Understanding and optimising what’s known as “sleep hygiene” can be one of the easiest ways that you can improve the quality and duration of your sleep. In a fast-paced world where productivity and efficiency are prized, sleep often takes a back seat. To maximize the benefits of sleep, the concept of sleep hygiene emerges as a crucial practice.
What is Sleep Hygiene?
Sleep hygiene refers to a series of behavioural and environmental practices that promote healthy sleep and improve overall sleep quality. Just as personal hygiene involves routines to maintain physical cleanliness, sleep hygiene involves cultivating habits to maintain optimal sleep conditions.
The principles of Sleep Hygiene
- Consistent sleep schedule: One of the cornerstones of effective sleep hygiene is maintaining a consistent sleep schedule. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule involves going to bed and waking up at the same times every day, even on weekends. This practice helps regulate the body’s internal clock, enhancing the overall quality of sleep.
- Sleep environment: Creating a comfortable sleep environment involves keeping the bedroom dark, quiet, and at a cool temperature. Investing in a supportive mattress and pillows can also contribute to better sleep quality. Remove any electronic devices that emit light or noise, as these can easily distract us from sleep.
- Screen time: Exposure to electronic screens emitting blue light, such as smartphones and computers, can interfere with the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep and sends signals to the body that it is time for rest. Establishing a screen-free period, at least 1 hour before bedtime, allows the body to wind down Instead, opt for relaxing activities such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practicing gentle yoga.
- Caffeine and alcohol: Caffeinated beverages late in the day can make it harder for you to fall asleep. While alcohol may seem like it helps you to fall asleep, heavy alcohol use significantly disturbs your sleep and robs you of deep and REM sleep.
- Physical activity: Engaging in regular physical activity during the day promotes better sleep. Be careful of intense exercise too close to bedtime, however, as this can have the opposite effect by stimulating the body instead of getting it ready to wind down.
- Stress reduction: Stress and anxiety are some of the leading causes of sleep issues. Incorporating stress-relief techniques into your daily routine, such as meditation, deep breathing, or journaling, can help calm your mind and prepare it for rest. Easier said than done, but making sure that one’s stress is under control is key to restorative sleep.
- Naps: While short daytime naps can be revitalizing, excessive napping or napping too close to bedtime can interfere with nighttime sleep as it decreases what’s known as sleep pressure, making us less sleepy at night when bedtime comes around.
- Sunlight exposure. Daylight is key to regulating daily sleep patterns. Try to get outside in natural sunlight for at least thirty minutes each day, especially in the morning.
Why is Sleep Hygiene important?
Research has shown that cultivating positive habits plays a pivotal role in maintaining good health. Creating sustainable routines can instil healthy behaviours, establishing an ongoing cycle of positive reinforcement.
The fundamental concept of sleep hygiene, which involves optimizing your surroundings and habits to enhance sleep quality, is applicable to just about everyone, but what ideal sleep hygiene looks like can vary based on the person. For that reason, it’s worth testing out different method to find out what helps you the most. For some people it might be limiting caffeine and screen time, but for others it might be engaging in regular physical activity, or both! It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to change everything at once; small steps can make a big difference towards better sleep.
It’s also crucial to note that improving sleep hygiene is not a magic bullet and won’t always resolve sleeping problems. People who have sleep disorders (such as insomnia or obstructive sleep apnoea) may benefit from better sleep hygiene, but other treatments are usually necessary as well.