4 Ways To Improve Your Sleep Hygiene

 Over time, neuroscientists have discovered a range of positive health benefits connected to sleep, including boosted immune health, memory, and mood. 

We also know that good sleep is a critical restorative activity that rejuvenates our bodies and minds. In our high-stress world, quality rest is crucial.

But what can we do to make sure our sleep is truly beneficial? Enter “sleep hygiene” — the process of preparing the mind and body for sleep each night. Proper sleep hygiene can make our sleep more restful and improve our overall health. 

What is Sleep Hygiene? 

Sleep hygiene means creating a bedroom environment and daily routines that promote consistent, restful sleep. Just like we wash our bodies and brush our teeth every day, we must develop healthy habits that promote restful sleep. 

These habits include maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, making your bedroom comfortable and free of distractions, following a wind-down routine, and building other healthy habits to support better sleep.

Why is sleep hygiene important? Rest is critical for both physical and mental health. Good sleep hygiene is a low-effort habit that can have an outsized impact on our overall health.

What are the signs of poor sleep hygiene? If you often feel like a “zombie” during your wakeful hours, or regularly experience difficulty falling asleep, disturbances during sleep, or a general lack in both sleep quality and quantity, your sleep hygiene could use a boost. 

Prioritize Sleep

Start by making sleep a priority. After all, it’s an essential aspect of our health. When we choose to stay up past our normal bedtime, we’re effectively making  sleep a lower priority than, say, Netflix.

We have to accept sleep as an inherent aspect of leading a healthy lifestyle — the same way we watch what we put in our bodies, we also need to give ourselves the time to rest and recharge. 

Build a Bedtime Routine 

A solid bedtime routine is a great way to improve your sleep hygiene. Here are a few universal tips for an effective bedtime routine:

  • Limit screen time: Aim for at least an hour of device-free time before bed. Phones, tablets, and computers produce intense mental stimulation that’s hard to reverse and can decrease the body’s production of melatonin, an essential human sleep hormone. 
  • Relax: Budget time for winding down before bed. Try meditation, light stretching, or reading before sleep to help you relax. Remove bright lights, loud music, and other powerful stimuli from your bedtime routine that prevent your body from entering a suitable sleeping state.
  • Be consistent: Sleeping in on the weekend after a busy week is tempting but may prevent us from experiencing consistently restful sleep. Going to sleep and waking up at the same times every day will instil a more sustainable sleep cycle in our minds and will lead to better sleep hygiene over time. 

Create a bedtime routine that works for you, incorporating relaxation techniques like stretching or meditation that help you prepare your mind for bed.

Set Bedroom Boundaries 

A bedroom environment that’s conducive to rest is also key. With many of us now spending more time at home, our bedrooms may no longer be the calm retreat we’re used to. 

Here are a few ways to build healthy bedroom boundaries to improve your sleep hygiene: 

  • Limit in-bed activity: Though it may be tempting to work from your bed, it’s important to limit your bed to only two purposes: sleep and sex. By limiting in-bed activities to the bare essentials, our minds know it’s time to relax once our head hits the pillow. 
  • Get comfortable: Make your bed as comfortable and supportive as you can. Use the right mattress, sheets, pillows, blankets, and whatever else you need to relax and and stay comfortable throughout the night. Consider incorporating light scents like lavender, which can be calming and help with sleep. 
  • Keep it cool: As nighttime approaches, our body temperature naturally drops, signaling that it’s time to slow down and get some rest. By keeping your bedroom cooler, you’re reinforcing your body’s natural instinct to sleep. A room temperature between 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit has also been shown to increase melatonin production as part of your body’s circadian rhythm.

COVID has altered many of our routines, which means we’re working, eating, and watching movies in our bedrooms more than ever. Remind your brain and body what your bed is actually for: sleeping. 

Reinforce Healthy Habits 

There are a host of health habits that improve sleep hygiene, many of which are standard good health practices. Here are a few to adopt right away: 

  • The right liquids: Don’t consume caffeinated beverages after lunch. We often underestimate the effects of caffeine, but it can be a disruptive factor for sleep. Similarly, limit alcohol consumption: drink sparingly or not at all. Alcohol increases blood pressure and cortisol levels, disrupting sleep. Instead, reach for water — even mild dehydration can alter the quality of our sleep. 
  • The right foods: Avoid high-sugar or heartburn-inducing foods before bed that could reduce your comfort. Choose foods that align with an anti-inflammatory diet, like vegetables, fruits, lean proteins (fish or tofu), and healthy fats. Limit your intake of processed foods and red meats. If you’re hankering for a bedtime snack, try toast with peanut butter or whole grain cereal with milk as a healthier alternative.  
  • Stay active — but not before bed: Being active during the day has shown to aid sleep, but strenuous activities before bedtime can have a negative effect. Plan your physical activity with plenty of space before bedtime so your body has time to adjust between mental states. 

Take Control of Your Sleep

Better sleep hygiene helps us get more restful sleep, allowing our bodies and minds time to rest and replenish. Many positive sleep hygiene habits are also great for our general good health.

Start by prioritizing sleep as an essential component of your overall health and wellness. Focus on creating a bedroom environment that helps you relax, consuming a healthy diet, and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule throughout the week. 

Here’s to improved sleep in 2021!

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