconsumption while trying to make up for lack of sleep the previous night.
- Don’t dine late. Eating dinner late — especially if it is a big, heavy or spicy meal — means your body is still digesting the food when it’s time for bed. Any food or snacks before bed should be on the lighter side.
- Restrict in-bed activity. It can be tempting to watch TV, read or work from bed, but it is important to create a link in your mind between being in your bed and sleeping. Only use your bed for sleeping and snuggling (wink wink).
Optimize your bedroom
Your sleep environment plays a huge role in your sleep hygiene. It’s important to have a safe, comfortable space that exudes tranquility. What makes a bedroom inviting will differ from one person to the next, but these tips will help make it soothing and free of disruptions.
- Have a comfortable mattress and pillow. Your sleeping surface is imperative to comfortable and pain-free sleep, so choose the best mattress and pillow for your needs.
- Use quality bedding. It’s important that sheets and blankets match your needs and preferences when it comes to tactile sensations and weight. Keep this in mind for your bedtime attire as well.
- Set a cool yet comfortable temperature.The best room temperature is approximately 65 degrees Fahrenheit, but that varies from person to person. Keep the thermostat between 60 and 68 degrees for optimal sleep.
- Block out light. Use heavy curtains or an eye mask to prevent light from interrupting your sleep.
- Drown out noise. If you need to listen to something to fall asleep, try and limit it to soft calming sounds. Use ear plugs, a white noise machine or a fan to help drown out bothersome noise.
- Try calming scents. Light fragrances such as lavender or eucalyptus may help reduce stress and cultivate a positive environment for sleep.
The basic concept of sleep hygiene — that your environment and habits can be optimized for better sleep — applies to just about everyone, but what ideal sleep hygiene looks like can vary from person to person. Test out different adjustments to find out what helps you sleep the best, and be mindful that what works for you may not work for other members of your family.
Also, keep in mind that improving sleep hygiene won’t always resolve sleeping problems. If you follow the tips above and are still experiencing issues with sleep, consider scheduling an appointment with a mental health provider through our Mercy Mindful services to help find a solution.