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Just like you take care of your personal hygiene in order to be physically healthy, you should practice good sleep hygiene so that you can be both physically and mentally healthy. Minding your sleep schedule and duration, sleep environment, and your bedtime routine can help your brain to work better and faster, your body to defend from diseases, and hormones and neurotransmitters to be balanced well; keeping your overall energy level high.
When we cut back on sleep during the week and try to catch up on the weekend, when we fall asleep in front of the TV or drink alcohol as a sleep aid, when we sleep with a light on or check social media in bed; we’re showing signs of poor sleep habits. Such behavior will leave us fatigued, groggy, unmotivated, and ill in the long run.
What is sleep hygiene and why is it important?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep hygiene is ‘a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness’.
This means that any behavior that impairs your night’s rest and leaves you sleepy during the day is not ‘hygienic’ for your sleep.
Typically, poor sleep quality means spending too much time in light sleep and too little in the REM (rapid eye movement) and/or deep sleep. REM and deep sleep are two sleep stages important for emotional stability, memory consolidation, productivity, immune system strength, tissue repair, and much more. When they are lacking, a person may experience non-restorative sleep – they may sleep for 8 hours but it will not be good enough.
Cutting back on sleep has severe consequences on the mind and body and they worsen as a person becomes more and more sleep-deprived. It’s important to know how much sleep one needs.
These are some of the consequences of poor or insufficient sleep:
- Emotional instability and anxiety
- Inability to focus and a foggy mind
- Low level of life satisfaction,
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- High blood pressure
- Low level of sex hormones (testosterone in men and estrogen in women)
- Insulin resistance
- Increased appetite
- Circadian rhythm disorders
Some of the long-term consequences include high risk of Alzheimer’s, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and depression; to name a few.
Good sleep hygiene
These are some factors that include desirable behavior prior to sleep, in the morning, and throughout the day.
Keep the same sleep-wake schedule at all times
If you sleep, say, from 12am-8am one day, then 2am-7am the next, and then 1am-11am – you are just confusing your body.
Our inner biological clock – circadian rhythm, relies on light and our life rhythm to ‘tell time’. If we keep changing our sleep schedule, our body will not know how or when to distribute hormones or how to ‘plan out’ our sleep cycles.
Even if we go to bed later than usual we should keep our schedule as regular as possible. Our brains are able to make up for most, if not all, of what we lost in REM and deep sleep. However, research tells us it’s very difficult to regain our attention levels to what they were prior to sleep loss.
Get a proper amount of sleep
Every person has different sleep needs, and you should find out how much sleep you need. Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of nightly rest. If you need less or more than that you should consult a specialist. Older people require about an hour less on average whereas children need more.
You can make a small test – let yourself sleep as much as you want. If you wake up at about the same time as your alarm clock usually goes off then you’re probably fine. But if you happen to sleep for two or three hours more, it could be that your body is desperately making up for the lost sleep. In that case try to allow yourself more sleep time each day. A large number of people believe they are naturally short sleepers, but they are likely to sleep-deprive themselves.
Mind your sleep environment
Your sleep environment includes:
- A good pillow, mattress, breathable linen and a breathable (or no) pajama
- Complete darkness (turn off any LED lights)
- Low room temperature (about 65°F)
- Fresh air (make sure it’s not damp)
Be careful what you consume in the evening
Alcohol relaxes you but it prevents you from reaching deep sleep. Caffeine changes your sleep architecture and delays sleep onset even if drank six hours before sleep, while marijuana has a negative effect on your REM sleep.
Many medications and drugs can interfere with one’s sleep, so ask your doctor when to take your medicine in order to get the most out of your nightly rest.
Strong, fatty, spicy food can lead to late sleep or poor sleep quality. It would be best to have a cup of relaxing tea and a light snack if really hungry.
Create a bedtime routine that will enhance your sleep
Taking a warm shower is relaxing. It can make you sleepy and even increase the amount of time you spend in restorative deep sleep.
Avoid any stressors that can make you more alert – rather try to unwind. Doing your bedtime activities in a particular order will become an association for bed and will allow your brain and body to prepare for sleep.
Avoid artificial light
Artificial blue light from screens and LED lightbulbs has been proven to confuse our circadian rhythm, inhibit the production of melatonin (the sleepiness hormone), and impair the quality of sleep. Even office workers who are exposed to blue light during the day suffer from sleep problems.
Try not to use technology a few hours before bed – one reason lies in the light they emit, and the other one lies in dopamine and stress hormone increase, especially if you use social media.
An increase in dopamine gives you good feelings, but it also means being more alert and ready for action, which is not the state in which you want to be before your sleep time.
Get plenty of sunlight
Just like artificial light has a negative effect on us at night, natural light is an excellent ‘time-giver’ (also called zeitgeber) to our brain. If you expose yourself to morning and afternoon light your body will benefit from the signals that the brain sends out – and they are linked to your circadian rhythm.
This way the natural course of action will be to gradually get more and more sleepy as the night approaches. Light will also give you plenty of energy throughout the day.
- Sleep Hygiene. National Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/sleep-hygiene Accessed April 18, 2019