Why is good sleep hygiene important?
Getting good, regular sleep is important for mental and physical health1, while good sleep hygiene ensures you get a better, more restful night’s sleep.
When we have a good night’s sleep, we feel more energised, more productive, happier and feeling at our best. Sleep hygiene also plays an important role in maintaining our health and preventing the development of chronic conditions associated with poor sleep, such as cardiovascular disease, stoke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers2.
What is sleep hygiene?
You’d be surprised how often we get asked if good sleep hygiene means cleaning yourself before bed. It’s understandable when we think of the standard definition of the word ‘hygiene’.
Despite the fact that having a hot bath or shower before bed can help relax our body3 for a better night’s sleep, sleep hygiene doesn’t refer to cleanliness.
Instead, it’s a term that refers to the rituals, habits, behaviours and norms you do to help you sleep. Making improvements in sleep hygiene and sleep habits are usually the first step recommended when you’re having trouble sleeping4.
What are the signs of bad sleep hygiene?
When we have bad habits that are not conducive to a good sleep, it can be felt in many ways during our daily lives. Some of the possible signs of poor sleep hygiene include5.
- Trouble getting to sleep
- Trouble staying asleep
- Daytime sleepiness
- Mood changes
- Trouble concentrating
- Low energy
- Lack of motivation
- Memory problems
When we have bad habits or bad sleep hygiene, we’re doing things that are going to impact both the quality and quantity of sleep we get. Here, we explain some examples of bad sleep hygiene.
You find yourself clockwatching
Have you ever found yourself staring at a clock in your bedroom, either when you’re trying to fall asleep, or when you wake in the middle of the night? This bad habit can increase stress3, making it more difficult to fall asleep. If this is something you’re doing regularly, it might be helpful to actually turn the clock away from you and try to not focus on the time.
Are you trying to force sleep?
Have you ever found yourself squeezing your eyes shut, willing sleep to come, but all that happens is that you become more frustrated by each minute that passes? If you’re not falling asleep within 20 minutes, it’s often helpful to get out of bed, go to another room in the house and do something that relaxes you.
Top tip: find an activity that bores you, then head to bed when you feel tired.
Bedtime eating habits
Our eating habits can wreak havoc with our sleep. Heavy or rich foods, fatty or fried meals, spicy dishes, citrus fruits, and even carbonated drinks can trigger indigestion for some.
When this happens close to bedtime, it can lead to painful heartburn that disrupts sleep6. Consequently, going to bed hungry can also disturb your sleep7. If you do find yourself hungry in the evening, it may be more helpful to eat foods that are known to promote sleep, like cereal or a banana8.
Stressful or strenuous activities too close to bedtime
Ever found yourself sitting in bed with your laptop or paperwork in your lap, trying to cram in that last piece of work before a deadline?
Perhaps, you spent the evening in the gym, trying to find time for the workout you missed earlier that day?
Doing strenuous or stressful activities with 3 hours of bedtime can also disrupt your sleep3.
Watching TV or mobile devices in bed
Did you know, the bright light from your electronic devices trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime again. The problem with these devices is the blue light they use, it’s the strongest wavelength of light and is perceived as sunlight by your brain9. Try to stop using these devices an hour before you head to sleep.
Napping during the day
Many people make naps a regular part of their day. Though it’s not recommended for those who find falling asleep or staying asleep through the night problematic.
If you’re going to nap, it’s recommended that you limit it to a short power nap of 30 minutes or less7. Taking a nap that’s longer than 30 minutes risks entering the deep sleep stage, which will lead you to wake up groggier than you were before you drifted off.
Sleep hygiene tips to help you improve your quality of sleep
The majority of advice surrounding sleep hygiene is based on a common-sense approach to getting enough rest. However, we’re all individuals with different needs, so there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution.
To get better sleep, it’s important to find your own individual way of sleeping that works for you. There are 3 general principles to getting better sleep:
- Quiet mind
- Relaxed body
- A sleep friendly environment
What can help to quiet the mind & relax my body?
It’s simple to say that you need a quiet mind and relaxed body to get the best sleep, but it can be more difficult to achieve this in reality if you don’t know the best way to go about it.
