The idea of falling asleep may seem more like a dream than a reality for some. Far too many of us lie awake in bed, tossing and turning at 3 a.m. hoping to find even a moment of real sleep. And while millions of Americans suffer from sleep-related issues, a good night’s sleep is closer within reach than you might think.
Creating healthy sleep habits can prove to be the difference between restlessness and a peaceful, restful slumber. Researchers have studied our sleeping habits extensively and identified a number of practices and habits that can help ease the symptoms of those who suffer from sleep-related issues. These practices are known collectively as “sleep hygiene.”
While the term may lack imagination to some, sleep hygiene is quite possibly the best way to achieve the sleep you need in this “always-on” culture we live in. Let’s discuss what sleep hygiene is in greater detail, and we’ll provide you with ten steps to establishing a strong sleep hygiene routine. With these helpful tips, you are sure to start turning your dreams of a good night’s sleep into a consistent reality.
What Is Sleep Hygiene?
As we alluded to above, sleep hygiene is a collection of practices and habits that necessitate full daytime alertness and high-quality nighttime sleep. The various rituals, behaviors, and schedules you follow are all conducive to creating a better quality of sleep, and a consistent ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Individuals who regularly pull all-nighters, or those who sleep in late on the weekends to try and “make up” for lost sleep during the week, are both prime examples of what would be considered poor sleep hygiene. On the other hand, adhering to a regular sleep schedule and avoiding caffeine and other stimulants late at night are examples of good sleep hygiene.
Making improvements to your sleep hygiene practices offers substantial assistance to those in desperate need of a deep, restful sleep. Creating good sleep hygiene practices should be your first course of action when attempting to address sleep-related issues. Sleep hygiene is so pivotal in creating good sleeping habits that education on the subject is a core element of the cognitive-behavioral therapy often used to treat patients with sleeplessness.
Why Is It Important to Practice Good Sleep Hygiene?
To put it simply, good sleep hygiene is important because good sleep is important. The ability to obtain healthy sleep is paramount for both your physical and mental health. Proper sleep and rest are crucial, as it improves productivity and your overall wellbeing. Regardless of whether you are a toddler or a senior, practicing good sleep habits will greatly benefit your overall health and happiness.
While coffee, tea, and other stimulants can help us kick start our day and get ourselves going, a cup of joe can never replace the benefits of a full night’s rest. Sleep is like medicine for our bodies, and it’s key for maintaining optimal physical and mental health.
Individuals who get too much or too little sleep, or even suffer from disrupted or intermittent sleep, can suffer from medical issues that can sometimes turn serious. But enhancing your current sleep hygiene habits can significantly decrease your risk of these symptoms.
Effects of Sleep Hygiene on the Sleep Cycle
Creating strong sleep hygiene practices can have a profound effect on our overall sleep cycles. There are two basic sleep states we experience throughout the night. These two stages are rapid eye movement sleep (REM) and non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM).
Good sleep hygiene practices promote REM sleep, which is the deep stage of sleep associated with intense brain activity, occurring in the midbrain and forebrain. REM sleep is often characterized by the presence of vivid dreams, as well as an absence of motor function. The only motor functions that occur during this stage are with the eye muscles and the diaphragm. Typically, REM sleep occurs off and on in a cycle numerous times during sleep. In these moments, our body is in our deepest state of sleep. But while REM sleep represents our deepest slumber, it accounts for the smallest portion of our total sleep cycle.
Good sleep hygiene has a positive effect on the other basic state of sleep, which is non-rapid eye movement sleep, or NREM sleep. This is the state of sleep that a person is in right after falling asleep. Good sleep hygiene allows an individual to fall asleep quicker, and progress through the stages of sleep with less arousal.
Signs of Poor Sleep Hygiene
There are numerous signs and symptoms of poor sleep hygiene. But the most common signs are related to frequent disturbances with your sleep and daytime drowsiness and fatigue. Also, if you notice that it takes you a long time to fall asleep, you may want to consider evaluating your sleep routine and making revisions to your current bedtime habits. Making a few simple changes to your routine can make a massive difference in your ability to achieve a good night’s sleep; instead of spending much of the evening tossing and turning in bed.
