What is sleep hygiene?
The rituals and habits you follow around sleep are referred to as sleep hygiene. Regularly pulling all-nighters, or sleeping in on the weekends so you can “make up” for lost sleep are both examples of poor sleep hygiene. Conversely, following a regular sleep schedule and avoiding caffeine late at night are good sleep hygiene practices.
The following “12 top tips” are generally agreed to form the basis of good sleep hygiene and if you can start to incorporate them into your routine, not only will you soon find that you sleep better but that your mood is improved and much more able to deal with life’s challenges:
1. Wind down with no screens
Use of the internet and computers have been shown to significantly alter levels and quality of sleep, so switch off your computer, tablet, phone and even TV an hour or so before you go to bed.
2. Don’t just lie there!
After 30 minutes of trying, it’s recommended that you get out of bed and do a very boring task that doesn’t reward or stimulate the brain (ironing, cleaning the floor, reading a very dull book). This will ensure that you don’t condition yourself to lie awake in bed. Keep the lights dim while you do the task.
3. Try herbal sleeping remedies
Camomile and lavender sprayed on your pillow can relax you enough to drop off.
4. Don’t worry about it
Anxiety about how much sleep you are getting can be counter-productive and keep you awake. Lower anxiety by learning to trust that your body and mind will sleep enough for your needs. For more information on anxiety, click here.
5. Routine routine routine!
Humans are very boring creatures and if you keep to the same daily routine, the body will start to feel sleepy at the same time every night. If not, it starts to learn how to sleep poorly and can become very good at it! Try to stay awake all day – no catnapping! Getting up at the same time every morning from Monday to Friday and then sleeping late at weekends throws our body clocks out of sync, in much the same way jet lag does. If you have a three hour lie-in at the weekend, it’s nearly Wednesday by the time the body has recovered from that – one extra hour is probably the most we should allow ourselves.
Keeping to a routine includes eating your meals at the same time each day. Mealtimes are time-givers. They give the body a sense of time. When there’s no routine there, the body gets confused. Eating too late at night can also affect sleep and not eating after 7pm can help with sleep routine. Similarly exercise can be beneficial for those suffering with insomnia, with studies showing regular aerobic exercise improves the quality of sleep but HAS to be at the right time. We need to give our bodies wind down time and finishing exercise at 7pm or 8 at the very latest is advised.
6. Block out as much light from the bedroom as you can
This is because we only produce melatonin when it’s dark. An eye mask will usually do the trick, but many people find them uncomfortable so investing in black-out blinds can be a good alternative.
7. Use the bedroom primarily for sleep
Rather than watching TV, being on laptops, tablets or phones. Even reading in bed can disrupt sleep.
8. Watch what you eat and drink.
Warm milk and foods high in the amino acid tryptophan, such as bananas, may help you to sleep. Avoid caffeine in the hours leading up to bedtime – caffeine is a stimulant that can affect our sleep and drinking no more than two cups of caffeinated drinks a day, including tea is recommended. Alcohol significantly disrupts the sequence, depth and duration of sleep states. Once the alcohol metabolises in your body, the imbalance is likely to wake you up. This is why, when you have drunk a lot of alcohol, you may find yourself waking up very early in the morning.
9. Practice relaxation techniques
This can be extremely helpful both before bed or equally if you wake up during the night and can’t get back to sleep. Yoga, deep breathing and other techniques may help relieve anxiety and reduce muscle tension.
10. Don’t take your worries to bed.
Leave your worries about job, school, daily life, etc., behind when you go to bed. Some people find it useful to assign a “worry period” during the evening or late afternoon to deal with these issues. Some write a “to do” list before they go to bed so that their mind will be free of the need to make plans, others keep a piece of paper by the bed just in case they wake with a thought so important that they need to write it down – once written down, the mind can relax again!
11. Examine your lifestyle.
Are you highly stressed at work? Are you trying to fit too much into your life such as juggling work with child-care and no time at all for yourself? Sleep is an absolute priority – are there some small changes you can make to reduce stress levels?
12. Establish a pre-sleep ritual.
Pre-sleep rituals, such as a warm bath or a few minutes of reading, can help you sleep.
Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with getting a good night’s sleep or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.