Here, we offer some advice and tips to help you hush the noise and calm the body.
Know how much sleep you need
Do you know how many hours of sleep you need each night? If you’re going to change your habits to ensure you get enough sleep, it’s important to start by learning how much sleep you really need. There’s no hard and fast rule for this, though there are recommended windows of sleep based on your age. In short, get the amount of sleep that makes you feel refreshed when you wake up.
Establish a regular routine for when you go to bed & wake up
When you know how much sleep you need, it helps to set a regular, consistent routine so you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. A routine isn’t just for children, it’s been shown to improve sleep quality for adults too10.
Build in relaxing rituals that prepare your mind for sleep
Following the same set of activities each night before bed psychologically trains your brain to recognise when it’s bedtime. Your bedtime routine should be relaxing, the goal is to wind your mind and body down for sleep.
Your bedtime routine could include any manner of activities, such as:
- Taking a warm bath
- Mindfulness awareness practices11
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Deep breathing
Don’t take your problems to bed with you
Worrying may interfere with sleep or cause shallow sleep. Try and plan some time earlier in the evening to work on problems or plan for the next day. Some people may use a to-do list to manage their concerns or find time to write down problems which can be parked and dealt with at a more convenient time.
Limit or avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine before bedtime
Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants, so can often cause difficulty in falling asleep, staying asleep or only allow you shallow sleep7.
Alcohol on the other hand is well-known for helping you fall asleep faster, though too much close to bedtime can disrupt sleep in the second half of the night as the body begins to process the alcohol6.
Exercising to promote good quality sleep
As little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise, like walking or cycling can drastically improve sleep quality.
It’s good practice to keep away from strenuous workouts close to bedtime. However, the effect of intense evening exercise on sleep does differ from person to person, so be sure to understand what works best for you and your body3.
Get out in the sun
Exposure to natural light during the day, as well as darkness at night, helps to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle. A study of people working in office buildings found that those in windowless environments tended to experience poorer sleep quality than those who got to see the sun during the workday12.
Keep a sleep diary
If you’re trying to make sense of what changes are positively affecting your sleep, it might be worth keeping a sleep diary. In this, you can document your nightly routine, how many hours of sleep you got and how you felt each morning when you wake up.
How can I create a sleep friendly environment?
There are four key elements to creating an environment ideal for sleep:
- Sleeping surface: Choose a mattress and pillow that’s comfortable for you
- Temperature: A cool, well ventilated room between 16-18℃ is optimal for sleep13
- Darkness: Too much light, right before bedtime may prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. A study recently found that exposure to unnatural light cycles may have consequences for our health – including an increased risk of depression14
- Quiet: A noisy environment can make it difficult to fall asleep and maintain a restful night. Noises like traffic, pets and even a snoring partner can disrupt our sleep. Ear plugs might be helpful to block out some of this noise pollution
Good sleep hygiene can be different for each person and it can change over time. Finding an optimal sleep routine doesn’t mean that this will stay the same for you over the years.
Sometimes, issues like pain or sickness can cause sleep deprivation and shake up your sleep routine from week to week.
Try to experiment to find the sleep habits and behaviours that give you a better night’s sleep.
- The Effects of Sleep Deprivation – Johns Hopkins Medicine
- Sleep: A Health Imperative – Sleep (Volume 35, Issue 6)
- Twelve simple tips to improve your sleep – Healthy Sleep Harvard
- Use of sleep hygiene in the treatment of insomnia – Sleep Medicine Reviews (Volume 7, Issue 3)
- Inadequate sleep hygiene – American Sleep Association
- Sleep hygiene – Sleep Foundation
- Sleep hygiene: An information guide – NHS
- Foods that help you sleep better – Tuck Sleep
- Light, sleep, and circadian rhythms: Together again – Derk-Jan Dijk, Simon N.Archer
- A nightly bedtime routine: Impact on sleep in young children and maternal mood – Sleep (Volume 32, Issue 5)
- Mindfulness meditation & improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances – JAMA Internal medicine
- Impact of windows and daylight exposure on overall health and sleep quality of office workers: A case-control pilot study – Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine
- Perfect sleep environment – The Sleep Council
- Lights out for a good night’s sleep – Sleep Foundation
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