You’ve probably heard that sleep is one of the most important things you can do to stay healthy and be able to think clearly. But did you know that getting the best sleep possible doesn’t have to be left to chance? “Sleep hygiene” is the practice of forming habits and making choices that can improve the quality of your sleep. Just like you can form habits to eat well or avoid getting sick, there are things you can do to get a good night’s sleep!
General Sleep Hygiene
- Make sure that you go to bed with enough time to get at least seven hours of sleep all at once. Eight or nine hours is even better!
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends or days off. Your body will tend to feel less tired during the day if it always keeps a consistent pattern.
- Sleep in a comfortable environment. Sleep on a comfortable bed and pillow with clean sheets. Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and relaxing and is kept at a comfortable temperature. Minimize disturbances like noise, pets, and dust or other allergens.
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine, a set of activities you’ll do in the same order every night before bed. This could be brushing your teeth and changing into pajamas in addition to something extra like a few minutes of reading or a small cup of herbal tea.
Preparing for Sleep
- The effects of caffeine can keep you awake for up to six hours after you consume it, so you should avoid products with caffeine (coffee, soft drinks, tea, chocolate, energy drinks, etc.) in the afternoons and especially in the evenings.
- Stay away from naps for at least six hours before you plan to go to bed. While a short nap can sometimes be helpful to keep us going through the day, a longer nap or a nap too close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep patterns and end up making you more tired.
- Turn off bright lights and electronics (computer, TV, video games, smartphone, etc.) at least a full hour before bedtime. A darker environment without artificial light will signal to your brain that it’s night time and help you produce the proper hormones to rest well.
- Avoid eating or drinking too much close to bedtime. Too much liquid can mean waking up through the night to use the bathroom. And eating too close to bedtime (especially foods that are fatty, spicy, or fried) can give you an upset stomach. If you need it, however, a small healthy snack or a few sips of water can be helpful.
- Avoid nicotine and alcohol in the evening. Both of them can cause snoring or make sleep apnea worse. In addition, even though alcohol may help you feel drowsy, it can also cause unpleasant nightmares or vivid dreams and cause you to sleep less deeply and less continuously throughout the night.
- Exercising for at least thirty minutes most days of the week can help you sleep better (in addition to all of its other health benefits). Do remember, though, that you should avoid vigorous exercise for two or three hours before going to bed.
- Keep your bed reserved for sleeping, and don’t use it for other activities like watching TV, reading, or listening to music.
- While it is good to have a consistent bedtime, you should also try to sleep only when you are tired. If you try to go to bed and can’t fall asleep after twenty or thirty minutes, get up and do something relaxing in another room, then return to bed when you feel tired.
- Consider keeping pets out of the bedroom at night, particularly if they are disrupting your sleep.
- Check your medications to see if any of them can affect sleep. Talk to your doctor if you think a medication may be disrupting your ability to get a good night’s rest.
Depending on your circumstances, some of the tips in these lists may be difficult or impossible for you to implement. But follow these suggestions as you are able. Even making a few of these changes can improve your sleep which can then improve your overall health and wellness.
Sources and Further Reading:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov/sleep/
Healthy Sleep in Adults—American Thoracic Society https://www.thoracic.org/patie...
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/healt...
National Sleep Foundation http://sleepfoundation.org http://drowsydriving.org
Sleep Education—American Academy of Sleep Medicine www.sleepeducation.com/