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It's Not About When You Washed Your Sheets | What is Sleep Hygiene?

man sleeping in a bed with striped sheets

There are two types of people in this world. Those with healthy sleep patterns and those without. Bad sleepers are often marked with dark circles, fatigue, a general dread of mornings, and a crippling need for caffeine. Sleep plays a critical role in overall health. So, how can we switch the sheets and promote better sleep? Keep reading to find out. 

What is Sleep Hygiene? 

Sleep hygiene is the habits or practices that impact sleep quality and duration. Much like physical hygiene, sleep hygiene can have both positive and negative influences on the body. How we operate throughout the day, what we consume, and what environment we are in play a large role in establishing healthy or poor sleep hygiene.

How Much Sleep Do I Need? 

The amount of sleep necessary for proper functioning depends significantly on age and health. According to the CDC, healthy adults should achieve seven to nine hours of restful sleep each night. Constantly falling short of this goal leads to impaired immune function and physical performance, mental fatigue, slower nervous reaction and memory recall, and an increased risk of accident or injury. 

Signs of Poor Sleep Quality

Sleep isn't just about quantity though. Even when you set aside time to sleep for the recommended duration, it's possible to still have poor sleep quality. Poor sleep quality can be detected by the following signs: 

  • Wake up tired or fatigued after a full seven to nine-hour night of sleep. 
  • Repeated waking throughout the night. 
  • Trouble falling asleep or waking up to an alarm.

Factors That Affect Sleep Quality

There are a plethora of factors that contribute to sleep quality. Some of the most common causes of poor sleep are:

  • Caffeine and Sugar Intake: Excess intake of these components throughout the day or before bed can create responses from the nervous system and keep you awake. 
  • Hormones: Excessive production of stress and stimulant hormones throughout the day or close to bedtime can induce responses from the nervous system and keep you awake. 
  • Sleep Disorders: Pay attention to your sleep-related symptoms to ensure that a sleep disorder is not causing your issues. If you're concerned about how a sleep disorder may be affecting you, contact your doctor. 
  • Inconsistent Sleep Times and Routines: Your body runs via natural rhythms. These patterns help differentiate between day and night. 
  • Medicinal Side Effects: Some medications have side effects that impact sleep quality or duration. 
  • Physical Disturbances: Pain, indigestion, and consistent limb movement while asleep can cause frequent wakings. 

Building Better Sleep Habits

While there are some factors that may be out of your control, there are things that can improve your overall quality of sleep. Working and fueling your body throughout the day, establishing a routine suited to your body’s natural rhythms, and creating an environment conducive to your comfort are important components of consistent restful sleep. With these small, but impactful changes many adults can transform the quality of their sleep sessions.

Establishing a Nighttime Routine

Perhaps one of the simplest ways to sleep better is by allowing yourself optimal time to wind down from the day. This can be done in the form of an established nighttime routine. As creatures of habit,.consistent routines help our brains differentiate between when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to be awake. The focus of these nighttime habits should be slowly transitioning your body and mind from a state of activity to one of rest.

Nighttime routine Tips
  • Start your routine around the same time each night.
  • Allow yourself enough time between the start of your routine and when you want to be asleep to complete each task without rushing.
  • Know how your body responds to certain activities. A shower at night may calm some people down but may have the opposite effect on other people. 
  • Skip the electronics. While it may be tempting to wind down with your favorite TV show, studies have shown that the use of technology prior to and during sleep has negative impacts on sleep quality. 
Sample Nighttime Routine
  • 9:00 PM - Layout towel and pajamas in the bathroom. 
  • 9:10 PM - Take a warm shower. 
  • 9:25 PM - Take 10 to 15 minutes to read a couple of pages of a book while having a light snack. 
  • 9:40 PM - Play some soft music while brushing your teeth and hair. 
  • 9:50 PM - Turn out most of the lights in your room and take a few minutes to stretch out your body and slow your breathing.
  • 10:00 PM - Turn out the remaining lights and go to bed. 

Food, Water, and Sleep Quality

There is a direct relationship between food consumption, water intake, and quality of sleep. The content and timing of before-bed snacks matter. For example, foods or drinks that are high in sugar and caffeine should only be consumed moderately during the day and avoided altogether at night. In addition, heavy meals should be had earlier in the evening so as not to cause acid reflux, indigestion, or stomach disturbances. 

There are several foods that aid in restful sleep as well.  As cliche as it sounds, having a light snack or warm herbal tea before bed can improve sleep quality. Foods containing calcium, potassium, magnesium, and tryptophan are ideal before bed. These components help you to fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, or induce a deeper sleep. 

Creating a Calming Environment

Having an environment ideal for and dedicated to sleep is vital. There are certain standards your bedroom should meet that work to create a comfortable and calming sleep space. 

  • Soft Lights: Certain types of light, like blue light from electronics, harm melatonin production and negatively impact sleep quality. Warm lights are the better option for your bedroom when winding down and a completely dark room is best during sleep. 
  • Noise Reduction: Any noise, no matter how small, stimulates our brain even during sleep. Having little to no noise is ideal for restful sleep. However, the most important factor is making sure that any noise you experience is significantly reduced compared to daytime noise exposure. 
  • Uncluttered: Clutter can cause anxiety. Your sleep space should be clear of crumbs, trash, and clutter that doesn't belong there. 
  • Moderate Temperature: Having a room that is too hot or too cold can lead to restless sleep. Experiment with what temperature works best for you and keep your sleep space in that range. 
  • Light Scents: Strong scents, whether they're pleasant or not, can keep you awake at night. Opt for lighter natural scents like lavender, chamomile, sandalwood, eucalyptus, jasmine, and frankincense. If you have a partner and find it difficult to sleep without them, it may have something to do with their pheromones! 
  • Dedicated Space: Your bed should be used for sex and sleep. Nothing else. That way when you lay down at night, your brain recognizes that it's time for one of those two activities. 
  • Ideal Bedding: Clean sheets that are moisture wicking, soft on the skin, and provide the ideal temperature regulation provide comfort which improves sleep. 

Making the Most of Your Daytime

There is a correlation between the amount of energy burned during the day and sleep quality at night. Studies have shown that exercise and activity during the day improved sleep onset and duration. For every sedentary hour during the day, it took participants three minutes longer to fall asleep. In addition, for every ten minutes earlier participants fell asleep, an hour was added to the duration of that sleep. 

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