The average adult needs between 7 and 8 hours of sleep a night, and many people don’t get that. The stress and societal shifts brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have worsened our sleep habits and quality, according to recent studies.
The key to getting our sleep back on track is sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene refers to implementing an environment and daily routines to promote consistent, restful sleep. While each sleeper’s ideal hygiene practices may look different, the outcome improves physical and mental wellness.
Below we’re diving into the critical importance of sleep and some steps you can take towards cultivating a sleep hygiene strategy that works for you.
Lack of Sleep is a Health Risk
You’re probably aware that daytime fatigue can lead to errors in judgement, which can result in accidents. But this is only one of the effects of sleep deprivation. Other effects build up over time, so their connections to poor sleep are not as obvious. Here is a partial list of some of the relationships between sleep quality and health:
- Cravings for sweet, salty, and starchy food
- Higher levels of the hormone that makes you feel hungry and lower levels of the hormone that controls your appetite
- Higher risk of obesity, colon cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and dementia
- Lower immunity
- Greater risk for irritability, anxiety, and forgetfulness
Setting up Sleep-Positive Routines
Getting more sleep should be part of establishing positive routines and maintaining them until they become habits. Although sleep hygiene is usually thought of as the set of bedtime-related actions that promote high-quality sleep, it starts when you get out of bed.
During the day, you should:
- Get up at the same time, including weekends, and even if you didn’t sleep well.
- Prioritize daily activity. There is evidence that exercise promotes sleep, although there is debate as to how late in the day you can do vigorous exercise without it keeping you awake. Some people are okay with exercising right before bedtime, while others find it too stimulating. The best advice is to pay attention to your exercise and sleep patterns, listen to your body, and do what works for you.
- Avoid taking naps during the day to ensure you’re tired at bedtime.
- Get exposure to natural light. Light helps support your circadian rhythm and your body cycles by signalling your brain that it’s time to get up (or time to stay awake).
- Set aside time for problem-solving so that you’re not mulling these over at bedtime. Some sleep experts suggest journaling or writing your thoughts in a diary before bedtime as a strategy to release these thoughts before sleeping.
In your bedroom, it’s best to:
- Use your bed only for sleep and sex. Don’t watch TV, catch up on your social media, study, or eat in bed. The key is to build an association between your bed and sleeping. You should get out of bed if you’re having trouble falling asleep. Do something else in another place until you feel tired enough to return to your bedroom.
- Declutter so that the space is soothing and not overstimulating.
- Outfit your bed with good quality sheets, and ensure you have a comfortable mattress and pillow.
- Make sure the space is dark by dimming the lights, putting up blackout curtains, or using a sleep mask. Light interferes with the production of melatonin, a hormone that controls your cycles of sleep and wakefulness. Melatonin levels are higher at night, and they signal the body that it’s time to go to sleep.
- Turn down the temperature a few degrees. Your body temperature goes down when you sleep, so the cooler air will help you settle in and fall asleep.
- Keep things quiet. Turn off anything that’s making loud noise, or wear earplugs. You can also try a low-volume soothing noise like a fan or a white noise machine or one of the many apps with calming music or gentle dialogue to relax you.
- Experiment with calming scents such as lavender.
- Keep a notebook and pen next to your bed so that if unsettling thoughts arise, you can write them down.
At bedtime, you should:
- Keep your bedtime routine consistent: go to bed at the same time every day, and do things in the same order (i.e., put on pyjamas, brush your teeth) to reinforce to your mind that it’s bedtime.
- Use your notebook to make a to-do list for the next day or to journal your thoughts. Studies have revealed that daily journaling before bed can reduce worry and stress and increase sleep quality and time.
- Unplug from electronics 30-60 minutes before you plan to go to sleep.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks for at least 4 hours before going to sleep.
- Avoid nicotine for at least 2 hours.
- Cut down on alcohol in the evening. It may relax you enough to fall asleep, but you’ll wake up when the effect wears off.
- Do something relaxing such as meditation, gentle stretching, tai chi, restorative yoga, or listen to a relaxation CD or app.
How to Proceed with your Sleep Hygiene Plan
This list of recommendations for getting a good night’s sleep may seem overwhelming, but you don’t have to implement all these things at once. Changing your patterns of sleep and wakefulness is difficult, so start small and add elements to your routine as you get more comfortable with the ones that have become habitual.
Customize your routine: there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for better sleep. For example, people who spend a lot of time in busy cities may find silence unsettling and need white noise to fall asleep. Try things out and see what works for you.
If you’ve established a good routine but you’re still having problems getting to sleep, consult with your doctor. Sleep hygiene is often the first thing a doctor will recommend for insomnia, but it may not resolve the problem. You should investigate any other issues impacting your sleep quality.
Go easy on yourself and prioritize giving your mind and body the daily rest it needs.
- 1 https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/how-many-hours-of-sleep-are-enough/faq-20057898
- 2 https://www.thelancet.com/journals/eclinm/article/PIIS2589-5370(21)00196-6/fulltext#seccesectitle0034
- 3 https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-effects-of-sleep-deprivation
- 4 https://www.cpp.ca/blog/reclaim-control-5-tips-for-achieving-better-work-life-balance/
- 5 https://www.cpp.ca/blog/top-5-health-and-wellness-benefits-of-biking/
- 6 https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/exercising-for-better-sleep
- 7 https://www.healthline.com/health/sleep/best-temperature-to-sleep
- 8 https://www.cpp.ca/blog/train-your-brain-7-mental-health-apps-for-2021/
- 9 https://www.healthgrades.com/right-care/sleep-disorders/journaling-before-bed-can-help-ward-off-sleeplessness