What is sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is a variety of different practices, habits and environmental factors that determines if you are getting quality sleep and how alert you are in the daytime. You’re in charge of your sleep hygiene and it’s important to have a good one no matter if you are a kid or an adult. A good sleep hygiene routine promotes healthy sleep, daytime alertness and prevents the development of sleep problems and disorders.
Here are four general areas important to sleep hygiene:
1. Circadian Rhythm (24-hour cycle)
A day-night cycle of about 24 hours is called the circadian rhythm. The more stable and consistent your circadian rhythm is, the better your sleep. The body’s alternating sleep-wake cycle is controlled by an internal ‘clock’ within your brain. Your circadian rhythm is not only controlled by biological factors, it’s also influenced by cues from the external environment.
Research has shown that cues from the external environment are very important in determining both the quality of sleep and how long we sleep. One of the most influential cues is the exposure to light. Light has been known to be a signal to our biological rhythm that it’s time to be awake and as a result, majority of the people find it difficult to sleep when they’re in a bright room or have recently been exposed to bright light (like looking at a computer/phone screen). Keeping the circadian rhythm on cycle is very important to restful sleep.
Aging also plays a role in sleep and sleep hygiene. After the age of 40 your sleep patterns change so you have more nocturnal awakenings than in your younger years. Not only does it directly affect your sleep quality, aging also interacts with other conditions that may cause arousal or awakenings, like the withdrawal syndrome that occurs after drinking alcohol close to bed time. The more awakenings you have at night, the more likely you will wake up feeling exhausted.
3. Psychological Stressors
Deadlines, exams, marital conflict, and job crisis are some of the stresses that disrupts your sleep. If you work right before you switch off the lights, you can’t just “flip a switch” and doze off to a blissful night’s sleep. Some people might find that their brain seems to start worrying as soon as the lights go off, regardless of the amount of stress they are experiencing.
If you engage in intellectually or emotionally stimulating activities right before bedtime, you will have difficulty falling asleep even though you’re tired. These type of psychological stressors produces two problems:
- Your brain stays active
- It tends to activate the stress responses of the body, that increases arousal and makes sleep more difficult.
4. Social or Recreational Drugs
Social or recreational drugs like caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol may have a larger impact on your sleep than you realize. Caffeine, which can stay in your system as long as 14 hours, increases the number of times you wake up at night and lowers your sleep time. This may subsequently affect daytime anxiety and performance.
The effects of nicotine are similar to caffeine. Low doses of nicotine can act as a sedative but at high doses, it causes arousals during sleep. Nicotine is a stimulant and should be avoided particularly near bedtime and upon night awakenings. Although having a cigarette before bedtime could be relaxing, you’re actually putting a stimulant into your bloodstream.
Alcohol could make you sleepy but as it’s being digested in your body, it can cause you to be awake for as long as two to three hours after it has been eliminated. Your sleep will be disturbed and you might experience intense dreaming, sweating, and headache. Smoking while drinking caffeine and alcohol also affects your sleep dramatically and can make you feel groggy or hungover the next day.
How Much Sleep Do I Need?
Here are some sleep hygiene tips to help you relax and get better sleep so that you wake up refreshed and alert:
- Avoid watching TV, eating, and discussing emotional issues in bed.
- Minimize noise, light, and high temperatures when trying to fall asleep. Make sure that you’re sleeping in a pleasant and relaxing environment.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time each day.
- Avoid naps during the day.
- Do not exercise vigorously before bedtime.
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol too close to bedtime.
- Take a hot bath 1-2 hours before bedtime.
- Eat right to help you sleep better.
Practicing good sleep hygiene can have a tremendous impact on getting better sleep. You should wake-up feeling refreshed and alert with no feelings of sleepiness during the day. If this is not the case, poor sleep hygiene may be the culprit, but it is very important to consider that you may have an unrecognized sleep disorder.
Sometimes a ‘sleep strategy’ might not work for the first time but it’s normal that you will take a while to get used to the routine. Hang in there and stick with it!
Since it is clear how critical sound sleep is to our health and well-being, if you are not sleeping well, see your doctor or a sleep specialist. If you have tried and failed to improve your sleep, you may like to consider professional help.
Need help to sleep better? We have some articles to help you out:
- How to Get More Sleep
- Say Goodnight to Insomnia: 12 Quick Tips to Fall Asleep
- Stress Management: Dietary, Supplements & Herbs
- Infographic: Which Pillow Helps You Sleep Better?
- Sleeping Late VS Lack Of Sleep – Which Is Worse?
- Are You Taking The Right Snack Before Sleep?