Sleep hygiene is a phrase coined by experts to describe a collection of habits. These habits should be implemented in order to achieve good quality sleep. When I first started having issues with my sleep, I thought that I had a fairly good understanding of these concepts. As it turns out, my knowledge only scratched the surface of this complex subject. I decided to throw myself into researching this topic in order to heal myself and piece my life back together.
Following this advice on a daily basis can help to improve both the duration and quality of our sleep. After reading many such articles myself I found that good sleep hygiene really does make a big difference. Knowing we are taking steps to help ourselves can reduce any anxiety we might have surrounding sleep.
Below I have compiled a list of what I believe are the key points one should follow when trying to improve their sleep. I have also provided links to further information on the points which I feel need to be discussed in more detail. So here we are, eight simple steps for better sleep:
- Limit your exposure to screens – here I am referring to iPads, smartphones and televisions. Screens keep our brains wired and alert, preventing us from switching off. In the hour before you go to bed try to avoid looking at screens of any kind. I would even suggest that using ‘night shift’ mode is not enough. Just go cold turkey and avoid screens altogether. This will also give you time to take part in other activities such as reading prior to going to bed.
- Use the bedroom for sleep and sex only – all other activities should be banned from the bedroom. Sitting on our beds working or surfing the internet are common examples of where we go wrong in this respect. Your bedroom should be your sanctuary. It should be a place that your mind associates with going to sleep.
- Have a set bedtime – we are creatures of habit; it makes us feel safe and secure. Going to bed at the same time every day allows our hormones to regulate themselves. Hormones such as cortisol and melatonin send signals to our body to tell us when to wake up and when to go to sleep. Also, actually going to bed is important rather than just falling asleep wherever we are. For example, it is not uncommon for people with poor sleep to stay up in an armchair in the living room and then fall asleep there during the night. This is detrimental as the association between bed and sleep becomes lost to our minds.
- Wake up at the same time every day – this is equally as important as going to bed at a set time. We should all try to avoid sleeping in of a morning as this will affect our ability to fall asleep the next night. This is a common problem at the weekends. ‘Sunday night insomnia’ is the phenomenon of not being able to fall asleep on a Sunday evening after a lie-in on a Sunday morning. This has the knock-on effect of causing tiredness on Mondays, which is no-one’s favourite day in any case. We don’t want to risk starting off the week on the wrong foot.
- Avoid napping – again, similar to the point above. We are trying to create a sleep routine and napping will interfere with this. Sleeping during the day to compensate for a bad night will cause problems when bedtime comes around in the evening.
- Create a bedtime routine – In my opinion this may be the most important point of all. Developing a set of actions which we carry out every night before bed can trigger our minds and bodies to get ready for sleep. Such a routine will be different depending on the individual so it is important that we come up with our own. For more information see my post ‘Improving Your Sleep: The Importance of Developing a Bedtime Routine’.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks – when we are having trouble sleeping it is best to avoid caffeine altogether. If we do feel the need to indulge in a cup of coffee then it is better to do so before 3pm. That way it is out of our systems by the time bedtime comes around. Better still is if we can find an acceptable decaffeinated alternative. Personally I find that I cannot taste the difference, although others I know will disagree.
- Temperature is important – being too hot or too cold can have a detrimental effect on our ability to fall and remain asleep. Research has shown that going to sleep naked can help you to fall asleep faster. I have tried this myself and tend to agree, although I wouldn’t recommend this during the winter months. In cold temperatures, wearing socks in bed has been found to help significantly. You may also want to think about investing in a hot water bottle. In warm temperatures think about opening windows in your bedroom a couple of hours before you go to bed. For more ideas about optimising your bedroom for sleep see Creating the Perfect Environment for Sleep.
These simple steps are easy to implement and can have a profound effect on the quality of your sleep. I hope that you have found this post useful. I’m sure this is an area in which we all will have some experience. I look forwards to hearing any ideas or comments you might have on the subject.