Sleep is essential to the wellness of our mind, body, and soul but for many (myself included) a good night’s rest is a privilege.
On a personal level, I know medication can help, but it’s not a perfect solution and doesn’t always guarantee a good night’s rest. There are so many factors that prevent us from experiencing really good sleep and especially with the current pandemic many people are finding sleep a difficult process.
Research has shown that improving and practicing good sleep hygiene is the key to getting a good night’s rest.
So to help you get a better night’s sleep based on guidance from Hayley Pedrick at The London Sleep Centre and my own research here is some useful insight on sleep hygiene and healthy sleeping habits.
What is Sleep Hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is the term for a number of habits and health tips that can help you to get a better night’s sleep. Research has shown that by developing good sleep hygiene, anyone, even those who suffer from sleep disorders like insomnia can maximise the hours they spend sleeping and the quality of their sleep.
Why is it important to have sleep hygiene?
Sleep is time for your body and mind to recuperate, rest, process, and heal. We all know that a bad night’s sleep can result in feeling grumpy, aching, and overall unwell, but did you know that consistently having little or poor sleep can seriously impact your mental and physical health?
Without sleep, our quality of life suffers hugely.
Sleep Hygiene and Mental Health
Poor sleep not only creates physical problems but also mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. When we spoke to the London Sleep Centre, they revealed that people who get very little sleep a night even have trouble reading social situations and controlling their moods. Without sleep, our cortisol levels (stress hormones) rise which leaves us in a state of high anxiety and unhappiness.
Implementing the healthy habits and tools included in sleep hygiene will result in better sleep and therefore protect, maintain and even improve your mental health.
Sleep Hygiene and Physical Health
Getting a good night’s sleep has been proven to lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer’s. During sleep, your body completely rejuvenates, repairing cells, metabolising the nutrients from your food and hormones produced during activity. Sleep is even the time when your brain 'detoxifies’ flushing itself with cerebral fluid that prevents the build-up of plaque which can lead to degenerative brain diseases.
Having good sleep hygiene in place and therefore getting high-quality rest, will ensure your body is at the optimum level of physical health.
What are the signs of poor sleep hygiene?
Feeling exhausted during the day? Constantly yawning? Tossing, turning and taking forever to fall asleep? Waking up repeatedly during the night? These are all signs of poor sleep hygiene and long term, this loss or lack of sleep can have a horrible impact on your overall wellbeing.
However, there is no need to worry! In the large majority of cases, just a few simple changes to your day to day life and the development of a healthy bedtime routine can help improve the quality and length of your sleep.
Tips to improve your Sleep Hygiene
Limit stimulants like caffeine or nicotine The name is on the tin, stimulants keep you awake not only throughout the day but into the night, so consuming them without moderation will impact the quality of your sleep.
Avoid or limit daytime naps I’m not a napper, but many people enjoy a nice siesta of an afternoon. However if you want to go to sleep easily at night, it’s better to moderate day time naps or stay clear of them all-together as they can impact the quality of your sleep.
Exercise regularly As little as 10 minutes aerobic exercise a day can be integral to sleeping better! But remember it’s important to exercise at the right times i.e. early morning, afternoon or evening as exercising too close to bedtime will prevent a good night’s sleep.
Improve your nutrition Eating well and regularly is key to a better night’s sleep. Some foods, like cherries can improve your ability to sleep. Research suggests that eating two kiwis a night regularly can even help increase your sleep duration!
Increase your exposure to natural light Making sure you get enough natural light during the day regulates your circadian rhythm, the process by which your body wakes up and goes to sleep
Decrease your exposure to light This may sound obvious but limiting the amount of light you are exposed to before bed is crucial to regulating your circadian rhythm and helping your brain wind down before sleep. If you struggle with this, blue blocker glasses might be a good solution as these reduce the amount of blue light - the light that stimulates your brain - and have even been shown to increase melatonin levels.
Practice meditation Meditation reduces arousal in the brain and reduces your stress response. Meditating before bed has been proven to increase the length of your sleep, improve sleep quality, and ease the process of falling (and stay) asleep.
Practice Yoga Yoga is a form of moving meditation, so unlike other forms of exercise, a slow and relaxing yoga flow can be key to putting you in the right state to go to sleep.
Control your content exposure Reading a good book or listening to a podcast before bed is one of many ways people switch off. However, if the content you are reading or listening to is in anyway traumatic or stressful, put it down or turn it off! Consuming stressful content before bed will only increase your cortisol levels and impact how well and if you sleep.
Improve your sleep environment How can you relax and go to sleep if your environment is stressful? Make sure your room is tidy and clean, remove any objects or clutter that cause you stress, set a comfortable room temperature and even try burning incense or lighting a candle to help you feel at peace in your sleep environment.