We spend one third of our lives sleeping2.
Now if that’s not a commitment, I don’t know what is. But the sad truth is, when it comes to sleep hygiene, we’re doing a lot of things wrong. Sleep hygiene is described as the actions and habits that we do before bed in order to sleep2.
The National Sleep Foundation says young adults and adults need an average of 7-9 hours of sleep a night4. But with all the things we have going on, how many of us can honestly say we get that much sleep on a given night? Missing out on quality sleep is worse than you may think, as it can impact your memory, development, performance, and physical and mental health3. 24% of women surveyed by the National Sleep Foundation reported feeling well-rested 0 days out of the four days before the survey5. The quality of sleep women get is also worse than that of men5. So how do you fix these problems? Follow the steps below to improve your sleep hygiene!
Have an unwinding routine
The National Sleep Foundation recommends having a routine before going to bed that gets you ready to sleep7. Maybe it’s taking a shower, reading a book, or a skincare regimen you abide by. Regardless, having a routine is going to help you sleep better2, 6.
Stick to a sleep schedule
Want to wake up feeling refreshed in the morning? You should sleep and wake up at the same time every day to accustom your body to a specific sleep and wake schedule2, 7. Sticking to a consistent sleep-wake schedule will help you get the amount of sleep you need, and leave you waking up rested. Also, odds are you’re reading this on your smartphone right now. But are you using all the features your device has to offer? You can use the built-in health app on your phone, or download one of the many free apps like it to track your sleep. This will give you a better feel as to what your wake and sleep times really are, so that you can start regulating them. For added convenience, you can use the sleep tracking features on your Fitbit or Apple Watch.
Your bed is for sleeping – keep it that way
We all love watching Netflix, having an occasional snack, and listening to music – unfortunately, your bed is not the place to do any of that. The American Sleep Association recommends avoiding anything other than sleeping when in your bed for good reason. When you start using your bed for other things like studying or watching TV, you begin to associate your bed with wakefulness, when it should be associated with sleep2, 8. So next time you’re working on a midnight deadline, try to work at a desk or even on the couch instead of your bed.
Naps on naps on naps
Yes, naps are good for you. You will be pleased to know that naps can decrease fatigue and increase alertness and positive moods2. The National Sleep Foundation recommends limiting daytime naps to 30 minutes or less2, 7. However, 10 minute naps have proven to be the best in terms of reenergizing2. A nap longer than that has the potential to lead to sleep inertia, or the need to sleep more2. And let’s face it, naps are probably one of your favorite things already. So why not capitalize on this scientific information and get your power nap on?
Limit your caffeine intake
I know how preposterous this sounds, but hear me out. Caffeine is a stimulant, so that means it’s meant to increase your alertness and keep you awake. And while you usually use it to do just that, you may not be aware of the way it impacts your sleep. Studies show that excessive caffeine intake is associated with earlier wake times and shorter time spent sleeping2, 9. So do yourself a favor and try to avoid caffeine 2-3 hours before bed9. After all, if you’re well rested, you probably won’t need as much caffeine to begin with, right?
Don’t work out right before bed
Exercising is key to staying healthy, and to getting good sleep2. However, exercising too vigorously and too close to bed time can make for a restless night2, 9. Try to get your workout in earlier in the day, a few hours before bedtime9, so that you can sleep well.
Create an atmosphere of comfort
There are many ways to make your space comfortable for bedtime. The National Sleep Foundation says the best atmosphere for sleeping is a dark room with a cool temperature, anywhere between 60-67 degrees7. It’s also important that you have a comfortable bed and pillow, as well as wear comfortable clothes7, 8.
Limit screen-time before bed
We’re all guilty of sitting in bed on our phones, tablets, or laptops, but if we want better sleep, we have to kick that habit. Not only do our devices distract us and keep us up later than necessary, but the light they emit can make it more difficult to sleep6, 10. To avoid this, try not to look at any of these screens for 30-60 minutes up until bedtime if you can6.
I know that’s the last thing you wanted to hear, but if you’re having trouble sleeping, talk to a professional. Sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnea are more common than you may think5. There are tons of resources online and in-person to help you sleep better. Check out https://sleep.org for more information and resources.
As always, there are exceptions to every rule, and some of these changes may not work well for everyone. And remember, these are not changes you should immediately adhere to and overwhelm yourself with. Gradually implement these tips into your routine, and reap the benefits of a better night’s sleep. Now go catch up on some z’s!
1 Elbaba, R. (Photographer). (2017). “Do You Sleep With That On?” [digital image]. Retrieved from https://razanelbaba.com/work-avenue/#/new-page-5/
2 Lynn, S. J., O’Donohue, W. T., & Lilienfeld, S. O. (Eds.). (2015). Health, Happiness, and Well-Being (pp. 168-194). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.
3 Bootzin, R. R., Epstein, D. R. (2011). Understanding and treating insomnia. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 11, 435-458.
4 Age. (n.d.). Retrieved from Sleep.org website: https://sleep.org
5 Sleep Health Index 2014 – Highlights. (n.d.). Retrieved from National Sleep Foundation website: https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-health-index-2014-highlights 6 What is Sleep Hygiene. (n.d.). Retrieved from Sleep.org website: https://sleep.org/articles/sleep-hygiene/
7 Thorpy, M. (2003). Sleep hygiene. Retrieved from http://sleepfoundation.org/article/ask-the-expert/sleep-hygiene
8 Sleep Hygiene Tips. (n.d.). Retrieved from American Sleep Association website: https://www.sleepassociation.org/patients-general-public/insomnia/sleep-hygiene-tips/ 9 Caffeine and Sleep. (n.d.). Retrieved from National Sleep Foundation website: https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/caffeine-and-sleep/page/0/1 10 How to Get on a Sleep Schedule. (n.d.). Retrieved from National Sleep Foundation website: https://sleep.org/articles/get-sleep-schedule/
Shereen Ayoubi is a guest blogger. Shereen is a psychology student at George Mason University in Virginia. She hopes to become a clinical psychologist after her post-graduate studies.