10 Steps to Establishing Good Sleep Hygiene
While sleep needs vary from person to person, they are especially impacted by our individual lifestyles and health habits. However, there are some basic guidelines and recommendations that can provide insight on creating the habits that produce optimal sleep. Here are ten steps to help you establish good sleep hygiene.
1. Limit Caffeine, Alcohol, Nicotine, and Other Stimulants
If you’re anything like the average adult, you probably enjoy your morning coffee. Many of us love it because it’s filled with caffeine, which we know is a stimulant that can make us more alert and keep us awake. While drinking coffee or tea is a viable option in providing a much needed energy boost, it’s best to consume caffeine earlier in the day to avoid disrupting sleep patterns.Try to avoid caffeine of any kind within 4-6 hours of bedtime. Smokers or tobacco users should also refrain from consuming these compounds close to bedtime.
It’s common for some individuals to drink a couple cocktails to help aid in sleep — a “nightcap” of sorts. However, while alcohol may help to induce sleep, within a few hours it actually begins to act as a stimulant. This can cause an increase in the number of sleep disturbances you experience throughout the night. Therefore, it’s best to limit alcohol consumption to one or two drinks per day, maximum. Also, try to avoid drinking alcoholic beverages within 3 hours of when you plan to go to bed.
2. Make Your Bedroom Environment a Sleep-Inducing Space
Sometimes, our inability to fall asleep is primarily a result of our physical environment. Creating a dark, cool, and quiet environment can help to promote a deep, restful sleep. There’s a reason why animals like bats tend to congregate in caves to find sleep in the daytime. To help create this type of environment, start by reducing the volume of any outside noise. The best way to do this is with earplugs. For those who feel anxious with earplugs and/or laying in complete silence, consider the use of a “white noise” appliance.
To help block out the light in your room, try using blackout shades, heavy curtains, or an eye mask. It’s important to block out as much outside light as possible, as this light is a powerful cue to our brains that tells us to wake up. Also, keep the temperature in your room comfortable and cool (somewhere between 60 and 75°F), and ensure the area is well ventilated.
3. Use CBD to Establish a Soothing Pre-Sleep Routine
Creating a soothing pre-sleep routine can help ease the transition to sleep time. This routine is built by participating in a sequence of relaxing activities about an hour or so before you plan to go to bed.
These activities can include taking a bath or hot shower, as the increase (and subsequent decrease) in body temperature helps to promote drowsiness. Try reading a book or watching television (but not for too long!), or practice relaxation and breathing exercises. Do your best to avoid stressful or over-stimulating activities. This can include physically or mentally draining work or even discussing emotional issues. Physical and mental stress can cause the body to secrete cortisol, which is our stress hormone. Cortisol is associated with increased alertness, so if you often find yourself thinking about your problems when you are trying to fall asleep, try writing them down—and then putting them aside.
CBD products like tincture oils, oral sprays, and CBD softgels can help to not only induce the calm associated with achieving deep sleep, but also help to treat the core issues that may be causing these sleep problems such as fatigue. If you find yourself having trouble sleeping and a solution seems out of reach, we highly suggest exploring the many benefits of CBD oil.
4. Monitor Your Fluid Intake
It’s often difficult to strike the perfect balance of drinking enough fluid in the evening to keep from waking up in the middle of the night thirsty—but not so much as to cause you to be awakened multiple times to make trips to the restroom. Avoid drinking too many fluids close to bedtime, and try to discover the ideal time and volume of your nightly fluid intake by monitoring your habits.
5. Don’t Watch the Clock!
We’ve all been there at some point in time; watching the alarm clock with an empty gaze, desperately trying to find peace of mind and relax our brains so we can get some sleep. But staring at a clock when you are trying to fall asleep (or even when you wake up in the middle of the night) can actually increase stress. And as we know, thanks to our good friend cortisol, this increased stress keeps us alert and awake.
