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The importance of sleep: How to improve your sleep hygiene

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where it’s 3 in the morning, and you are lying in the comfort of your bed, struggling to fall asleep? You would be surprised by how many people are actually sharing the same problem on a daily basis. And even though falling asleep may seem like an impossible thing to do when you are awake in the middle of the night, good sleep can be more under your control than you think!

Following a few simple healthy sleep habits can make an enormous difference between restlessness and restful sleep. Good news is that researchers have put together a variety of practices and habits, also known as ‘sleep hygiene’, which can help literally anyone maximize their hours of sleeping. Let’s find out what we can do to make the sleep of our dreams a reality!

What does ‘sleep hygiene’ mean?

The term ‘sleep hygiene’ refers to all the rituals, norms and behaviors that one follows around sleep. Sometimes, due to different reasons, people tend to stay awake during the night, or sleep in on the weekends when trying to ‘make up’ for lost sleep. These are examples of poor sleep hygiene. On the other hand, good sleep hygiene practices are considered to be following a regular sleep schedule and avoiding things that can prevent that such as drinking caffeine at night or looking at your screen shortly before going to bed.

Moreover, sleep hygiene education is a crucial part when treating insomnia, one of the most common sleeping disorders. Therefore, improving your sleep hygiene is the first thing you should go after when sleep troubles occur.

Why is having good sleep habits so important?

Even though it may sound unimaginable, ‘sleep hygiene’ is ‘a thing’ and it may be the best way to get the sleep you need in this busy, 24/7 age. When a person has good sleep habits, they consistently enjoy restful, high-quality sleep for a sufficient time every night. On the contrary, bad sleep hygiene leads to poor quality and insufficient sleep.

Having a good sleep on a regular basis is vital to keeping a balanced emotional, mental and physical health. It also helps a person stay focused during the day, makes them more productive and functional and improves their mood.

The keys to successfully adopting a good sleep hygiene

Start small

You don’t have to do everything at once. Instead, making small changes can have a large positive impact on the quality of sleep. Pick one or two strategies for start, and try them regularly. Then, when you are ready, try adding a new strategy. That way your body will start adapting to habits that can help you sleep and reduce the things that are interfering with your sleep.

Be patient and consistent

As we mentioned earlier, make sure you pick a strategy and try to do the same thing every night. Only then you can see if it works for you or not. Patience and consistency go together, so be aware that these strategies can take time to improve your sleep. What’s more, sometimes things can get worse before they get better, so try to hang in there and don’t quit!

Keep track of your progress

There are various ways you can follow your improvement and the strategies you are using. So, whether it’s a sleep diary of a phone app, make sure you keep track of your sleep progress.

7 tips to improve your sleep

Just think about all the factors that can affect your good night’s sleep. Work stress, everyday family responsibilities or unexpected challenges are just some of the reasons we struggle with falling asleep at night. However, while we might not be able to control these factors, what we can do is adopt habits that encourage better quality of sleep. Here’s what we can do:

sleep hygiene - sleeping woman
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

1. Create a comfortable and restful sleeping environment

 Turn your bedroom into a room that is perfect for sleeping. Every person has individual preferences, but in general a room which is dark, quiet and not too hot or too cold is considered to be ideal for a good quality sleep. Depending on the place where you spend the night, you may consider using room-darkening shades, earplugs or basically anything that will help you create an environment that will suit your needs. Make sure that you have a supportive mattress and fresh bedding, as well. 

Tip: Some activities before bedtime, like taking a bath or using relaxation techniques are said to improve the quality of sleep.

2. Be physically active during the day

Those who exercise tend to have better sleep, and that is no surprise. What we do during the day can have a big impact on our sleep. Exercise improves our health in general, and it helps our body to be physically tired by the time bedtime comes. Be aware, though, that while exercising in the morning is good for you, it probably won’t help you with sleep when done at night. Instead, try to schedule your workout routine in the late afternoon or early evening. Being physically active should be avoided 3 hours before bed, since it energizes you, and the more awake you are, the harder it may be to fall asleep.

Tip: If you are an athlete, quality deep sleep is vital to the recovery process of your body and maintaining your athleticism, so try not to ignore this ‘don’t exercise late at night’ rule.

3. Avoid long and frequent naps

 We understand that sometimes naps are essential for a productivity boost, especially if you have a long day ahead of you, we’ve all been there. However, frequent naps can mess with our nighttime routine and sleep. So if you have to take a nap, try to limit it to a short nap of half an hour or less, and stick to it without snoozing the alarm.

If you decide to nap after 3 pm, be aware that your nighttime sleep may be affected. Also, if you nap longer than half an hour you risk falling into a deep sleep, from which you might wake up groggier than you were before you lied down.

Tip: If your body needs more naps even after proper amount of overnight sleep, you might consider asking for medical advice as there may be a bigger issue behind the increased need for sleep. 

4. Leave your worries behind when you go to bed

 We’ve all been there, so each one of us knows that worries about work, health, relationships or school can sometimes be a handful. The key to a better sleep is to leave all our worries out of the bedroom. Try scheduling ‘dealing with worries time’ in the evening so they don’t bother you when you go to bed. It’s not easy, in fact it might be one of the most difficult sleep strategies, but as we said before, start small. Start with the basics, get organized, set priorities and finish all the tasks you can before you go to sleep. And if you wake up in the middle of the night worrying about something, try writing it down. This is especially helpful because it will remind you to address your worries the following day.

 5. Pay attention to what you eat before bedtime

 It’s simple, don’t go to bed hungry or stuffed. It’s hard to get to sleep with an empty stomach, but dinner a few hours before you go to sleep is enough to keep you full enough without interfering with the quality of sleep. You might have noticed that large meals make you sleepy, but they often result in disrupted sleep in the middle of the night.

There is one golden rule as far as sleeping and food are concerned: if you want to sleep better, eat better. When deciding on dinner, it’s important that you include foods that are known to encourage sleep, and avoid those that don’t. Good news is that the list of good foods for sleep is long, and includes milk, rice, bananas, oats, yogurt and much more. Be aware that every person is tolerant to different types of food, though, so what works for some might not work for others. The list for ‘bad’ foods is really easy to remember, as it includes ingredients which you should already be avoiding, such as food that is too sugary, fatty or spicy.

6. Watch what you drink before bedtime, too.

You already know that the key to good health is staying hydrated. However, be aware of your water intake in the evening, as you want to avoid being woken up by your bladder during the night. Avoid drinking caffeinated drinks and alcohol before bedtime, as well. The stimulating effect of caffeine may take hours to fade, and although alcohol can make you feel sleepy, it can disrupt you sleep later in the night.

 7. Experiment with your sleep hygiene

Even though many of these strategies are common and work for some people, keep in mind that the right way to sleep is different for different people. Try experimenting with your bedtime routines. Perhaps reading a book by a soft lamp, aromatherapy, meditation or taking a warm bath is just what your body needs to fall asleep more successfully.

Got these things covered? Good news – you have adopted a great sleep hygiene!

Now that you know that there is a term for your nightly habits and bedtime rituals, it’s time you start addressing and improving the quality of your sleep hygiene. We have the perfect recipe to avoid tossing and turning every night. So, consider these simple strategies and leave the long restless nights behind you! 

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