What is sleep hygiene?
Healthy sleep is essential for our mental and physical health. It is a significant indicator in improving our overall sense of well-being and productivity.
Engaging in, and paying attention to good sleep hygiene practices is one of the simplest ways to contribute to the best possible success for better sleep. Sleep hygiene is about creating an environment and habits that can contribute to a higher-quality sleep and better overall health.
Below are several questions and answers relating to sleep hygiene strategies that you can adapt to suit your needs and preferences. These strategies have been developed using research evidence to provide long-term solutions to difficulties with sleep.
What is a ‘body clock’ and what does it do?
We all have an internal ‘clock’ within our brains that regulate the alternating sleep-wake cycle. Many of our automated bodily processes (e.g. brain states and temperature) are synchronised by our 24-hour biological clock. Creating a regular bed routine means working with your body clock and this increases the likelihood of good sleep.
How can I work with my body clock for better sleep?
- Get up and go to bed at the same time every day. Even on your day’s off. Aim for no more than an hour either side to ‘set’ your body clock.
- When you’re feeling tired, go to bed – listen to your body!
- If you’re not tired, going to bed at this time can reinforce the bad habit of lying awake.
- If you’re not asleep within about 20 minutes get up and do something relaxing, like reading a book or colouring in. Try using a lamp to keep the light subdued and set yourself up for this (i.e. having your book or colouring pencils ready to go) before you hop into bed.
- Try to keep to your usual daily routines even if you haven’t slept well, including try to avoid naps especially if you are working on a ‘reset’ of your clock.
- Get some of that glorious early morning sunshine! Accessing this early morning light when you first wake up also helps ‘set’ your body clock.
How can I create a cosy sleep environment?
You’re more likely to sleep well if your bedroom environment feels comfortable and restful.
- Ensure your room is at a comfortable temperature, not too warm or too chilly (think Goldilocks)
- You will sleep better in a dark space. It might be helpful to try an eye mask.
- A quiet room is also ideal, if you can’t control this (snoring partner, barking dogs, noisy neighbours) consider ear-plugs.
- Think of your bedroom as being dual purpose only – sleeping and intimacy. If your bedroom becomes a lounge room alternative (e.g. watching television or taking phone calls) your mind will associate activity with this space.
Are drugs and alcohol helpful to get a better night’s sleep?
It is best to avoid nicotine (cigarettes) and caffeine (tea, coffee, cola drinks, chocolate and some medications) for about 4 -6 hours before bed as these are stimulants and interrupt our ability to fall asleep.
While alcohol can make you feel sleepy and even aid in us initially falling asleep it disturbs the rhythm of our sleep patterns, meaning we won’t feel restored or refreshed in the morning. It can also result in frequent trips to the bathroom and waking with a hang-over. It is recommended to avoid alcohol for at least 4-6 hours before bed.
If we are really struggling with our sleep it can be tempting to consider sleeping medication. However, they come with definite drawbacks including experiencing daytime sleepiness and a dependence on them to be able to sleep at all. They also fail to address or identify the causes of any sleeping problems. They can serve a purpose and should be seen as a temporary last resort while under strict medical supervision.
How can I relax before going to sleep?
Poor sleep is often a result of over-thinking and worrying.
- A mindfulness activity, like a guided relaxation meditation, or progressing muscle relaxation can be really useful to reduce the tension in your body.
- If you find you do most of your worrying at night you could try scheduling a half hour of “worry time” earlier in the day.
How can I understand my sleep patterns better?
When we are regularly waking up tired, we can make assumptions about how much sleep we are actually getting. Keeping a diary for about two weeks should allow for any patterns or difficulties to be noticed. It may be helpful for you to take this to your GP to discuss the need for any further investigations
Top tips for a better night’s sleep:
- A soak in a hot bath one to two hours before bed. Not only can this be relaxing it will also raise your body temperature causing sleepiness as you cool down after.
- A warm milk drink – long as you’re not lactose intolerant. Grandma might have been onto something here. Milk is known to contain two nutrients widely known to support or induce sleep. L-tryptophan: Tryptophan is understood to be a precursor to serotonin and melatonin in your brain and gut. Drinking warm milk can lead to your brain and gut creating more serotonin and melatonin a few hours later, this in turn can result in us feeling relaxed. Melatonin is also found in cows’ milk and is our body’s sleep hormone. Scientists suggest there may not be enough of these nutrients in one serve but also agree that a warm milk drink before bed is know to help some people with their sleep.
- Exercise is great for both our physical and mental health. Making this a regular part of our week can increase our physical tiredness and generally help with sleep. However, it is not ideal to partake in strenuous exercise just before bed, in fact try to have this kind of exercise completed about 4 hours before light’s out.
- Remove your clock or any devices that record the time from your bedroom. Clock watching can become a bad habit if we are struggling with falling asleep and can actually wake us up further if we are checking the time if we wake up. This can also reinforce those negative thoughts about sleep including, “Look how late it is I’m never going to get to sleep”, or “it’s so early and I’ve only slept for 4 (or 3 or 5) hours”.
- Develop a bed routine to train or remind your body that it’s wind down time for bed. This could include things like some gentle stretching and a cup of caffeine-free herbal tea.
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