Sleep Hygiene: What It Is and Why It Matters
We don’t get enough sleep anymore, and it’s making us miserable.
Being a mom has transformed my relationship with sleep. At this point, as my baby is starting to sleep independently most nights, I am grateful for the opportunity to do the same.
I began exploring sleep hygiene when I worked night shift as a patrol officer a few years back. I learned quickly the value of a good night's rest (IE: everyone around me let me know I was a major asshole when I didn't get enough quality ZZZ's). Scientifically this is true for everyone - even people who believe otherwise - I'm looking at you all-nighters. Let me be clear on this, evidence repeatedly shows that getting a sufficient amount of quality, restful sleep is vital to our health and wellbeing on many levels. And while some of us are more keen on how that manifests in our day to day, it's important for everyone to be aware of - and your friends and family may thank you for taking your sleep seriously as well!
But what is the big deal about sleep? Why doesn't the "I'll sleep when I'm dead" philosophy work?
Sleep allows our brains and bodies to heal, recover, and learn. People who get a sufficient amount of deep sleep experience higher levels of natural energy, higher cognitive function, more creativity, faster recovery from exercise, and an overall greater sense of happiness. Sleep deprivation can lead to health problems such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, anxiety, hormonal imbalances, and more. One recent study showed that after 24 hours, sleep deprived people had a performance decrease level equal to that of having a .1 BAC.
This is where sleep hygiene comes in - these are behaviors you can incorporate into your life which are likely to increase your body's ability to sleep - to get to sleep faster, stay asleep longer, AND get higher quality sleep. That's right, there are changes you can make that make drastic changes to your sleeping patterns - and do not require medications or sexy breathing machines at all.
Here are my go-to strategies for getting better shuteye that have worked for me, my family, and my clients:
Allocate enough time for sleep; most adults need approximately 7-9 hours, but everyone is different, try using humanbenchmark.com to test your reflexes over time to measure if you are getting enough sleep or not.
Once you know how much you need, set a wake up a time, and then work backwards to determine what time to go to bed. Don’t forget to allow enough time for falling asleep.
More important than a set bedtime, is having a set wake up time. Having a consistent wake up time (the same time every day) supports effectively setting your circadian rhythm, especially if you can get outside and view natural light in the morning, this will signal to your body to begin to dump the wakeful hormone, cortisol, and start your clock. This is key so that you start getting the corresponding restful hormone, melatonin, in the evening. Over time, your body will fall into a normal cycle and you will feel sleepy at the time your body needs to go to bed in order to wake up at your scheduled time. (This one is hard to do, especially on the weekends - but it is a total game changer if you can stick to it!)
Get moving throughout the day! Bonus if you can get moving outdoors early in the day! Try going for a morning walk.
Get plenty of natural light (ideally from sunlight) throughout the day. This is a win-win as sunlight also supports vitamin D levels in your body!
Eat a nutritious diet throughout the day including whole foods with a broad spectrum of micronutrients. Stay away from foods that may cause you digestive upset. Sleep is difficult when our bodies are working hard to digest foods. It’s best not to go to bed overly hungry or overly full.
Reduce light exposure in the evenings (especially from blue light or other artificial sources of light) by avoiding or minimizing use of computers, tablets, phones, and TVs three hours before bedtime and dimming or covering anything that emits light in your room like alarm clocks. You can also try blue-light blocking glasses.
Minimize caffeine and alcohol use.
It’s incredibly important to manage your stress effectively when trying for good sleep. Many of us tend to run around all day like chickens with their heads cut off and then crash into bed without any transition time or intention to completing the stress cycle and wonder why we lay awake with a ruminating mind. Make sure to calm your system by implementing stress management techniques like deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi, and more for good sleep.
Create a relaxing sleep routine, which may include light stretching, reading, gentle touch from a partner, diffusing essential oils like lavender or chamomile, use of sleep meditation practices.
Create a relaxing sleep environment through controlling the temperature and light and considering the comfort levels of your mattress, pillows, and blankets. Keep your bedroom sacred. Honor your bedroom as a space designated exclusively for sleep and sex - avoid any other activities in your bedroom including eating, watching tv, working, or having stressful conversations.
I'm curious - which of these most appeals to you? What other sleep hacks have you found supportive?
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Courtney Ashworth Holistic Health & Life Coaching
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