Obtaining healthy sleep is important for both physical and mental health. It can also improve productivity and overall quality of life. Everyone, from children to older adults, can benefit from practicing good sleep habits. – National Sleep Foundation
Did you know that sleep professionals have an actual term for healthy habits before bedtime?
Well, they do – and it’s called sleep hygiene. Per the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), sleep hygiene is defined as: “A variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness.”
Similar to how we all benefit or are hindered by our daily routines (ex: work, morning, time-management); we are all affected – whether we realize it or not – by our sleep hygiene or lack thereof.
With some help from our friends over at the NSF, we’re going to discuss 10 things we can do to improve our sleep hygiene.
10 Things You Should Do When You Can’t Sleep At Night
1. Lay off the stimulants
Stimulants come in a variety of forms, including caffeine, medications, and nicotine. The most common of these, of course, is caffeine. (As a former grad student having to work until wee hours of the morning, take this writer’s word.)
Caffeine, once in the body, lasts for around 12 hours. 12 hours!
The good news is (and it is good news) that we can safely consume up to three 8 ounce cups of coffee per day. Six or more cups is considered excessive.
Also, watch your nicotine and stimulant medication intake; in particular, the hours of consumption.
2. Tune your environment
Do whatever it takes: buy blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, fans – anything to rectify a poor sleeping environment. Those who’ve lived in a crowded apartment complex can probably relate.
Other tips: keep the bedroom at a cool temperature, check the quality of your mattress, and use comfy pillows. Turn off bright lights from anywhere and everywhere.
3. Limit napping
We all love naps.
But napping, wonderful as it is, can hinder regular sleep by disrupting our normal sleep/wake cycle (i.e., circadian rhythm).
On the other hand, finding that “sweet spot” – which the NSF defines as between 20 and 30 minutes – can improve alertness, mood, and performance.
4. Get a bit of exercise
Exercise is recommended for just about every ailment in existence. Insomnia, or difficulty falling asleep, is no different.
Even working out for a brief 10 minutes can have a marked improvement on our sleep quality. The NSF recommends aerobic exercise to achieve this result – a brisk walk, bike ride, or light jog are all excellent options.
One last thing: intensive workouts should be completed during daytime hours. Vigorous exercise four hours of less before sleep can diminish sleep quality.
5. Get enough light
Preferably, light that comes from the sun, not the desk lamp. Many of us work in an office environment for 8+ hours a day. By the time we clock out, the sun is often on the way down.
Try getting outside for one of your breaks, or eating lunch at an outside cafeteria. Better yet, use that time to get in a brisk walk out in the sunshine.
6. Know which foods to stay away from
This is especially true for foods that may promote indigestion and heartburn. Foods that fit this description include citrus, carbonated drinks, heavy or rich foods, and fried foods.
Light dishes, consisting of fresh vegetables and lean cuts of meat, are excellent choices for promoting sleep.
7. Have a regular, relaxing bedtime routine
A regular nighttime routine prepares the body for bed. Routines that fit this description are light on brain stimulation, as in a TV or computer marathon. It is also wise to refrain from activities that evoke negative emotions.
Instead, try reading a hardcover or softcover book (no tablets), relaxing with a warm bath or shower, or doing some light stretches, meditation, or yoga.
8. Lay off the booze
The sleep cycle after consuming alcohol looks something like this: it helps knock you out, alcohol levels drop (rate: about one drink per hour), REM sleep quality decreases, non-REM sleep increases, and you wake up.
Here’s the problem with this cycle. Quality REM sleep is needed for proper cognitive function – which suffers from the effects of alcohol. As alcohol levels begin to drop, the body’s internal state begins to “awaken,” although the person is technically still asleep.
This is why we feel groggy and lethargic throughout the following day. Do yourself a favor and limit alcohol intake during the week or save it for the weekends.
9. Don’t rule out the “small stuff”
Certain supplements and vitamins can have a disruptive effect on sleep, as can certain oral contraceptives and hypertension pills.
Chronic, small pains are tempting to disregard, but don’t underestimate any pain’s ability rob you of a good night’s sleep. Consider taking some type of NSAID, which are well-tolerated more often than not.
Do you have pets in your bed? Does your partner snore or move around, waking you up? Consider your environment and any potential culprits – and come up with a practical solution.
10. Follow up with your doctor
In rare cases, poor sleep quality could be the result of an underlying disorder. If this state persists despite making necessary changes to your lifestyle, it’s best to be safe and follow up with a medical professional.