Sleep hygiene refers to a variety of practices with the common goal of improving one’s quality, quantity, and timing of sleep. American psychologist Nathan Kline originally coined the term in 1946, but its meaning is more relevant than ever today. Below we’ll be sharing why everyone should incorporate sleep hygiene into their daily routines.
My colleague Beti inspired me to delve into the concept of sleep hygiene a few years ago. She was involved in many projects that kept her awake well into the night as a company manager. But after being on the go so much during the day, she couldn’t understand why she wasn’t sleeping at night. She was so exhausted that she should have been dozing off as soon as her face hit the pillow, but it never seemed to happen.
She filled her bedroom with things she thought would help her doze off. Her crocheting tools, her laptop, and her remote control were by her bedside at all times. She thought these calming activities should send sleepy triggers to her brain, but they would only keep her up longer.
“It would take me forever to sleep, then I would wake up and not be able to go back to sleep,” says Beti. “I had problems going to sleep, and I had problems staying awake.”
I’m sure many of us feel like we’re living in Beti’s shoes – or should we say sheets? Quality sleep is hard to come by if you don’t understand the science behind it, which is why learning about sleep hygiene is so important. Below we’ll be sharing everything you need to know about this game-changing sleep wellness practice.
What is sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is a behavioral and environmental practice developed to help people overcome sleep disorders, and reap the rejuvenating benefits of sleep.
It suggests that, by creating a sleep-inducing environment and engaging in calming activities, we can have the nourishing sleep we deserve night after night. On the other hand, poor sleep hygiene can lead to problems such as insomnia, poor concentration, and poor overall health. That’s why establishing a sleep hygiene routine is beneficial for everyone.
Sleep hygiene tips
Maintain a regular sleep routine
Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, give or take 20 minutes. Yes, that includes weekends or other days off. As tempting as it is to sleep in if you have the time, staying in bed longer on certain days throws your body’s natural sleep cycle out of whack. You can train your mind to switch off more easily if you stick to the same schedule.
Avoid daytime naps
Naps can feel amazing, but it’s best to avoid them. You may have noticed that you have trouble falling asleep at night if you take a nap during the day. This is because naps decrease the “sleep debt” that is so necessary for easy onset sleep. Each of us needs a certain amount of sleep every day, and naps take away from that amount. They can cause sleep fragmentation and difficulty initiating sleep, which may lead to insomnia and sleep deprivation.
If you must nap, try to do it before 2:30 P.M and for no longer than 20-30 minutes.
Don’t stay in bed if you can’t fall asleep
If you find your mind racing during the middle of the night, get out of bed and find another place to relax. Move to a couch, chair, or another comfortable surface and let your brain do its thing. Try to avoid turning on your phone, TV, or laptop during this period, as the intense light will stimulate your brain and make it harder to fall asleep. Return to bed only once you’ve calmed down.
It’s ok if you find yourself waking up several times throughout the night. Stick to your planned wakeup time, and eventually your brain will learn to switch off as you stick to your sleep hygiene routine.
Don’t watch TV, scroll on your phone, or use your computer in bed
Sleep hygiene recommends that your bed should only be used for sleep and relaxing activities. That way, your brain will instantly go into wind-down mode once you lie down. Our brains have a tendency to associate specific environments with moods and feelings; this is why you might feel more stimulated and productive at the office, and more chilled out at the beach.
And even though watching videos or scrolling through social media may seem like calming activities, the blue light emitted from electronic screens stimulates wakefulness and can adversely affect your circadian rhythm. You can reduce the impact of blue light by investing in blue light-blocking glasses and wearing them throughout the day, especially in the final few hours before bed.
Drink caffeinated drinks with caution
The stimulating effect of caffeine lasts for several hours after ingestion. In fact, research shows that it can take as long as 10 hours to fully leave your system! Caffeine can fragment sleep, and cause difficulty initiating sleep. Try to stick to caffeinated drinks before noon only. There are plenty of great decaf options for you to enjoy in the afternoon and evening.
Invite in fresh air
Crack a window to make sure you have plenty of fresh air. If you want to avoid a draft, use an air purifier that removes bacteria and odors from the room air.
Relax before bedtime
Creating a relaxing routine to unwind before bed tells the body that it is time for sleep. This is your invitation to indulge in some soothing self-care: light a candle, take a bath, do some light yoga or stretches … your mind and body will thank you!
Prepare your body during the day
What you do during the day will impact how well you sleep at night. The following activities are known to promote better sleep:
- Get natural light in the morning upon waking – this can be as simple as stepping onto a balcony if you don’t have time for a walk
- Engage in exercise during the day (avoid vigorous workouts at least 4 hours before bed)
- Avoid eating 2-3 hours before bed so your body can focus on sleep instead of digestion
- Aim to maintain daytime activities, so your evenings can be dedicated to relaxing
A good sleep hygiene routine helps you fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and wake up feeling more refreshed.
We hope we have inspired you to find new strategies that will help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer so that your mind and body can rest as they need to!