Physical health, cognitive performance and mental well-being are deeply connected to sleep quality. Unfortunately, across age groups, many people routinely fall short in getting the sleep they need. That can have a serious impact on health, increasing the risk of numerous diseases, decreasing cognitive performance and heightening the risk of mood disorders. Practicing better sleep hygiene — developing habits and creating an atmosphere with better, healthier sleep in mind — can help you to improve your sleep.
Sleep Hygiene Starts With Prioritizing
The first step to consistently better sleep is making sleep a priority and setting aside the correct amount of time each night. This can be difficult to do with family, professional and social demands and entertaining temptations steadily chipping away at your time. Ideally, you should be able to set aside about nine hours; enough time to prepare to sleep and time to get a full night’s sleep. Remember, prioritizing sleep is an important part of making your health a priority. Protect that prioritization of sleep. Guard your schedule. Embrace the awesome power of the word no. Once you set that first priority, the rest can follow.
There’s lots of demand for our dollars these days. However, for better sleep, make creating a comfortable bedroom as much of a priority as you can. Invest in a good mattress, quality sheets and comfort-enhancing blankets. If city lights or shiftwork sleeping schedules don’t allow you to sleep in the dark, invest in black-out curtains or heavy window shades.
Light, Temperature and Sound
Light is a major factor in the timing and quality of sleep. Like all life on earth, humans evolved to the 24-hour cycle of day and night. For most of our history, we’ve been active during the day, when we could see, and slept during the dark of night. This pattern of activity, the cycle of energy demand and rest, is a part of the mechanical operation of our bodies. Circadian rhythms influence countless bodily processes, all the way down to the daily activities of a single cell. Our circadian rhythm helps to regulate sleep and wake times and is influenced by external cues.
Light is the most powerful of those cues. And, in the modern world, we have a light problem. Most of us spend much of our time indoors, with far less natural light exposure than we have had for most of human history. We get too much light at the wrong times, thanks to artificial lighting that allows us to extend the day well into the night. Blue-light-producing devices, such as mobile phones, tablets and computers add to the excess light problem. Blue light and bright evening lights suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps us to feel sleepy, delaying sleep timing.
For better sleep, get some bright morning light exposure daily. Increase your natural light exposure throughout the day, even if it is just through a window. Be mindful of bright artificial light exposure during the evening, especially during the two to three hours before bedtime. Avoid using blue light emitting devices during the two hours before bed. Ideally, keep your devices out of the bedroom. Don’t have a television in the bedroom.
You’ll sleep better with cooler temperatures. Try to keep your bedroom around 60 to 67 degrees. If you live in an urban area with traffic sounds, the occasional siren and other disruptive noises, consider using ear plugs, a fan or white noise device to keep those noises from interfering with your sleep.
Establish Habits and Routines
Habits and routines are your friend when it comes to optimal sleep hygiene and consistently enjoying great, refreshing sleep. Set a sleep and wake schedule: what time you’ll go to bed and what time you’ll get up each day. Stick to that schedule every day, including days off from work or school. Include time for an evening routine to help you leave behind the stress of the day and get relaxed, easing you into your night of sleep. Try meditation, a warm bath or some soothing music. Avoiding naps can help you to better stick with your desired sleep and wake times. Before too long, if you’re consistent with your schedule, you’ll find yourself naturally feeling tired at bedtime and getting up without the alarm clock.
Keeping regular rhythms in your life helps to support your sleep schedule. Regular mealtimes are another cue for the circadian rhythm and can also help avoid digestive disturbances that can be disruptive to sleep. Switch over to non-caffeinated beverages after lunch. Physical activity is another cue for the circadian rhythm and promotes better sleep at night. Develop the habit of getting regular physical activity or exercise daily, outside if possible, before 2:00 p.m. Exercising in the late afternoon or evening can disrupt your sleep timing.
Your Sleep Should Be a Priority
Developing great sleep hygiene will not only help to improve your sleep but will also help you to feel better overall. Good sleep is essential to your health and deserves to be a priority. Don’t ignore sleep problems. If consistently applying sleep hygiene doesn’t solve a sleep problem, work with your healthcare provider to find a solution.