Do you have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep? Do you struggle to get 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep and wake up feeling tired and irritable? If so, it’s likely that you have poor sleep hygiene. Fortunately, making a few lifestyle changes can improve your sleep and your mental and physical health.
Getting sufficient quality sleep each night is essential for the health of our body and mind. We’re all familiar with the fatigue, irritability, and poor productivity the day after a late night or when we haven’t slept well. However, chronic lack of sleep has other negative health consequences.
When we are in a state of deep sleep, the body is able to rest, repair and heal. Sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality have been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, memory loss, type-2 diabetes, low-immunity, anxiety and depression (1, 2). A chronic lack of sleep is also associated with increased production of the hunger hormone ghrelin and impaired insulin sensitivity (3, 4). This results in poor blood sugar control, weight gain and difficulty losing weight despite dieting and exercising (5).
No matter how well you eat or exercise, if you aren’t getting quality sleep none of this will matter and your health will suffer. Luckily, focusing on good sleep hygiene will improve the length and quality of your sleep and have lasting benefits in many areas of your life.
So, you’re probably wondering what sleep hygiene is and what it involves.
Sleep hygiene is a collection of good habits that we should use in the time leading up to bedtime. This includes addressing the sleep environment and evening routine, among other things. These changes and habits encourage good sleep quality and longer sleep times.
One of the major disruptors of sleep hygiene is our ever-increasing exposure to artificial blue light, a powerful light wavelength that indicates to the brain that it’s daytime.
As the daylight wanes each evening, the pineal gland in the brain should release a hormone called melatonin which prepares the body for sleep. However, electronic devices like TVs, smartphones, tablets, Kindles, computers and artificial lights all emit blue light which mistakes our brain into thinking it is daytime, reduces our body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin and encourages wakefulness (6).
The good news is there are easy ways to reduce this risk to our sleep hygiene.
We’ve compiled 9 simple and effective sleep hygiene tips so you can finally get the rest you need.
Bright sunlight exposure during the day can regulate your internal body clock, the circadian rhythm, and improve sleep quality and length. One study found that office workers who were exposed to high levels of light in the morning had better sleep quality and fell asleep faster compared to those who had less light exposure in the morning. Workers with greater light exposure during the whole day also had improved sleep quality (8).
You can improve your sleep by getting outside (even if it is overcast) within an hour of waking up. Stretch outdoors in the morning, eat breakfast on the patio, go for a morning walk, and sit outside during your coffee or lunch break.
Studies have shown that exercise is one of the best ways to reduce insomnia and get better sleep (9). To improve your sleep hygiene, engage in moderate-intensity aerobic exercise like swimming or brisk walking for at least 30 minutes per day. Exercising outdoors when possible is a great way to get more natural light and further improve your sleep. However, keep in mind that exercising early in the day is best as doing so close to bedtime can have stimulating effects on the body.
These are simple things you can do to make sure that your bedroom is the perfect environment for sleep. Remove all light emitting devices from the bedroom and invest in some black-out curtains or use an eye mask to reduce as much light exposure as possible.
If you live in a noisy house or neighbourhood, get a pair of comfortable earplugs. On that note, it’s best to keep your animals out of the room at night as they can wake you up by making a noise, scratching and climbing over you.
It’s important that your mattress and pillows are comfortable so you don’t wake up in the night trying to get comfortable. You should also keep your room cool at night – around 18 degrees - to encourage sleep. Our body temperature naturally drops when we fall asleep, so if we’re too hot we’ll struggle to get to sleep (10). If you don’t have an air-conditioner in your home, you can soak your feet in cold water before bed to lower your body temperature.
While it’s beneficial to avoid blue light for 1-2 hours before bed, there is no need to throw out your TV, smartphone and electronics! You can buy blue light glasses that are amber or red tinted and will make sure you still produce enough sleep hormone at night. And science backs this up! A study found that people using blue light blocking glasses at night - while exposed to bright light - produced more melatonin than those using the grey control glasses. Interestingly, those using the control glasses produced significantly less melatonin overall (7).
It’s still best to avoid light-emitting electronics before bedtime due to their stimulating effects, but if that isn’t possible these glasses are a must-have for good sleep hygiene.
Stimulation from using computers, smartphones and gaming devices before bed can impair the body’s ability to transition into sleep. You can avoid this trap by making sure your bedroom is a sacred space for sleep and intimacy only. Remove all distractions such as the TV, computer, tablet, smartphone, landline phone, gaming devices and light emitting clocks. If you normally exercise or work in your bedroom, move your exercise equipment, desk and laptop to another room. This will encourage an association in your brain between the bedroom and sleep, instead of alertness.
Going to bed and getting up at the same time each day is an important habit that will reduce insomnia and re-train your circadian rhythm. One study found that having a consistent sleep and wake schedule resulted in the subject only taking an average of 9 minutes to fall asleep as opposed to 111 minutes at the start (11).
Since adults need about 7-8 hours of sleep per night, make sure you leave enough time to achieve this. For example, if you need to wake up at 6 am, use a battery operated alarm clock and set it for 9 pm to remind you to begin your night time routine, as well as for when you need to wake in the morning. Keep in mind that you should stick to this schedule on weekends and days off too, so as to not disrupt your circadian rhythm.
A bedtime routine isn’t just for kids. Having a relaxing routine an hour before bed can help to calm down the mind, create a habit and signal to the brain that it’s time for sleep.
A bedtime routine may look like this:
Red light lights are great to use in the bathroom and bedroom if you need to turn on the light during the night.
You may find that drinking at night helps you to nod off, but the truth is that alcohol disrupts the deep reparative stage of sleep known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep (12). Avoiding alcohol in the three hours leading up to bedtime will go a long way to improving your shut-eye.
Coffee contains the stimulant caffeine that crosses the blood-brain-barrier and encourages wakefulness and nervous energy by blocking the effects of the neurotransmitter adenosine (13). Caffeine’s half-life – the time taken to eliminate half the caffeine from the body - is roughly 6 hours in a healthy person. However, it can take up to 15 hours depending on age, weight, medication taken and health status. Try to avoid drinking coffee and other caffeinated drinks from early afternoon onwards to improve sleep hygiene (14).
It may take days or weeks for your body to change, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see results right away. When you see the benefits you’ll be grateful that you didn’t give up. In fact, when you incorporate sleep hygiene you might find that you don’t need as much sleep as you once did because 6-7 hours of quality sleep will give you much more energy than 10 hours of non-reparative sleep.
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