When you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to fall back asleep within about 20 minutes, try getting up and engaging in restful activity. This can be something like reading a book or listening to soothing music. Make sure you keep the lights dim, as bright light can work to stimulate your internal clock. When you begin to feel your eyes getting heavy and are feeling ready for sleep, return to your bedroom and go back to bed.
6. Let There Be Light
As we have outlined on multiple occasions throughout this piece, natural light can be an enemy of sleep. However, you can use it to your advantage as well.
The fact is, our bodies need natural light. It helps to keep our internal clock on a healthy sleep and wake cycle. So just as you would block out the light in the evening to relax and fall asleep, the inverse should be applied in the morning. Let the first thing you see in the morning be natural light by opening the shades in your room when you wake up. If you work in an office building, try to get outside and get some sun sometime during the day (perhaps on your lunch break).
These practices can help to reinforce a healthy sleep cycle by naturally calibrating your sleep and wake schedule.
7. Create a Consistent Sleep Schedule to Set Your Body Clock
It’s difficult to achieve consistent sleep when you don’t have a consistent schedule to do so. If you are sporadic in your timing or habits, it makes it hard on your body to know when it’s “sleep time” and when it’s time to be awake and alert. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day acts as a catalyst to set the body’s internal clock. By doing so, you are essentially training your body to expect sleep at a certain time each and every night.
Do your best to stick to your routine on a daily basis. That means the weekends too. While we all love to grab that extra hour or two of sleep on Saturday mornings, those who suffer from sleep-related issues should try and adhere as closely as possible to their everyday schedule. Waking up at the same time every day is far and away the best thing you can do to set your body clock; plain and simple.
8. Only Go to Sleep When You’re Truly Tired
It’s a feeling we have all endured at some point or another. The struggle of trying to fall asleep ends up leading to increased frustration. So the bottom line is, don’t try to force it! Trying to sleep when your body or mind is momentarily incapable is an exercise in futility.
So go to sleep when you’re truly tired. And if you are not tired enough to fall asleep, don’t stress about it. If you’re not asleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed and partake in a relaxing activity, as we highlighted above.
9. Keep Your Evening Meals Light
Food is not only a means of sustenance, it’s a vessel of comfort for us all. Regardless of your dietary habits, there are very few of us who find it easy to fall asleep on an empty stomach. But while eating something before bed may provide the fulfillment you are seeking to relax and wind down from your day, eating a large pepperoni pizza at 10 o’clock at night can prove to be a recipe for disaster. Rich, heavy, and high-calorie meals can actually work to induce sleeplessness in certain individuals.
Try to finish dinner a few hours before you go to bed, and as we outlined in our pizza example above, avoid foods that can potentially cause indigestion. If you find that you are getting hungry at night, try to snack on foods that won’t disturb your sleep (foods you know may have disrupted your sleep or comfortability in the past). Dairy and carbohydrates can often be the enemy of sleep.
10. Move Your Exercise Routine to Earlier in the Day
It’s true that exercise can help you to fall asleep faster and sleep better. But this is only true when you exercise at the right time. When we exercise, it stimulates the body to secrete that lovely stress hormone we’ve been talking about throughout this piece; cortisol. As we elaborated on earlier, cortisol is shown to activate the alerting mechanism in our brain. This is a core function of our brain, and it’s pivotal in managing our overall wellbeing. However, you obviously don’t want to increase alertness when you are trying to fall asleep. To combat the effects of a post-workout cortisol dump, try to finish your exercise a minimum of three hours before bed. If possible, try to work out earlier in the day.
When most of us hear the words “good hygiene,” we immediately think about bathing ourselves and making sure we brush our teeth twice a day. But hygiene is about more than just being “clean.” The World Health Organization classifies hygiene as the “conditions and practices that help to maintain health and prevent the spread of diseases.” If you are talking about germs, this means washing your hands frequently. But when it comes to sleep, it means developing healthy habits through consistent sleep hygiene practices.