Sleep Hygiene Tips
Updated: Jan 30, 2022
When we talk about being healthy, the first things that come to mind usually include physical activity, diet, and/or emotional wellness. Sleep is an often overlooked area, yet it has such an impact on our physical health and mental wellbeing. In her book, The Sleep Revolution, Arianna Huffington elaborates on the severe consequences that poor sleep hygiene can have on our lives, such as decreased job performance and long-term health issues. As someone who has lived with insomnia for years, and has counseled clients through improving their sleep hygiene (with or without the aid of medication), here are some sleep tips to consider.
Sleep on a schedule
Do you find yourself going to sleep at different times each night? Do you tend to sleep in on the weekends? Try to stick to regular wake up times and bedtimes. Make sure that these times also take into account the recommended amount of sleep you should be getting (approximately 7 to 9 hours for adults). So if you need to be out of bed by 6:00 AM, your bedtime would be at about 11:00 PM. Bedtimes might need to be set earlier if it takes you several minutes to fall asleep.
Create a comfortable sleep environment
Consider your bed and bedroom. Is it quiet enough? Is it dark enough? How is the temperature? Make any necessary adjustments to your sleeping space to promote a greater sense of comfort. If noise is a problem, try ear plugs or a white noise machine. Curtains and eye masks can keep out the light. Add extra blankets for warmth or a fan to cool down the air. If needed, invest in a good mattress, pillow, and bedding.
Implement a bedtime routine
My top recommendation is to reduce time on screens (TVs, cellphones, laptops, etc.) for about an hour prior to going to bed. I also know of folks who do other things like journaling, listening to music, stretching, reading, or a creative activity prior to bedtime. Minimizing screen time took some adjusting to, and it took more than a few nights until my body/brain became accustomed to it and my sleep improved. The goal is to be consistent in a routine that promotes relaxation.
Stick to healthy habits
Consider your lifestyle habits during waking hours. This might include how active you are, the types of foods you eat, what you drink, and what substances you might be taking (including caffeine or nicotine). If you know that you should be more active, eating healthier, or need to quit smoking, start small. Try beginning with a daily 10- to 20-minute walk. Or stopping caffeine/alcohol intake after a specific hour.
When you cannot fall asleep, do something else
It sounds counterintuitive to do something else when it’s midnight, you’re awake, and you know you should be asleep. But if you’re often finding yourself lying in bed for several minutes (or even hours) trying to force sleep to come, that frustration could make falling asleep harder to achieve. Instead, switch your focus to something other than sleep. This could be as simple as deep-breathing, doing some guided imagery, or listening to a sleepcast (the ones on the Headspace app are helpful for me!). You can even get up to do something else such as light reading or journaling. While doing these things, try to avoid harsh lights and screens.
If sleep issues persist and are significantly impacting your health and/or waking hours, I’d then recommend checking in with your physician.
Questions for readers:
What things help you to fall asleep and/or to stay asleep?
Are there any other lifestyle changes you might recommend to improve sleep?