How to Cultivate Good Sleep Hygiene
Sleep is one of the most important functions our bodies have. Sleep not only gives our bodies and brains time to rest, but it also allows us to process and store memories, improves our immune function, and it can lower the risk of heart disease. However, our culture is one that does not really value rest or relaxation, so good sleep is often a sacrifice people make in favor of work, school, family, hobbies, or socializing. It’s understandable – there are only so many hours in a day, and you want to make the most of them! However, long term sleep deprivation can lead to a range of problems, like trouble concentrating, accidents, heart disease, stroke, inability to solve problems, mood changes, irritability, lower sex drive, and increased risk for mental health issues like depression. Most of us are stuck in our bad sleep habits, but luckily it’s possible to change our sleep hygiene habits.
Boiled down, sleep hygiene is a term used to describe the behaviors, rituals, and habits you go through before bed. It’s basically your sleep routine. Good sleep hygiene is important because it can allow for more routine, restful sleep. Turning off screens, avoiding caffeine, and ensuring a comforting bedtime environment are all ways to promote good sleep hygiene. On the other hand, staying up all night, having no sleep routine, or drinking anything with caffeine right before bed would be examples of poor sleep hygiene.
You might not even be aware that you have poor sleep hygiene, because you’re so used to being chronically tired. Signs of poor sleep hygiene include:
- Frequently waking up throughout the night
- Taking longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep
- Spending the majority of your time in bed awake (not asleep)
- Unrestful sleep (frequent tossing & turning, waking up without feeling rested)
If you’re looking for ways to improve your sleep hygiene, here are some things to try:
Make a sleep schedule
Even if you feel like you don’t need a set bedtime, it can be helpful to have some structure to your day so you can be prepared for what’s coming. Try to go to bed at the same time every day (give or take 20 minutes or so), even on the weekends, so your body gets used to consistent, regular sleep. Set a time when you start your nighttime routine and do it every night. Similarly, set a time when your daytime routine begins, and keep to it consistently. Your body and mind will get used to the routine, as you engage in your regular bedtime practices, your brain will take it as a signal that it is time to rest.
Rethink your routine
Whether you realize it or not, you have a sleep routine. Even if it’s just to move from the couch to the bed after snoozing to Netflix, you somehow make your way to bed most nights. Setting up a routine that is designed to improve your sleep is valuable. A routine helps to give you a bridge between awake time and sleep time, so it signals to your body that it’s rest mode. Don’t try to overhaul your entire routine at once, but make small changes one at a time until you’re used to them, then move on to the next. A sleep routine could include things like a bath or shower, skincare routine, slow stretches, meditation, a cup of decaffeinated tea, listening to calming music, reading, or anything else that relaxes you.
Unplug (no, really)
You’ve probably heard that it’s helpful to stay away from screens before bed, because of the blue light from our devices and their addictive nature. It sounds like boring, unrealistic advice, but it really is helpful to avoid screens and social media before bedtime. Not only will you probably feel more relaxed than if you were scrolling through social media, but you will also be avoiding the blue light and signaling to your brain that it’s bedtime.
Avoid some foods/drinks at certain times
Some food + drinks can have a negative effect on sleep, like spicy foods, citrus, fried food, or anything with caffeine in it. It can be helpful to avoid these kinds of food + drink for a few hours before bed so you are more comfortable sleeping. However, don’t feel the need to police your food and drink too much if that can lead you toward disordered eating behaviors. In general, try to avoid caffeine late in the day, or at least for 6 hours before you go to sleep. It’s also a good idea to avoid foods that cause you indigestion, as that can interrupt sleep. Alcohol can make the sleep you do get more restless, so it’s also helpful to avoid before bedtime.
Use your bed for sleep and sex only
If you struggle with your sleep, laying in bed wishing you could fall asleep can make it worse. Ruminating on your lack of sleep doesn’t do anything helpful, so if you find yourself tossing and turning frequently in bed or unable to sleep, get out of bed. Go to another room and try reading a book or meditating until you feel sleepy enough to try bed again. But sitting in your bed, fretting over the sleep you aren’t getting only makes you feel anxious, not more well-rested.
Good sleep hygiene helps to promote better, more restful sleep which in turn allows for ample rest & recuperation time for your body and brain. With this, you can be more alert during the day, boost your productivity and your creativity, and improve both mental and physical health. It can take some time to build up good sleep hygiene, but remember that you deserve to feel well rested. If you need some guidance when creating your sleep routine, our counselors can help you come up with a routine that’s specific to you and your needs.
-Brice N Sanner, LMFT