Most of us have the basics of hygiene down pat – regular baths or showers, laundering clothes, washing dishes, cleaning our living spaces. While we once had to be told to do these things by parents, we now do them on our own. But one thing that most of us weren’t taught is sleep hygiene.
Sleep hygiene has nothing to do with how often you wash your sheets – although having crisp, clean sheets can make your bed more inviting. Rather, sleep hygiene is defined as “practices of daily living that promote good sleep and daytime functioning”.
Let’s explore a little deeper.
The Suggestible Mind
Have you ever noticed how you start craving a Coca Cola after seeing their commercials? Or how even when you aren’t hungry, being at the movie theatre is enough to make you mindlessly munch through an entire bag of popcorn? This effect is due to the powerful effect that images or situations can have on your behavior.
This same effect is at play when you use your bed for watching Netflix, playing video games, eating, and just hanging out. Come bedtime, you find yourself unable to fall asleep because your mind has come to associate your bed with just about everything but sleeping.
Many symptoms of poor sleep hygiene can seem like individual sleep disorders – insomnia, for example. The National Sleep Foundation explains, “Frequent sleep disturbances and daytime sleepiness are the most telling signs of poor sleep hygiene. In addition, if you’re taking too long to fall asleep, you should consider evaluating your sleep routine and revising your bedtime habits. Just a few simple changes can make the difference between a good night’s sleep and a night spent tossing and turning.”
Hack Your Hygiene
If you want to get to the bottom of your sleep issues and construct an environment conducive to deep, restful sleep, here are a few tips for solid sleep hygiene:
Go to bed at the same time each day.
Get up from bed at the same time each day.
Get regular exercise each day, preferably in the morning.
Get regular exposure to outdoor or bright lights, especially in the late afternoon.
Keep the temperature in your bedroom comfortable.
Keep the bedroom dark enough to facilitate sleep.
Keep the bedroom quiet, thick curtains, sleeping with earplugs to avoid being woken by any noise.
Use your bed only for sleep.
Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening – including coffee, soda, tea, and dark chocolate.
If you lie in bed awake for more than 20-30 minutes, get up, go to a different room (or a different part of the bedroom), participate in a quiet activity (e.g. non-excitable reading or television), then return to bed when you feel sleepy.
If you follow these guidelines for two weeks and don’t notice any discernible difference in sleep habits – taking less time to fall asleep, feeling more rested, or waking up abruptly throughout the night – talk to your doctor to check whether you may have an underlying sleep condition.
Above all else, prioritize sleep! It’s the fuel your body needs to run effectively during the day and repair itself efficiently each night.