What is sleep hygiene?
When you climb into bed, does it take forever to fall asleep? Or are you out like a light the minute your head hits the pillow only to wake up at 2am, tossing and turning? If one of these describes you, you're in good company. Or maybe not so good, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than a third of Americans aren't getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep needed for our overall health and well-being.
Here's the happy news: Getting good sleep is more accessible than you might imagine. Your routines and behaviours during the day, and especially before bedtime, can affect the quality of your rest. Replacing activities and habits that can disrupt your sleep with science-backed healthy sleep practices can mean the difference between a restful night and a restless one.
Healthy habits that encourage better sleep, to help you stay refreshed and aware during the day, are called sleep hygiene.
What are the benefits of good sleep hygiene?
Here's what it feels like: You're alert all day long - from the time you wake up through a seemingly endless afternoon meeting, right up to your (hopefully regular) bedtime - which we'll adress in the tips below. You're more focused, more productive, more present.
Good sleep hygiene sets the stage for a restful night when your body heals and restores itself. Getting quality sleep is important for your health: it strengthens your immune system, helps you maintain a healthy weight, and lowers your risk of serious health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Good sleep can improve your mood and even your memory. While you sleep, your brain forms new pathways to help you remember information. Whether you're learning new computer skills or studying a new subject at school, restful sleep supports better comprehension and problem-solving skills.
When you sleep better, you feel better, and you're kinder to others.
Research shows that after a goodnight's sleep, you're likely to feel less anxious and more confident. There are so many ways that sleeping well makes your life immeasurably better. And proper sleep hygiene can help that happen.
11 tips for proper sleep hygiene
The term "sleep hygiene" can be a bit misleading, as it doesn't include washing your face or brushing your teeth before bed - but remember to do those things, too! Here are the proper sleep hygiene practices that create ideal conditions for a healthy, restful sleep:
- Set a consistent sleep schedule: Topping sleep specialists' lists - and hardest for many people - is keeping a regular sleep schedule. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, give or take 20 minutes, including weekends. Creating a sleep framework sets the body's internal clock to expect to rest at a certain time each day. Contrary to what might seem logical, even if you haven't slept well during the night, it's best not to allow yourself to sleep in later the next morning. Getting up at your usual time will heighten your "sleep drive", and help you sleep better the following night.
- Create a relaxing bedtime/pre-bedtime routine: Whether it's a warm bath, reading a book, listening to Headspace sleepcasts, nature sounds, sleep music, or meditating, any relaxing activity about an hour before bed helps create a bridge/transition between wakefulness and sleep.
- Keep your room cool, and comfy/comfortable: The ideal room for sleeping is cool, quiet and dark. Studies show that a bedroom temperature of around 65 degrees Fahrenheit is most conductive to healthy, restful sleep. Your mattress and pillows should feel really comfy, allowing your body to settle down and relax.
- Dim the lights after dark: Getting enough natural light during the day is important for keeping your circadian rhythm, or body clock, on a healthy sleep-wake cycle. Bright light from lamps and electronics at night, however, can mess that cycle up, making it harder to fall asleep. That's because light, especially blue light from your laptop or cell phone, interferes with the release of melatonin, a hormone that tells our body that it's time to wind down. Think about dimming the lights at home after you finish dinner, or once you get into bed. And, of course...
- ...unplug an hour before bed: You've probably heard this a million times, but it's worth repeating: Screens and sleep are incompatible. Keeping screen use to a minimum, at least an hour before bed, is essential for sound sleep. Besides the light disrupting your body clock, games, videos, work, emails, and social feeds all conspire to keep your mind active - and keep you awake way later than you should be.
What are the signs of poor sleep hygiene?
The most obvious signs of poor sleep hygiene are trouble falling asleep, disrupted sleep, and - of course - feeling fatigued and foggy throughout the day. Sleep deprivation slows our reflexes, sabotages decision-making and saps creativity. A recent study showed that failing to get enough sleep can also make us feel anxious and sad. The study linked sleep deprivation to problems diverting our attention away from negative thoughts and ideas, which may put us at greater risk for depression.
A lovely video from Headspace
Example video on sleep meditation
Resources from Headspace website.