What is sleep hygiene?
One would imagine that “sleep hygiene” relates to bed cleanliness but in reality, it is much more than that – it relates to your “sleep habits”. Improving your sleep hygiene can dramatically improve your sleep quality and quantity. Later in the article, we will discuss sleep hygiene in terms of external factors such as bed “cleanliness”, a good pre-sleep routine, and reducing the impact of external factors such as light and noise. First, however, we are going to look at sleep hygiene from a personal perspective, that is, developing good personal habits that will not only enable your body to have the best possible chance of getting a good night’s sleep but also help you to become healthier while you are awake.
Eat the right foods for sleep
There are some foods that can help you sleep, and other foods that should be avoided before sleep. Avoid a heavy or fatty meal in the evening as it will activate your digestion and potentially disrupt your sleep. Also, avoid eating a salad late in the evening because your liver function slows down and half-digested salad will start to ferment potentially causing adnominal fullness and discomfort. Lastly, you shouldn’t eat too late but at the same time, don’t go to bed hungry. Before bed, eat foods that are rich in potassium (which aid digestion) such as soy products or parsley, or foods that are rich in magnesium (calms your body down) such as brown rice or dried fruit. You might also try a combination of carbohydrate-rich foods and dairy foods (complementary foods which increase the level of sleep-inducing tryptophan in the blood) such as a glass of milk with cheese and crackers.
Develop good drinking habits
The biggest tip here is to drink alcohol sparingly. Too much alcohol may make you go to sleep easily but will tend to disturb your sleep, which means you don’t sleep well. You should also cut all fluids after 8 pm to avoid having to go to the toilet in the middle of the night.
Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants and will both work against you trying to get off to sleep or staying asleep. Avoid caffeine less than five hours before bed, and avoid smoking before bed to avoid waking up during the night. Sleeping pills may be a necessary evil in times of severe stress, however, don’t believe they are the answer, long-term use can have serious implications on your health.
Get some exercise at the right time of the day
It takes somewhere between three and five hours for your body to cool down to a temperature which is ideal for sleep. Exercise revs up the body and raises body temperature. This means that the ideal time to exercise is around sunset, and gives the body exactly the right time it needs, to get to exactly the right body temperature it needs, for sleep. Science has also found that the best form of exercise to do for a good sleep at this time of the day is reasonably vigorous cardio-vascular exercise.
Take short naps and only when needed
If you need a nap, go ahead, but keep it to no more than 15 minutes. Any longer than that and your body starts going into a deeper sleep phase. Dragging yourself out of a deeper phase will make you feel worse when you wake up from the nap, as well as affect how you sleep at night.
Try some natural sleep remedies
There are some natural remedies including some tisanes and aromatherapy oils that will help promote sleep. Try a tea with valerian, lavender, lemon balm 30 minutes before bed. Try a few drops of eucalyptus oil (opens breathing passages) or lavender oil (has a calming effect) on a tissue and placing it under your pillow to help you sleep.
Avoid activating your brain before bed
Answering emails, playing video games, Internet surfing, paying bills et cetera will not put your mind into the right state in readiness for sleep. Try listening to calming music or reading before bed.
Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time each day even on weekends
This trains your brain to know when it is time to prepare for sleep.
Address any underlying health issue
If you have been having problems getting off to sleep or staying asleep for an extended period of time, you may be experiencing an underlying health issue. If you suspect this is the case, you should consult your Doctor or Health professional.
Good Sleep Habits
Do an audit on your bedroom
Check that external factors are not adversely affecting how you sleep. A dark, quiet, and cool room are ideal. Check that there is no light or sound coming in from outside, that the temperature is an ideal 68° Fahrenheit (20° Celsius), and that your room has enough moisture in the air. Your bedroom painted in a tranquil color can assist you to sleep, pastel green or blue colors are ideal. Even some plants and flowers can aid sleep – an aloe vera plant is ideal because it converts bad air into oxygen during the night as well as during the day whereas some others do this only during the day, and some flowers, roses, for example, are known for their sleep-inducing properties.
Make your bed as healthy as it can be
Making sure that your bed is cozy, breathable, and comfortable; that your mattress and bed base allows you to sleep in an anatomically neutral position; that your pillow is not too flat or too high; that your mattress and pillows are not beyond their “use by” dates; and that you wash your sheets and pillowcases regularly, are all things that you can do to keep your bed as comfortable and healthy as they can be.
Establish a sleep-inducing pre-sleep routine
Your bedtime ritual is vital to you getting a good night’s sleep. Your pre-sleep routine should firstly be exactly as its name suggests, a routine or process that you follow every night. The most important thing is that your routine should be relaxing and sleep-inducing, which signals to your brain that it is time for sleep. Everyone is different but going to bed at the same time every night, listening to relaxing music, meditating, taking a warm bath, cleaning your teeth, reading, these are all rituals that may form part of your pre-sleep routine. If you read before sleep, make sure that you turn off your bedside light prior to sleep, otherwise, all your good work will be undone.
Remove electromagnetic waves from the bedroom
Scientific studies have shown that electromagnetic waves can disturb sleep and that some people are more sensitive to them than others. The best tip is to remove electronic devices from your bedroom altogether. If you are committed to making a conscious effort to improve your sleep routine, then avoid watching television, surfing the Internet, playing on your phone, or even having a clock radio in your bedroom.
Wear comfortable PJs
Make sure your nightwear will keep you cool and comfortable during sleep. If you move a lot during sleep, you don’t want to wear anything that will twist and wake you up because you are uncomfortable. If external noise affects you, you may consider earplugs or if external light affects you, you might consider an eye mask. Some people experience cold feet and may need to wear socks. The rule of thumb is to wear whatever makes you feel comfortable.