What is sleep hygiene and how can I improve sleep quality?
Getting a good quality and enough sleep is crucial to maintaining our physical and mental health. Most of us have noticed that when we lose some hours of sleep, we feel tired and cranky the next day with low energy levels which impacts on our concentration, alertness and mood.
We all experience some sleep disturbances in our lives for different reasons such as emotional ups and downs, anxiety, or relentless rethinking of the day’s events. However, if you are often losing sleep, you might be putting yourself at risk of sleep deprivation-related problems including chronic stress, mood disorders or heart disease.
How can a good sleep hygiene help? The term “hygiene” is not actually related to cleanliness, rather, it represents a set of habits, routines and changes in our environment that have a major impact on our sleep. Remember, that the things that you do during the day, your evening habits and your sleep environment can dramatically change the quality of your sleep. Here are some sleep hygiene practises to improve your sleep:
1 Establish a consistent bedtime routine–
go to bed at the same time each day and get up at the same time each morning. It’s important to stick to your routine even on the weekends as sleep deprivation during the week and binge-sleeping on the weekend can do more harm to your sleep cycles than good.
2 Avoid stimulants
such as caffeine, nicotine or sugary foods and drinks close to bed time. Taking such stimulants up to 3 hours before going to bed can seriously disrupt your ability to fall or stay asleep. Not only tea and coffee, but also chocolate contains caffeine. Alcohol is also known to disrupt your sleep especially in the second part of the night when the body starts to process it.
3 Exercise regularly –
even just 10 minutes of a cardio exercise such as a brisk walk or cycling can make a difference in your sleep quality. Afternoon exercise tires the body and as it cools down in the evening it makes the sleep come more gradually. However, avoid heavy exercise close to bedtime as it can make falling asleep difficult due to not enough time for the body to cool itself down.
4 Get enough natural light during the day
– sunlight during the day and darkness at night regulate our circadian rhythm- the internal clock that maintain healthy sleeping cycle.
5 Avoid electronics and bright lights before bedtime
– TV, videogames and phones can be too stimulating and emit artificial light that may prevent your body from relaxing. The light can trick your circadian rhythm into thinking that it is daylight and delay the release of melatonin – the sleep hormone.
6 Avoid, or limit daytime naps –
short naps of up to 30 minutes can help with extreme fatigue or low mood, but they don’t make up for lost sleep. Try not to doze off in front of the TV in the evening as you are risking upsetting your body clock.
7 Practise relaxation techniques –
relaxing activities before bed such as reading a book, meditating, or light stretching can help you wind down and relax your body and mind from the daily stressors. Writing down ideas or frustrations can help to put you racing mind at ease.
8 Make a “sleep-friendly” environment –
this includes a comfortable mattress, optimal temperature between 16-18°C, dark and quiet room without any distractions. Consider using ear plugs or dark curtains to help block out noise and bright lights.
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