How To Improve Sleep Hygiene

Your future depends on your dreams, so go to sleep.

Mesut Barazany

What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep is a topic that has been on my mind recently. As with the changing of the seasons, we are preparing for change and this can influence the quality of our sleep in a big way.

For instance, in colder climates we are preparing for snow and ice which may change how much we can be outside, or at the very least how much sunlight one gets each day. Seasonal changes can impact which foods are available in the grocery store. So, all these things got me thinking about sleep hygiene.

Sleep hygiene refers to lifestyle habits and pre-bed patterns that prepare the body for rest. Normally, our body has these funky hormones that signal the body that it’s time for some shut eye, but with seasonal shifts, emotional disturbance or trauma, relocating to a new place, or stress this can get thrown off. (To read my blog post about mental health click here and click here for a specific breakdown of health topics )

Caring about sleep hygiene is crucial to performance at work, school, and maintaining functional relationships. It plays an important part in mental health, and is essential to physical and emotional well-being. (downloadable prenatal yoga sequence)

Keep reading to discover the secrets to a better sleep!

Why is sleep important?

We all need it! It helps us process experiences, sorts long term and short term memories, solidifies concepts we studied during the day, feels good, helps regulate our immune system, rejuvenates cells through a rest and repair process, drops the body temperature, and regulates hormones.

When we get enough sleep we are able to focus, function, manage stress, avoid catching the cold our coworker had, and manage our emotions and mood throughout the day when we deal with obstacles, set backs, success, or failure. Without enough sleep many of these abilities are negatively impacted.

Five simple ways to get a better sleep at night

Let’s keep in mind that everyone is different, and our schedules may vary from day to day, but this is intended as a general guideline for staying on track to improve your sleep with these five simple tips.

  1. Disconnect
  2. Blue At Twilight
  3. Temperature
  4. Pre-bed routine
  5. Declutter To Rest Better

Let’s go through each of these and explore the reason that these tips may assist with falling asleep, staying asleep, and improving the rested feeling after you wake up.

Disconnect

Disconnect in relation to sleep has two meanings. We will discuss them briefly here.

First, in the evening disconnecting from phones, computers, ipads, and laptops is a great way to rest the eyes, and minimize the impact that screens have on the production of sleep hormones in the brain that signal you to feel tired. (Read more here )

The other way that disconnecting is a positive for sleep quality is separating the functions that the room you sleep in plays in your day. It is a good idea, if possible, to not do anything stressful while sitting or lying on your bed throughout the day because it can become a negative association between stressful tasks and that space. Work elsewhere!

Blue At Twilight

In the evening, there are functions on most devices that enable users to dim the screen brightness, and filter the light that interferes with our sleep cycle. According to the Sleep Foundation, the light from screens can decrease the amount of serotonin produced which can impede one’s ability to fall asleep as easily, and in certain individuals may negatively influence the length of time that one can stay asleep for.

Go Blue At Twilight!

Temperature

Have people called you warm blooded? Do you tell people that you are “always cold”?

If this is you, then you may want to experiment with your sleep temperature. It may be different than you expect. For example, I am in the “always cold” category. Throughout the day I have to put on layer after layer of clothing to keep from shivering and have, on occasion, been known to practice piano wearing gloves. However, at night if the air is too warm, I cannot fall asleep. I will toss and turn feeling like a frustrated, sweaty mess.

There are more of us out there than I ever realized. So, try experimenting and see what happens.

Pre-Bed Routine

This is an area that is not going to be the same for two people. What calms me down at the end of the day may not be what calms you. However, here are several ideas that may help relax the mind and ease the body for rest:

  • Hot bath or shower
  • Lavender essential oil in a diffuser
  • A small snack of protein to regulate the blood sugar and keep you feeling full longer
  • Reading
  • White noise or rain sounds
  • Tea (chamomile or valerian)

Try developing a routing each night that stays similar. If yoga and a hot bath are your thing, do it regularly at around the same time each night. If reading a book in bed with a cup of tea is what helps the lids droop, start going through your book shelf for good books that will help you sleep.

A few bonus suggestions are also developing a journaling habit, or practicing meditation to unwind before you call it a day. It is less about the specific activity, and more about the enjoyment of it and doing it consistently enough to develop the association between the activity and getting sleepy.

Declutter To Rest Better

Sometimes our environments mirror the way we are feeling or thinking at a particular moment in our lives. If we are busy and always on the go, then our bedroom may have stuff that is strewn all over the place, a pile of clothes in a heap, or things that don’t belong in the bedroom that are cluttering the space and making it harder for you to find things during the day.

I definitely relate as a full-time nurse who works 12 hour shifts and is involved in a lot of other things on the side! It can be helpful to remember that the space where I sleep needs to be a calm space; a space to relax and put aside the day.

It doesn’t have to take a lot of time either. Developing quick clean skills to do regularly has helped me keep up with daily tidying rather than letting it pile up into one overwhelming clean several months down the road when the bags under my eyes are out of control.

– keep the hamper near where you take your clothes off or keep it in the bathroom to use before a shower

– before leaving your bedroom in the morning bring two things with you that ended up there from the day before and put them where they belong. For example, in the morning after getting ready for work I bring my mug to the kitchen before going into the bathroom to shower.

– make the bed – this is a morning routine item that I have incorporated at various times throughout my life and is one that I return to. It helps get the mind ready to be up during the day, and makes it so that one is less likely to hang out in bed during the day.

– shut the bedroom door – this is a great habit for those of us who live in smaller dwellings or apartments because it can be tempting to use the bedroom as an all purpose living room, storage room, office, and bedroom. If you live in a studio, this is even more challenging, but can be helped with dividers or curtains. At times simply closing the door and creating a separation between one room and another can be helpful for mentally establishing the difference between being awake and being asleep, this is where I go to stress and this is where I go to rest, relax, and let it all go.