Sleep hygiene – What is sleep hygiene?
Did you know there is a term for your bedtime rituals and nightly habits? It is called sleep hygiene. Whether you practice good or bad sleep hygiene is up to you. But if you want to get a better sleep every night, the answer often begins with improving your sleep hygiene.
Sleep hygiene is the rituals, behavior, and norms you follow around sleep are referred to as sleep hygiene. Following a regular sleep schedule and avoiding caffeine late at night are examples of good sleep hygiene. Improvements in sleep hygiene offer an easy win in the search for better sleep and should be the first thing you go after when sleep troubles show up. In fact, sleep hygiene education is an essential part of the cognitive-behavioral therapy used to treat insomnia.
Sleep hygiene – why is sleep hygiene important?
Good sleep hygiene ensures you consistently enjoy good and quality sleep and get a night of restful sleep for a sufficient amount of time each night. Bad sleep habits, on the other hand, lead to poor quality and inadequate sleep.
You already know sleep is vital to our overall well-being. Quality sleep on a regular basis is critical to maintaining balanced mental, emotional, as well as physical health. It helps you stay focused during the day, regulate your mood, and feel more productive and functional on a daily basis.
Sleep hygiene – What is good sleep hygiene?
The most important elements of sleep hygiene require the following from your bedroom.
Follow these simple tips to establish healthy sleep habits:
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Get up at the same time every day, even on weekends or during vacations. Go to bed at the same time every night as well.
- Set a bedtime that is early enough for you to get at least 7 hours of sleep.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine.
- Use your bed only for sleep and sex
- Don’t go to bed unless you are sleepy.
- Make your bedtime quiet and relaxing. Keep the room at a comfortable, cool temperature.
- Limit exposure to bright light in the evening
- Turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime
- Don’t eat a large meal before bedtime. If you are hungry at night, eat a light, healthy snack
- Avoid caffeinated drinks in the late afternoon or evening
- Avoid consuming alcohol before bedtime.
- Reduce fluid intake before bedtime, to avoid bathroom breaks during the night.
- Make sure your room has the right darkness, the darker the better.
- Avoid playing music before bed the quieter, the better
Sleep hygiene – Hygiene checklist
Most of us can benefit from improving at least one aspect of our sleep hygiene. Consider the following tips your guide to getting a good night’s sleep.
Sleep hygiene checklist #1 – Know how much sleep you need.
If you are going to change your sleep habits to ensure you get enough sleep, it is helpful to start by knowing exactly what enough is. Throughout our lives, our sleep needs change, but as a general rule, adults in good health typically require 7 to 7 and a half hours of sleep. Infants, children, and adolescents need more to differing extents. You can find out how much sleep you need here.
|Older adults, 65+ years||7-8 hours sleep|
|Adults, 26-64 years||7 to 9 hours of sleep|
|Young adults, 18- 25 years||7 to 9 hours of sleep|
|Teenagers, 14 to 17 years||8 to 10 hours of sleep|
|School-age children, 6 to 13 years||8 to 10 hours of sleep|
|Preschool children, 3 to 5 years||10 to 13 hours of sleep|
|Toddlers, 1 to 2 years||11 to 14 hours of sleep|
|Infants, 4 to 11 months||12 to 15 hours of sleep|
|Newborns, 0 to 3 months||14 to 17 hours of sleep|
As with anything regarding sleep, it is important to differentiate between normal sleep and sleep disorder. Typically those that fall into either a short or long sleeper do not complain of or experience negative effects from their sleeping patterns. If negative side effects occur, consider talking to your doctor for diagnosis or for further information.
Sleep hygiene checklist #2 – Go to bed the same time every night
Once you know how much sleep you need, set and follow a regular sleep schedule, go to bed at the same time every night and wake up the same time every morning. This might be a challenge the first few nights as your body has yet to get used to early bedtimes. A healthy bedtime is from 9 PM to 10 PM, and wake up time 6 AM to 7 AM. Avoid bedtime procrastination at night, this means no late-night TV shows, house chores, and other stimulating activities before bedtime.
Keep your sleep and wake times consistent throughout the week, even on weekends. Otherwise, you will find yourself experiencing an uncomfortable rebound effect. It is advisable to keep track of your sleep, you can either use a sleep tracker app or device, or keep a sleep diary, and this will ensure you are actually following the sleep schedule you set.
Sleep hygiene checklist #2 – Make sure your room is noise-free
Your bedroom should be as quiet as possible. Some people find absolute silence uncomfortable, in which case a white noise machine can be helpful for calming those anxieties or drowning out noisy neighbors or pipes. There are white noise machines and white noise apps you can easily download for your smartphone is you are not opt to buy a white noise machine. Choose from nature sounds, guided meditation, or classical ambient white noise.
If you live in a noisy neighborhood or apartment building, it is ideal to get one of these white noise machines to block out outside noise. Another sleep device such as sleep pods or earbuds is also great to block out noise.
