Sleep hygiene is a term that is becoming more popular as we learn how important sleep can be for our health. This term encompasses different strategies to establish daily habits that can ultimately increase the quality and quantity of your sleep providing you the necessary rejuvenation after a long day.
● Relax the mind
● Limit alcohol and caffeine
● Set your biological clock
● Set up sleep-friendly environment
● Limit naps and manage restlessness
The research shows that moderate to vigorous intensity exercise helps with sleep.1 Scientific reviews report that exercise can help shorten sleep onset at night and wakefulness onset in the morning.2 Also a 2013 Sleep in America poll reported that there were no differences in sleep quality between individuals who engaged in moderate to vigorous exercise within 4 hours of bedtime and before 4 hours of bedtime.
This suggests that exercise is good regardless time of the day. However, some experts suggest that moderate to vigorous exercise 2-3 hours before bedtime may negatively affect your sleep because it alters your normal body temperature prior to sleep and may be too stimulating, keeping the mind awake.
Relaxing the Mind Before Bedtime
If the mind is active, the body will not rest. Try to not watch or partake in stimulating activities before you sleep. This includes blue light emitting devices like your smartphone or tablet. Your brain needs to be at its lowest amount of cognitive activity to assure a nice transition into sleep. Establish a relaxation routine including activities like journaling, reading, taking a warm bath, or meditating.3,4
Limit Alcohol and Caffeine
What you consume and when you consume something can affect your sleep.
Let’s first talk about the fabled nightcap. Having alcohol before bed actually negatively affects your sleep. Even though the effects of the depressant may make you feel drowsy, sleep scientists have found that alcohol prevents you from entering the most important stage of sleep, REM. It isn’t until the alcohol is metabolized when you can enter that fourth and final stage, and this is where the brain tries desperately to make up for the lost time leading to multiple vivid dreams before you wake up.4
Caffeine has a half-life of 5-7 hours, meaning that 50% of the caffeine you ingest is used up in your body within those hours. Understanding this, having an afternoon coffee, you’ll find yourself combating a substantial amount of caffeine at bedtime, disturbing the quality of your sleep.4
Other things that you can control is to avoid consuming large meals or excessive fluid 2-3 hours before sleep. The body performs the least amount of digestion while you sleep. Also you don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night to use the toilet.
Setting your Biological Clock
One of the main strategies for better sleep is through regulating your biological clock. Choose a bedtime and wake time and stick to it every single day. Though this may seem very silly at first, your body adjusts and creates the sensation of sleepiness close to those times once it acclimates. The body craves consistency for many things, sleep is no different.
Setting up a light that turns on at a specific time everyday also helps set your waking clock. So when the body responds both to hour of the day and amount of light exposure, it can regulate a steady biological cycle of sleep.3
Setting up a Sleep-Friendly Environment
Adjust your sleeping quarters. Assign the bedroom only for sleeping and intimate activities. Removing other activities like watching TV, responding to emails, or eating from the bedroom will help create an environment that triggers the body to feel sleepy.3
The darker and quieter the bedroom, the better. As an avid listener of the Tim Ferriss show, I learned that you can make a few purchases to help achieve this ideal environment. While I was living in New York City, I learned it was impossible to avoid the bright lights and constant blaring of sirens, so I invested in quality earplugs, blackout curtains, and an eye mask.5
What some have found helpful is to dim the lights or turn off brighter lights in their home 2 hours before bed. This again can trigger your body into recognizing that it’s almost time for bed.
Generally, experts found that having the room at a cooler temperature helps as well. A drop in temperature helps initiate sleep. Some experts propose this taps into our primitive selves who would naturally go to bed at night when it’s cooler outside.4
Naps and Difficulty Falling Asleep
Avoid long naps (greater than 20 minutes) throughout the day. Essentially taking a nap during the day creates a sleep debt where you will have a difficulty falling asleep later that night.
If you’re laying in bed and you cannot fall asleep for 20-30 minutes. Get out of bed and do one of those relaxing activities that worked for you. Return back to bed when you’re sleepy. This helps maintain that mental attribution of bed equals sleep.3,4
1. Yang, P., Ho, K., Chen, H. and Chien, M. (2012). Exercise training improves sleep quality in middle-aged and older adults with sleep problems: a systematic review. Journal of Physiotherapy, 58(3), pp.157-163.
2. Uchida S, Shioda K, Morita Y, Kubota C, Ganeko M, Takeda N. Exercise Effects on Sleep Physiology. Frontiers in Neurology. 2012;3. doi:10.3389/fneur.2012.00048.
3. Siengsukon PT, PhD, K. and Bezner PT, DPT, PhD, J. (2017). Sleepless in San Antonio: Guiding Patients to Better Sleep & Wellbeing.
4. Walker MP. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. New York, NY: Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.; 2018.
5. Ferriss, T. (2015). 5 Tools I Use For Faster And Better Sleep. [online] The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss. Available at: https://tim.blog/2015/10/17/5-tools-i-use-for-faster-and-better-sleep/ [Accessed 8 Aug. 2017].
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