Are you having one of those nights where sleeping doesn’t come easy? It’s frustrating and confusing why this is happening. You are truly just wanting to sleep, and you know the importance of sleep in how it affects your health, yet the night leads to continuous interruptions of intrusive thoughts, you are physically tossing and turning in the bed, and then glancing at the time on your phone. Now it’s over! No sleep tonight!
Let’s talk about sleep hygiene. When you think of sleep hygiene, think about finding healthy habits for your sleep routine. Have you ever examined your sleeping habits? Yes, maybe using sleep medications may help in the short-term but what about finding long-term methods to improve sleep?
Top 16 techniques to form healthy sleeping habits.
- Consistent Sleep Schedule. Find your own personal rhythm by picking a regular time to go to sleep. Pick the same time and maintain a consistent schedule on when you go to sleep. For example, from Monday to Sunday go to bed at 10 pm every night. Be realistic with the time you select.
- Sleep Association. Make the bed your space for sleeping only. Try to help train your mind and body to connect your sleeping location to where you go to sleep. An example might be reading or watching television in the living room while your bedroom is solely for your sleeping time.
- Sleep When Tired. Go to sleep when you are actually tired rather than staying awake for hours. For instance, do other activities and then go to sleep when you feel tired. Sometimes it is being physically exhausted, mentally exhausted, or both to reach that tired feeling.
- Leave and Try Again. After 30 minutes or more without being able to fall asleep, try to get up and do an activity that is relaxing, boring, or requires low effort. It is recommended to stay away from activities that stimulate you. For instance, do not plan to read an interesting news article before bed as this might keep you awake because of the excitement of learning something new.
- Limit the Caffeine and Nicotine Intake (Other Substances). Try to avoid intake of caffeine and nicotine as this can influence your ability to go to sleep and serve as stimulants. For example, instead of drinking coke or coffee before bed, try chamomile (non-caffeinated) tea to aid your sleep. Stimulants can affect the mind and body up to 4-6 hours after intake.
- Limit the Alcohol Intake. Try to avoid alcohol even though it may seem like it helps you relax. Alcohol impacts the quality of sleep meaning you may wake up feeling like you got a poor night of sleep and not feeling well rested. Notice how it negatively affects your mental and physical well-being.
- Use Naps Sparingly. Try to avoid napping during your waking hours as this can impact your ability to get tired when it is time to go to sleep. Napping or resting your eyes for 5 minutes but less than an hour is ideal. Consider when you plan to sleep and try not to nap in your version of your afternoon or evening time (shift work varies this time).
- Develop Your Sleep Rituals. Try a ritual like relaxation stretches, meditation, breathing exercises, or listening to calming sounds about 15 to 30 minutes prior to bedtime.
- Avoid Exercising Before Sleep. Regular exercise can aid in healthy sleep but can make it difficult about 4 hours prior to going to sleep. You are essentially putting stress on the body when building or using muscles. Consider walking or being active at the start of your day. At the end of your day, help your body to know it is time to relax.
- Bathing Before Bed. Taking a hot bath or shower raises the body temperature and naturally influences the body to get sleepy as the body temperature decreases. It is recommended to bathe 1 to 2 hours prior to going to sleep.
- Limit Lighting and Technology. Avoid bright lights or blue lighting from your electronics. This can stimulate the brain into thinking it is daytime. Consider darkening your phone settings or other devices prior to bedtime. Soften or dim the lights as you transition to darkness for your sleeping time.
- Set Sleep Boundaries. Create boundaries of when it is your sleep time versus times when you are working, socializing, or completing a task. Write the boundary down to remind yourself for accountability purposes or communicate the boundary to others as needed.
- Choose Healthy Nutrition and Develop Portion Control. Try to avoid heavy meals and try to make healthy eating choices appropriate to your diet. Become aware of the foods that feel good for the body and those that cause pain or discomfort. It may help to create a food or sleep diary to notice changes and progress.
- Make a Sleep Space. Try to create a comfortable, safe, and quiet space for sleeping. You might consider the temperature in the room, lighting, the comfort of your mattress, pillows, blankets, darkened curtains, or other items to aid good sleep.
- Maintain Your Day Routine. Keep doing the planned daily activities to help the mind and body get tired naturally for your sleepy time. This effort plays a role in finding a consistent sleep schedule.
- Travelers and Shift Workers. Adapt and tailor your sleep hygiene to where you are and the schedule you have. Time change confuses the mind and body - quickly establish your sleeping habits. Shift workers tailor your sleep hygiene and adapt your awake time to be consistent. Anticipate setbacks but bounce back to your sleep hygiene techniques.
Risk factors of lacking sleep can cause problems in our waking hours. Here are some of the challenges to notice if you are having trouble sleeping and how it might be impacting your well-being:
You might be more agitated or irritable
Difficulty in concentrating
Unable to get tasks completed
Feeling on edge
Feeling more emotional
Mind and body aches
Feel stressed out
Difficulty in regulating emotions & thoughts
Hormonal negative effects
Inability to recover & process through your day
Body feeling sluggish & slow
There are several other consequences when we do not sleep or have quality sleep. The truth is that it is not so easy to make up for that loss of sleep. Maybe you planned to sleep in on the weekend for getting 3 to 5 hours of sleep during the week. However, it is a myth that you can compensate for that sleep you did not get. Make a goal of getting a max amount of your specific circadian rhythm sleep amount. For example, one person may feel rested from 5-7 hours whereas another person feels rested after 8-10 hours. Listen to your own body!
How does lack of sleep affect you? What is your sleep hygiene like? What areas are you willing to start to form as a habit? How does sleep affect your performance?
Forming a Habit:
Be patient through this process as you may be learning new habits. It takes time to form habits that become automatic routines. During the change process, take notice of the techniques that you like and which ones you gain the benefits from. Ultimately, it is finding the sleep hygiene that works for you.
It is recommended to consult with a medical professional, refer to a specialist, or find a therapist to address these sleep challenges. Anxiety, trauma, negative thoughts, mental wellness, and other cognitive aspects could be causing that sleep issue.
Kim Ernst, MSW, LCSWA
Centre For Clinical Interventions. (n.d). Sleep hygiene. https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/~/media/CCI/Mental-Health-Professionals/Sleep/Sleep---Information-Sheets/Sleep-Information-Sheet---04---Sleep-Hygiene.pdf