Sleep Hygiene: What it Is and Why it Is Important
Shy of making sure to put clean sheets on the bed every week, many of us do not think too much about sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene refers to your sleep habitswhat you do to ensure a good night's sleep and the environment with which you surround yourself to get it.
Paying attention to all of the elements involved in sleep hygiene can help you get the rest you needeven a minor change may make all the difference.
The Importance of Getting Enough Sleep
Many people form poor sleep habits by going to bed too late, getting up too early and just not taking sleep seriously. The results have led to about 71 percent of the American population suffering from moderate to severe sleep deprivation, according to sleep researcher Dr. James Maas, author of Sleep for Success. “We have a nation of zombies,” Maas says.
Zombies or not, people with sleep deprivation face serious consequences. Lack of sleep can contribute to anxiety and depression, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes (among other concerns). Chronically tired individuals also have difficulties thinking and performing on the job, at school and during daily life situations, like driving.
How to Improve Your Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene can affect how well and how much you sleep more than you probably think. Take time to improve your habits and achieve adequate and restful sleep.
What You Do:
- Value sleepMake it a priority to get to bed on time.
- Reduce stressStress is part of life and cannot be avoided. The key is to manage it with relaxation techniques, hobbies and interests, and a personal support system.
- Exercise for healthPhysical activity reduces depression, anxiety, and insomnia by releasing your body's endorphins, or feel-good chemicals. Exercise should be done in the middle of the day or late afternoon to prevent overstimulation at night.
- Keep mentally active every dayPeople who embrace opportunities to work, volunteer and pursue interests alone and with others sleep more soundly. These activities instill a sense of purpose and they increase self-esteem, which can lead to better sleep.
- Establish a bedtime ritualRead a book under a reading lamp that can be dimmed, take a warm bath or listen to soft music. (Bright light and loud sounds can fend off sleep.)
- Keep a regular scheduleGo to bed and get up at the same time, even on weekends. Doing this will regulate your internal clock.
What You Eat and Drink:
- Avoid alcohol before bedAlcohol may put you to sleep at first, but will wake you up a few hours later with its stimulating effects.
- Reduce caffeine intakeCoffee, tea, soda and chocolate will keep you awake. Try to avoid them, especially late in the afternoon and in the evening.
- Eat a balanced dietStay away from heavy, spicy or sugary foods a few hours before bed, as they can cause indigestion and heartburn.
Where You Sleep:
- Make the bedroom a relaxing environmentThe bedroom is for rest. Avoid using the bedroom as a home office or a noisy entertainment room; restrict its use to sleep only.
- Use comfortable beddingUncomfortable bedding can prevent quality sleep by causing sweating or tossing and turning. The wrong type of mattress can also lead to aches and pains; select one that supports your body best and replace it as needed.
- Keep the bedroom temperature coolThe room should not be too hot or too cold for sleeping, and it should be well ventilated.
- Block out distracting noise and reduce lightThese can leak into the bedroom from hallways and windows.
Following these tips for better sleep hygiene will improve your physical and mental health and well-being. Instead of picking and choosing, use this as a checklist, as each element is important to ensuring good sleep.
Maas, James B., Robbins, Rebecca S., and Dement, William C. Sleep for Success: Everything You Must Know About Sleep but Are too Tired to Ask. Author Solutions, 2010.
University of Maryland Medical Center. Sleep Hygiene: Helpful Hints to Help You Sleep. Available at: www.umm.edu/sleep/sleep_hyg.htm Accessed: May 27, 2011.