Sleep 101: The Basics of Sleep Hygiene
You’re looking for a perfect night’s sleep. Not just a great night, a perfect night. We’re talking about the kind of sleep that prepares you to jump out of bed in the morning, ready to take over the world! How do we get there? Let’s start with the basics. The foundation to a perfect night’s sleep begins with sleep hygiene.
You know all about dental hygiene and personal hygiene. But sleep hygiene? What exactly is that? Simply put, it’s a combination of behaviors and environmental factors that can help or hurt our sleep. There are five easy steps to achieving good sleep hygiene:
Step 1: Develop a bedtime routine
A bedtime routine is a series of quiet, calming activities that are performed in the same way and at the same time every night leading up to bedtime. And yes, routines are just as helpful to adults as they are to children. Activities like taking a shower, brushing your teeth, listening to calming music or reading are all great ways to prepare yourself for a good night’s sleep. You’ll want to avoid bright lights during and after your routine, including light from televisions, smartphones and computers. Avoid excessive physical activity before bed as well. Our bodies like to be cool when we transition from an awake state to a sleep state. Vigorous exercise can raise the body temperature long after you’ve finished working out.
On the other hand, a hot nighttime shower can actually help you fall asleep, because it artificially raises the body temperature for a short period of time so that when you step out of the shower, you experience a rapid drop in temperature. This temperature drop can help get you snoozing in no time!
Step 2: Adhere to an appropriate sleep schedule
One of the most common questions my patients ask is, “How much sleep do I need?” For adults, a full night’s sleep is typically between seven and nine hours, but everyone is different. So, how do you figure out how much sleep is best for you? If you don’t have any other sleep problems (e.g. sleep apnea), you should wake up feeling refreshed in the morning after a full night of sleep. If you have to drag yourself out of bed or need coffee to stay awake, you may be experiencing sleep deprivation.
Not only should you aim for seven to nine hours of sleep, you should also try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, regardless of whether it is a weekend or a weekday. This helps synchronize your sleep time with your internal clock so your body is prepared to sleep and wake up around the same time each day. If you happen to be up late one night, it’s best to set an alarm and wake up at the same time as usual the following morning (rather than sleeping in) so your body can get back on schedule.
Step 3: Create a comfortable sleep environment
This may sound obvious, but a comfortable, quiet sleep environment is something that is often taken for granted. Excessive noise, warmer room temperatures, or an old, uncomfortable bed can all prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. Noisy roommates? Consider using ear plugs. Can’t find the right temperature for your room? Try keeping the room temperature on the cool side (low 70s Fahrenheit) with a light blanket. And if your mattress is old and worn, it may be time to find a replacement.
Inadequate support of your back and body can lead to unnecessary pain and strain during the night. Old pillows and mattresses often harbor allergens that can irritate asthma and allergy symptoms just as you are trying to get some rest. Mattresses typically need replacing every five to 10 years to avoid dust mite and allergen buildup.
Step 4: Avoid sleep-disrupting substances
Substances like caffeine, nicotine and alcohol can all be sleep disruptors and should be avoided around bedtime. Many medications can cause insomnia, and common medical disorders like allergies, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, heartburn, and other aches and pains can also disrupt sleep. Check with your doctor to determine if a medical problem or a medication may be the cause of your sleep issues.
Step 5: Think of your bedroom as your sleep sanctuary
Don’t spend excessive time in your bed doing work or watching TV. The bed should be reserved for only two activities: sleep and intimacy. All other activities should be performed outside your bed, and ideally, outside your room. You want to condition your mind to think about sleep when you walk into your bedroom, not about the latest assignment from work.
There you have it — five easy steps towards getting that perfect night of sleep. Sweet dreams!