Good sleep is not always easy to come by. With continuously developing technology, our daily stresses, and competing priorities, it can be difficult for some to form and adopt good sleeping habits. But with sleep affecting our health at a holistic level, it’s important now more than ever to begin to develop – or hone in on – good sleep hygiene.
Though the term includes the word “hygiene,” sleep hygiene isn’t just related to the physical conditions of our rest. Rather, sleep hygiene refers to healthy behaviors, environmental factors, and habits we can adopt to help get better sleep.
What defines bad sleep hygiene?
To understand good sleep hygiene, it’s important to recognize what is considered bad sleep hygiene, too. When we have subpar sleep hygiene, this is a form of insomnia caused by bad sleeping habits. When it comes time to sleep at night, plenty of factors can negatively affect our sleep, from our environment to our actions leading up to bedtime.
Background noise, extreme temperatures, and uncomfortable bedroom furniture can make it more difficult to fall asleep — and stay asleep — at night. Having an irregular bedtime doesn’t help, nor does excessive napping at other times during the day. Even what we do with our bodies before bedtime affects our overall sleep hygiene. If we spend a lot of time in bed outside of our sleeping hours, live a non-active lifestyle, engage in stimulating activity or consume alcohol, caffeine, or fluids before bedtime, this can all build up to an inadequate night of sleep.
If you suffer from bad sleep hygiene, you will likely notice the effects in your day-to-day life, most often at bedtime. Bad sleep hygiene tends to make it difficult to fall asleep, causes sleep disturbances, and causes daytime sleepiness.
How can we maintain good sleep hygiene?
It’s no secret a good night’s sleep (at least 7 hours a night for adults) is essential for our mental and physical health. We need sleep to help our brain work properly, with studies showing a good night’s sleep can improve learning and problem-solving skills, aid in our attention and decision-making skills, and promote creativity. For our physical health, sleep allows our body to heal and repair blood vessels and the heart, supports healthy development and growth, boosts immunity, fights against germs, and decreases the risk of health problems, including heart disease, hypertension, stroke, and more.
Good sleep hygiene requires an optimal bedroom setup, curated daily habits, as well as a steady nighttime routine. For our bedrooms, it’s important to sleep on a comfortable mattress, pillow, and good quality bedding, try blocking out light using curtains or an eye mask and reduce audible disruptions by using a fan or white noise machine.
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Everything we do during the day can affect our night of sleep. Exposure to daylight helps drive our circadian rhythm, while physical activity can overall make it easier to sleep at night. When it comes to drinking and smoking, both can disrupt our sleep in different ways, with nicotine in cigarettes stimulating the body and interrupting sleep. It may be tempting to lie down in bed during the day to work or lounge, but it can negatively affect the link between being in bed and sleeping, so it’s best to leave the bed for sleep.
Forming a nighttime routine may be easier said than done, but it’s another important aspect of good sleep hygiene. Try to keep a consistent routine when possible, including brushing your teeth and putting on your pajamas to help remind your brain that it’s bedtime. Even though the concept of a “midnight snack” feels like a good idea at the time, it’s best to give your body ample time to digest your final meal of the day, whether that’s dinner, dessert, or a little snack. It’s important to also give yourself time to wind down before bed by reading or stretching, though it’s best to leave the screens away from your bed 30 to 60 minutes before you settle in. And if you habitually toss and turn, it’s best to get out of bed if you haven’t fallen asleep in 20 minutes and do a stretch, read, or another activity in the low light before trying to sleep again.