Check your Sleep Hygiene
Did you know that the U.S. is categorized as a sleep-deprived nation, with more than 60% of people here struggling to have a good night’s sleep? Chances are you’re one of those people, and maybe you don’t even realize it. Lack of sleep or poor quality sleep can have a negative impact on physical and emotional health though, so it is important to pay attention to your sleep habits.
Research shows that disrupted sleep can contribute to heart disease, weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other physical conditions. But the ramifications of sleep deficits are not limited to physical health, they extend to mental health as well. While researchers aren’t entirely sure if sleep problems cause psychological concerns or if the correlations works the other way around, but studies consistently indicate correlations to difficulty concentrating, hyperactivity, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and more.
Additionally, chronic loss of sleep contributes to something called a sleep debt, which is exactly what it sounds like – a deficit between the amount of sleep you should have, and the amount of sleep you do. Unfortunately, trying to sleep in on the weekends to catch up doesn’t resolve the issue. This is because our bodies need regular, consistent sleep in order to thrive…despite how much we may think we need to stay up to keep working or watching Netflix or doing whatever else seems imperative late at night.
So, how can this issue be addressed? One way is to pay attention to your sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene refers to both your practices/habits surrounding sleep and the environment in which you sleep. Ensuring that these two components are optimum for quality sleep is vital to your overall health.
First, take a moment to think about your current sleep habits. Do you go to bed at the same each night? How many hours of sleep do you get regularly? The CDC recommends 7-9 hours a night for the average adult, but it’s rare that many have that much consistently. What time do you wake up in the mornings, and do you feel rested or groggy? In the last few hours before bedtime, what are you doing? Are you trying to catch up on work emails, watching tv, or spending time reading a book or other non-electronic activity?
Now, take a moment to compare your responses to some ways you can promote healthy sleep:
Create a set bedtime and wake time - This might be challenging, especially with so many busy schedules and seemingly less and less time to complete everything. However, this is a crucial part of maintaining healthy sleep habits, and these times should be as consistent as possible, even on the weekends. At those times, try to ensure no more than an hour variance in sleep and wake times. And remember that oversleeping on the weekends does not make up for sleep deficits.
Avoid caffeine after midday - Caffeine is a stimulant, and even though it may be easy to consume several cups of coffee throughout the day, this can wreak havoc on your sleep patterns. Be sure to count caffeine from additional sources too – soda, tea, etc. Besides keeping caffeine consumption to the morning time, it’s also important to be mindful of the amount of caffeine you consume regularly too.
Ensure adequate sunshine everyday - Light plays an integral role in sleep habits, as access to sunlight regulates neurochemistry and the hormones responsible for wakefulness and sleepiness. Indoor lighting does not have the same effect, so a brief morning walk outside can have a big impact on your sleep quality. In fact, studies have shown that people who are exposed to sunlight earlier in the morning actually sleep better and fall asleep faster at night. And since exercise can also benefit sleep, that walk will be a positive factor as well.
Use blue light filters on your computers - Studies suggest that blue light filters, whether in glasses or on screens, can help to regulate the production of melatonin, a hormone which helps with both falling and staying asleep. Exposure to blue light is thought to suppress melatonin production, which can cause difficulty sleeping. And since so many of us are up late exposed to this from computers, cell phones, and televisions, taking the precaution of adding a filter can’t hurt. Is the science entirely clear on this? No, but it’s a small change for a potentially large benefit.
Consider a nap – 20 minutes is enough - Feeling sleepy during the day but concerned about altering those sleep-wake times? A quick rest can help boost alertness and concentration afterwards without negatively affecting nighttime sleep patterns.
Turn off electronics at least 1 hour (preferably 2) before bedtime - While this may be challenging due to busy schedules and increasing demands, but turning off electronics an hour or so before bedtime is another way to create restful sleep. Some of this has to do with the blue light concerns, but it also gives your brain a chance to rest and unwind without having to pay attention to story plots, action scenes, email chains, or social media. Try this for a week and read a book, take a bath, listen to music, or do something else relaxing instead – see how you feel after testing this out.
Reduce alcohol consumption - Alcohol can actually work against your sleep cycle, and while some may feel as if they fall asleep more quickly after a few drinks, this sets up a negative pattern which can be difficult to break. Of course, there are obvious health ramifications of excess alcohol consumption as well, and drinking to fall asleep can leave you feeling unwell, unrested, increase risks for addiction. If you do have a drink, try to limit to an appropriate amount and stop consumption a few hours before bedtime. For similar reasons, don’t rely on sleep aides either – those will cause more harm than good!
Also ensure darkness when you’re sleeping - Similar to the way that light affects neurochemicals, so too does darkness. Having heavy curtains to block ambient light from the street can help contribute to a solid night of sleep. However, light from electronics can affect you as well, so be sure to remove any light emitting electronics from the bedroom as well. Yes, this is part of why having a television in your room is not the best idea. Darkness can help you to sleep more soundly, so enjoy that sleep mask if you have one!
Anytime you strive to make changes to a routine, start slowly. Identify 1 or 2 items on the list above which might be easiest to implement and start there. It’s important to set yourself up for success, and gradual changes are often easier to maintain than sudden overhauls. Be gentle with yourself as you learn new routines, and if you have setbacks remind yourself that tomorrow is a new day to try again. As always, if you feel there may be a more worrisome issue underlying your sleep problems, consult your doctor to rule out a sleep disorder or other physiological concern.
Start considering your health hygiene habits in your overall healthcare regime, and see if there is a positive difference in the way you feel both physically and mentally soon!
Sweet dreams ~