Catch Zzzs Not Feelings
BY ASHLEY MORRIS
What is “sleep hygiene,” and how can we use it to get a better night’s sleep?
Sleep… how can something be so necessary to our functioning as humans yet be so hard to achieve? Few of us are consistently able to get an adequate amount of restful sleep a night. However, sleep is so important to our overall health and well-being.
Poor sleep habits are linked to higher rates of high blood pressure, heart failure, and strokes amongst other comorbidities (Mansukhani, Covassin, & Somers, 2019). Insufficient sleep can lead to decreased productivity, poor mental health, and lower cognitive functioning. Sleep is an emotional, mental, and physical necessity.
Enter: Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene is a concept of creating environments and habits that promote consistent, uninterrupted sleep. According to the CDC, it is recommended that adults aged 18-60 years old get at least 7 hours of sleep per night. However, the quality of the sleep you get is just as important as the quantity. That is where sleep hygiene practices come into play.
Before we dive in, it is essential to recognize that sleep issues lie on a spectrum. For those with true insomnia, although sleep hygiene tactics may certainly help, I am not suggesting this is the “cure” or “answer” to this condition. That being said, practicing good sleep hygiene is vital for everyone. Better sleep indubitably leads to improved holistic well-being. Entire textbooks are written on this topic, but here are a few tips to get you started.
1. Consistent Bed and Wake Times
It is important to make a habit of setting consistent bed and wake times every day. That means even on weekends or days off, setting that alarm in the morning and going to bed at a reasonable time at night. Your brain is an incredible internal clock. According to the British Journal of Pharmacology, consistent sleep times allow your brain to know when to release melatonin, that magical molecule that helps your brain enter those deep sleep cycles. If these times are changing, your brain doesn’t consistently release melatonin when you need it to. It may not be fun to set the alarm on Saturday, but your body will thank you later.
2. Making the Bed a Sacred Sleep Space
A bed should be used as just that… a bed. Too often, we use our bed as a kitchen table, work desk, you name it. If you are using your bed for anything other than sleep (and intimacy), we start associating it with these other activities. For example, if you spend all day in bed answering emails from your boss, it’s no wonder why you go to bed and start thinking about that stressful day at work. It’s essential to keep your bed a sacred sleep space, so the only thing our brain associates that environment with is a solid slumber.
3. Avoiding ALL Screens Before Bedtime
The blue light in screens is stimulating to our brains and inhibits our sleep-wake cycles. Even when turning on “night modes” on phones or tablets, we are still exposed to some levels of stimulating light. It is best to turn off and put away all screens (phones, tablets, TVs, computers) 30-60 minutes before bedtime. Alternative activities include reading, meditating, journaling, skincare routines, etc.
4. Monitor Nap Time and Avoid Tossing and Turning
Although naps can be tempting to catch up on missed sleep and combat daytime fatigue, they often can affect bedtime routines and throw off sleep-wake cycles. It is best to avoid naps altogether if possible or keep them to about 20 minutes in length. When it comes time to go to sleep, try to avoid “tossing and turning” as much as possible if you find yourself lying in bed for more than 20 minutes unable to sleep; it is best to get up and do a quiet activity without screens or excessive light exposure.
5. Create an Ideal Sleep Environment
A key piece of setting up for sleep success is optimizing your environment. Darkness or near darkness is vital, as light inhibits melatonin release. Temperature is important too: according to the Sleep Foundation, about 65 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. In addition, light smells such as lavender may help cultivate a calm mind. Of course, much can be said about investing in a quality mattress and pillows as well. Although these seem like small factors, they can make a big difference in the quality of sleep.
Although these tips barely scratch the surface of sleep hygiene practices, it is a solid start on your journey to improved slumber and quality of life. It is important to note that if you are still struggling with sleep despite consistent lifestyle changes, I encourage you to talk to a medical provider. This could be a sign of a chronic sleep disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea necessitating medical interventions. However, it only takes a few minor changes in the bedroom for most individuals to make a big difference in their overall sleep quality. Happy snoozing!
Zisapel N. (2018). New perspectives on the role of melatonin in human sleep, circadian rhythms and their regulation. British journal of pharmacology, 175(16), 3190–3199. https://doi.org/10.1111/bph.14116
Mansukhani, M. P., Covassin, N., & Somers, V. K. (2019). Apneic Sleep, Insufficient Sleep, and Hypertension. Hypertension (Dallas, Tex. : 1979), 73(4), 744–756.