Sleep hygiene is the technical term used by sleep experts to describe the state of your sleep habits. If your daily habits support the process of sleep, you have good sleep hygiene. But if your daily habits restrict or prevent sleep, you have bad sleep hygiene.
The better your sleep hygiene, the easier it is for you to fall asleep and stay asleep. The worse your sleep hygiene harder it becomes to fall asleep and the more likely you are of developing insomnia.
Here are 10 ways to improve your sleep hygiene.
Good Sleep Hygiene – 5 Tips to Improve your Sleep
These first 5 are good sleep habits. Use these and your sleep hygiene will improve.
#1 Keep warm in a cool environment
As part of the wind down process, your body temperature dips ever so slightly. It’s not noticeable, but it’s happening inside. Scientists have linked alterations in temperature to sleepiness. This finding explains why most of us find it hard to sleep on hot summer nights.
So to allow this dip in temperature, tuck yourself up in a warm bed, but sleep in a cool environment. That way you’ll be nice and warm but not too hot and your body will be able to lose body temperature during the night.
Having a warm bath an hour before bedtime promotes sleep. When you come out of a bath, your body is able to cool down much faster than it would otherwise. The faster you cool down, the faster you’ll fall asleep.
#2 Eat a light evening meal
Having a big breakfast, medium lunch and a small dinner is the best way to go as far as your sleep is concerned. This way, your body gets most of its energy in the morning to start your day, with a top up at lunch and a small top up at dinner, when your body begins to wind down. Not everyone likes to have a big meal at breakfast so having your main meal at lunch may be a better alternative.
Whatever you do, don’t have a big dinner within 3 hours of going to bed. Instead of winding down, your body instead has to say up to digest your food which keeps you awake. It also increases the risk of heartburn and indigestion. On top of that it’s not good for your health. Your body can’t burn off all the food for energy so late in the day, so it’s forced to store it as fat. Not good if you’re trying to keep a figure!
#3 Go to bed only when you’re feeling sleepy
Going to bed only when you’re sleepy improves your sleep efficiency, the time between going to bed and falling asleep. High sleep efficiency forms a strong mental association between going to bed and falling asleep.
Consistently lying awake in bed all night causes what’s called learnt insomnia. This is when you spend so much time in bed lying awake that your mind begins to associate going to bed with staying awake. The less you associate your bed with sleep, the much harder time you’ll have falling asleep.
You should never go to bed early if you’re not sleepy, or try to force yourself to sleep. One of your peak points of alertness during the day is just before you feel sleepy before bed time. This stage of alertness has been nicknamed the forbidden zone by sleep experts because trying to sleep at this time can be very difficult. Even if you do manage it, you may well wake up during the night and not be able to fall back to sleep.
#4 Keep the night times dark and the day bright
Your sleep cycle is naturally aligned to the day/night cycle. When there’s lots of light, your body clock thinks the sun is up and keeps you awake. When it’s dark, your body clock thinks it’s night-time and so sends you to sleep.
Give your body clock a helping hand by exposing yourself to as much daylight during the day, by:
- Opening your curtains as soon as you wake up in the morning
- Going for a morning stroll
- Using a lightbox in the morning if it’s still dark outside
And avoid light during the night before you go to bed, by:
- Avoiding smartphones and tablets before bed
- Keeping your computer’s screen brightness right down in the evening
- Keeping the TV out of your bedroom
#5 Stick to regular meal times
Alongside light, Meal times are also one of the cues your body clock uses to calibrate itself and work out the time of day. The more regular and consistent your body clock, the easier it will become to fall asleep at night.
The timing of your last meal is especially important since it’s the last meal time of the day your body clock has to calibrate itself. Try and have your last meal within a 30 minute window each day for the best results.
Bad Sleep Hygiene – 5 Bad Sleeping Habits to Avoid
The final 5 are habits that contribute to bad sleep hygiene and can, over time, cause insomnia.
#1 Using alcohol to fall asleep
Drinking alcohol might get you to sleep faster, but the quality of your sleep would be greatly reduced. This causes you to spend more time in light sleep and less time in deep sleep. Sleep becomes far less refreshing and you might wake up multiple times during the night.
Recent research has shown that drinking even a small amount of alcohol before bed harms your sleep. Try and avoid it completely if you need your sleep that night, and definitely don’t take it to help you sleep.
#2 Exercising too close to bed time
Exercise helps you squeeze every last bit of energy out of the day. So when you sleep, you’ll feel nice and relaxed. It’s also a fantastic stress reliever too, and less stress also helps you sleep better.
Just make sure you don’t take any heavy exercise around 3 hours before you go to bed. Doing so will mess up your body’s wind down process. Light exercise such as an evening stroll is ideal.
#3 Exposure to bright light before bed
Our bodies are designed to fall asleep during the night and wake up during the day. This is caused by the circadian rhythm.
This goes back to when the sun was our only light source. By determining the level of light, the body could work out the time of day and help keep your sleep cycle on track. This mechanism has served us well for many thousands of years. However, the invention of artificial lighting has caused havoc to this mechanism. It’s a problem that looks set to become much worse in the future as more and more gadgets make their way into our bedrooms.
The more bright light you expose yourself to before bed, the harder it will become to fall asleep. So before going to bed avoid all sources of bright light including computer screens, smartphones, tablets, and TVs
#4 Having stimulants in your body
Before the wind down process begins, avoid eating or drinking anything that could stimulate your body. This includes:
It’s best to avoid all of these stimulants after your evening meal if you can help it. Many experts also recommend no caffeine after mid afternoon. Caffeine stays in your body long after you consume it. If you drink caffeine late afternoon, you will still have it in your system by the time you go to bed.
#5 Taking sleeping pills long term
Sleeping pills might seem like a silver bullet solution but they come with a range of nasty side effects. Sleep medication reduces the quality of your sleep much like alcohol. They may also make you drowsy in the morning, what’s known as the hangover effect.
If that wasn’t enough, their effects can wear off if you keep using them and your body can actually become dependent on them. So like many drugs, they work great in the beginning but before long you need them or you’ll have even worse sleep than before you started taking them.
If you do take sleep medication, make sure that it’s only for the short term, that it’s the smallest dose necessary, and that it’s a short acting sleeping pill so the effects wear off by the time you wake up.
Taking long term sleeping medication can be tempting, but they only mask the symptoms of insomnia whilst leaving the cause untouched. You’re much better off spending time fixing your sleep problems and falling asleep naturally without medication.