Sleep hygiene checklist #3 – Keep your room dark and cool
The best temperature for falling asleep is somewhere in the low-to-mid 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Maintaining a consistently cool temperature helps your body thermos-regulate during sleep. Keeping your bedroom dark also keeps it cool, by blocking out heat from sunlight in the morning. More importantly, the darkness convinces your brain that it is still night time. If you live in a very light-polluted area, get an eye mask and blackout curtains to aid in this goal. Small night lights and illuminated clock might okay but for some light-sensitive people may find them bothersome. However, a night light is great to have in your bedroom or perhaps in your bathroom to avoid turning on your main light during bathroom breaks at night. Even short exposure in the middle of the night can make it harder to get back to sleep.
Sleep hygiene checklist #4 –Limit your bed for sex and sleep only
Some people have televisions in their bedrooms, although watching TV right before going to sleep is not a good idea, there are still some people who prefer watching TV to help them sleep. If you are one of these people who like to have the TV on until you fall asleep, make sure to set a timer so it will turn off on its own and you won’t be bothered by sudden noises and won’t be exposed to blue light in the middle of the night.
Looking up close at computer screens and tablets shortly before bed is actually detrimental to sleep. The light from those screen tricks your brain into thinking it is day time again. The problem with these devices is that they all use blue light, the strongest wavelength of light that your brain perceives as sunlight. Besides the intensity of the light, many of these devices find ways to either stress or excite you, whether they ping you with a frustrating work email or happy Facebook notification. Keeping phones at a distance from your sleeping space helps to decrease the temptation to pick them up or check them if they are not directly next to the bed. If sleeping next to the phone or other electronic device is a necessary to turn off notifications or other audible sounds to minimize distractions.
Make it a habit to turn off all electronics an hour before bedtime. That includes TV, computers, phones, e-readers, and tablets. Make your room for only intimate moments and sleep. Keep your web browsing and TV out of the bed and keep it in the living room. This way your body will slowly associate your bedroom with sleep and not stress.
Sleep hygiene checklist #5 – Limit your daytime naps
Pay attention to how much you nap during the day. Sometimes naps are essential for that extra energy boost during the day. However, frequent naps or longer siestas can seriously mess up your bedtime routine. If you do take a nap, limit it to a short power nap of 30 minutes or less. Longer than that, and you risk entering deep sleep, from which you will wake up even groggier than before.
Power naps should be avoided in the late afternoon, it is best to keep naps to early morning or early afternoon.
Sleep hygiene – Limit other substances
Caffeine and alcohol both disrupt sleep. While alcohol can make you feel drowsy and induce sleep initially, it disrupts your sleep in the latter part of the night- preventing you from getting essential amounts of REM and deep sleep. On the other side, caffeine is a stimulant. It amps up your nervous system, so your brain thinks it is time to wake up instead of winding down.
Other substances, like marijuana and nicotine, can also interfere with sleep. If you are a fan of any of these substances, limit your intake to avoid interfering with your sleep. Try to stop using them 4 to 6 hours before you plan on falling asleep.
Sleep hygiene – exercise daily
What you do during the day also affects your sleep, several hours before bedtime can have a great impact on your sleep. Exercise improves your overall health, and it helps physically tire your body by the time bedtime comes.
However, strenuous exercise should be avoided at night, ideally 3 hours before bedtime. Exercise energizes you, and the more awake you are, the harder it is to fall asleep at night.
Sleep hygiene – get enough sunlight
It may seem counterintuitive, given the sleep hygiene tips mentioned above about the importance of sleeping in a dark room, but a daily dose of sunshine can actually help you get better sleep. Our sleep-wake cycle is closely connected to our circadian rhythms. Your brain relies on sunshine during the day to recognize it is time to be awake and active. The more natural light exposure, the more your body stays in tune with the regular day-night rhythms, and your brain learns to associate the darkness that comes in the evening with falling asleep. That is why it is so important to limit your exposure to bright light at night.
Aim to get some sunshine in the morning, pair it with some exercise if you can. It will help you wake up, energize you for the day and make you more tired by bedtime.
Sleep hygiene – Stay calm when you can’t sleep
Even if you put all the sleep hygiene tips into practice, there will still be nights where sleep is a difficult task. When that happens, don’t panic. If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, leave your bedroom and do something relaxing somewhere else. You don’t want your mind to associate your bed with frustration.
Do the same if you wake up during the night and can’t fall back asleep. In either scenario, don’t focus on the time, as it will just cause anxiety. Read a book, sketch, or another calming activity that can be done in low lighting. Make sure you do not turn on your electronics.
Sleep hygiene – Get help if sleeplessness continues
Unfortunately, it is possible that you will implement all these sleep hygiene tips and follow them dutifully, and still not experience any improvements in your sleep. If this is the case, you have a sleep disorder or another health issue that needs addressing, this is the best time to talk to your doctor to address the underlying issue. There might be more to sleeplessness nights and sleep hygiene issues here.