Sleep hygiene is not how clean you are before going to bed!
Sleep hygiene is how to train your body and mind to sleep well. I have personally not been getting the best quality sleep lately. I’m not sure if it’s the change in weather, the gloominess of January, or any of the other everyday factors (diet, lack of routine, drinking, etc.). I’ve been working hard to do what I can to improve my sleep because I know that not getting enough of it can lead to a vicious cycle of constantly being on a different sleep-wake cycle.
Lack of sleep can lead to…
- More sick days due to a weakened immune system
- Higher chances of developing coronary heart disease or having a stroke
- Higher rates of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and prostate cancer
- Brain Fog, Memory loss, slower decision-making, less alert, more forgetful
- Lack of libido
- Weight gain
- Increased risk of Diabetes
- More accident-prone (3x more likely to be involved in a car accident if you get 6 or fewer hours of sleep each night)
- Fine lines, wrinkles, uneven skin color, and looseness of skin
- And more…
In fact, I started noticing my sleep was off when I started getting moody and irritable. I was unable to make it through the whole day at work without eating sugar or a 2nd or 3rd coffee in the afternoon. My mental health was really struggling. Studies show that the most effective way to treat depression is to help people improve the quality or quantity of sleep, and this can happen in about 8 weeks! This is tough to do, especially if you ask someone who has suffered from mental health or sleep issues. It’s like a vicious cycle! Sleep deprivation affects your psychological state and mental health. Those with mental health problems are also more likely to have insomnia or other sleep disorders. So how do you get started on improving your sleep hygiene?
Create a Bedtime routine
Creating a wind-down routine before bed can help the brain associate that with sleep, and therefore fall asleep more easily or faster.
Your routine could look like this:
- Your last snack is at 8pm
- You can change into PJs and brush your teeth around 9pm
- Pray or meditate or deep belly breaths 9:15pm
- Read a book in bed at 9:30pm
- Go to sleep.
I really enjoy a bedtime guided meditation, like the ones provided by Headspace. Visualizations like this one help to soothe the mind and relax the body, creating the ideal condition for healthy and restful sleep.
Keep a schedule
You can set up your entire day to make proper sleep hygiene less of a chore. Think of waking up at the same time each day, especially before or as the sun comes up. This will help you set your circadian rhythm so that you can regulate your sleep. Not only do you want to try to get up at the same time every day, but you want to keep as much of your schedule as consistent as possible. This includes exercise, meals, and other activities.
Try to exercise in the morning or after lunch, when you’re hitting that afternoon slump and are craving another coffee. Working out close to bedtime can alert your nervous system to stay awake. Daytime workouts may work better for your quality and quantity of sleep. Stick to 2-3 meals a day and try not to eat too close to bedtime, as you need about 3 hours to digest your food and settle down for bed.
Dim the lights
Although you want to get light in the morning, as the day goes on, you want to start winding everything down. That includes your lights! The bright light from lamps and electronics at night can mess that cycle up, making it harder to fall asleep. That’s because light, specifically blue light from your devices, interferes with the release of melatonin. This is a hormone that tells our body that it’s time to wind down.
Try dimming the lights at home after you finish dinner, or once you get into bed. If you still want to have lights on, purchasing blue-light blocking glasses could help block the shorter wavelengths that suppress melatonin. The lights in my place are so bright and cool (white), that I decided to get a lamp that has different hues depending on the time of day. In the afternoon, I change the light to a warmer, red spectrum hue so that my body can catch more z’s at night.
Keep it cool
The ideal bedtime setup is a cool, dark, and quiet room. Studies show that a bedroom temperature of around 65 degrees Fahrenheit is most conducive to healthy, restful sleep. Keeping your body from overheating is a great way to slow your heart rate so that you are calm, cool, and collected for a restful snooze. There are some great cooling weighted blankets you can get nowadays that keep you feeling cool while you sleep. Studies show this can reduce anxiety, improve sleep hygiene, and improve your mood! The science behind this is through deep pressure stimulation. It works in two ways: It can increase your levels of serotonin (the happy hormone) and melatonin hormones that help you sleep better. Secondly, it can also decrease cortisol, the stress hormone.
We want to decrease any kind of stimulation before bed that may keep you up past your bedtime. Something we do want to trigger is the autonomic nervous system (ANS). This is the part of the nervous system we don’t consciously control, such as breathing, heartbeat, digestion, and sleep. Some things to avoid before bed are devices like cellphones or TV, loud music or exterior sounds, bright lights, or interruptions mid-sleep. Some great things you can start to incorporate to decrease stimulation are journaling, bubble baths with Epsom salts to relax your muscles, a relaxing candle, a guided meditation (body scan or resting awareness), or reading a fiction novel with a dim light. I personally interchange all of these throughout the week and it’s been so helpful!
Good quality sleep can be hard to get with all the anxiety and uncertainty of the world. You have the power to control certain aspects of your sleep hygiene, and I highly recommend giving it a go. Start with one change and then slowly build on it. Let me know if it helped your quality of sleep!