The Science and the Behavior of Good Sleep Hygiene

Who are we without sleep?  We need sleep to survive and function day to day.  Most adults need approximately 7 to 9 hours a night of sleep.  It is important to get sleep to function physically and mentally.  When we do not get enough sleep, we fall into sleep deprivation, which can impact essential cognitive capabilities such as memory, learning, and performing complex mental tasks.  Sleep can also affect your personality; you may find yourself grumpy or irritable when you have not gotten your total 7-9 hours of sleep and feel it has impacted how you interact with others or even your perception of the day.  Insufficient sleep can also pose challenges for us to use our body physically effectively; working out may be more challenging, or even simple daily physical tasks may seem more strenuous when our body has yet to have the opportunity to rest fully.  To read further about the power of a good night’s sleep, please check out this blog.

Sleep hygiene refers to the wellness effort we put into modifying and maintaining our routine, including behaviors and habits to maintain healthy sleeping patterns.  Because sleep is so important, paying close attention to how we sleep and the habits around sleep can be vital.  Sleep hygiene is something that requires consistency.  Sleep hygiene can be similar to thinking of maintaining personal hygiene such as bathing, brushing and flossing your teeth, wearing clean clothes, brushing your hair, and so on.  These components of personal hygiene are essential to your everyday routine.  Sleep hygiene is another set of behaviors to add to your routine to help maintain consistent healthy sleep habits.

Sleep hygiene practices can significantly benefit people with sleep disorders, including insomnia.  The consistency and emphasis on prioritizing sleep in these practices can bring about a positive change.  Those with poor sleep hygiene practices often find themselves struggling with sleep disorders or disturbances.  By adopting good sleep hygiene practices, you can notice a marked enhancement in the quality of your sleep.  Consistency of these practices and the reduction in sleep disruptions can enhance the quality of your sleep, including the REM cycles of deep sleep needed, 2 to 3 a night.  The regularity that proper sleep hygiene provides can also alleviate your anxiety about falling asleep, making it feel more natural as a part of your day or routine.

There are many ways to help implement the positive behaviors of sleep hygiene.  You may have certain things that work for you to help you go to sleep, like wearing specific clothing, lying in a certain position, reading before sleeping, or drinking herbal tea.  Things work for some people but do not work for others.  It is important to discover what works for you by trying it a few times.  If you do not see changes in your sleep, keep trying; it is important to create habits, and habits do not come by doing something once but rather by implementing it in your day-to-day over days to weeks to months to every day.  There are proven scientific sleep hygiene recommendations to follow to consistently get a good night’s rest.

List of scientifically proven sleep hygiene recommendations

  1. Reduce or limit your time in bed to only sleeping and sex. If you are using your bed to recline and relax during the day, you are associating it with other things rather than rest.
  2. Avoid trying to sleep; overthinking our need for sleep can create anxiety about sleep itself.
  3. Do not look at clocks, including the time on your phone. When you look at the time, you may overthink how long it will take you to fall asleep or how much time you have left to sleep. This anxiety can cause you to get less sleep.
  4. Exercise, specifically in the late afternoon or early evening, wears you out and makes you look forward to resting the muscles you have used.
  5. Avoid substances that can dysregulate your sleep, including caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. These substances disrupt our body’s rhythm of falling asleep.  Avoid these within a few hours before bed.  For caffeine, try to stop drinking it before noon each day to limit sleep dysfunction.
  6. Maintain a consistent bedtime. If you go to bed at the same time each day, your body will naturally feel tired and ready for rest.  When you change the time you go to sleep, it can be difficult for your body to recognize the need to rest and when to wake up.
  7. Avoiding napping can disrupt your next sleep cycle; only nap when you need to supplement sleep loss or needed.
  8. Avoid any blue-light screens at least 30 minutes before bed; it’s better to be at least an hour before. Blue light keeps us awake.  If you need to look at a screen or do something before bed, try reading a paper book or on a non-blue-light device like a Kindle or Nook.
  9. Limit liquid consumption before bed to avoid the need to use the restroom at night. Waking up to use the restroom could cause you to stay up longer.
  10. Journal before bed, get your thoughts out for the day and write them down. When we can write things down, we take these thoughts and feelings away from our brains and have a separate outlet to express them.  I  can help with anxiety and overthinking.
  11. Drinking hot herbal tea or hot water, a warm liquid before bed, can help your body relax.

Some of these may seem straightforward, while others may seem more challenging to maintain. The key to this is consistency. It is easy to start a new habit by trying things out and not practicing them habitually.

What is on the list something that you have yet to try?  What is something on the list that you could see the potential for change?  The next time you fall asleep, try to be curious and think about what keeps you awake.  Are you overthinking and cannot stop your thought processes?  Try journaling, avoid thinking about sleep, and avoid looking at the time read to get your mind on something else.  Is it that you do not feel tired when you go to sleep?  Maintain a consistent bedtime, work out later in the day more consistently, and avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine.

The best practice is to follow all sleep hygiene recommendations, but when that is not possible, try these out for a week or longer and see how your body adjusts.  It takes time to create new habits, so be kind to yourself and curious to see what works for you and what is harder to maintain.


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