In a society where the value of sleep is often underappreciated, it can be challenging to make it a priority. You may not think of your sleeping patterns as a habit until you try to change them. Learning how to break bad habits, including poor sleep hygiene, takes a thoughtful plan, curiosity and self-kindness.
Understanding Sleep Hygiene
Sleep deprivations and disorders are a fact of life for a significant number of Americans, yet the issue often goes unrecognized. Though it is difficult to know for certain how prevalent sleep problems are, an estimated 50-70 million people in the U.S. suffer from chronically insufficient sleep, with detrimental consequences for physical and mental health.
Sleep hygiene is the habits you build around your sleep practices, and they contribute to whether you get a poor night’s sleep or a good one. Your sleep hygiene routine doesn’t just occur at bedtime. Your daytime behaviors can also have an impact on your quality of sleep.
Poor Sleep Hygiene
People who have poor sleep hygiene may not even realize what their sleep habits are. You may make a habit of staying up late at night, catching up on reading your favorite blogs or scrolling through the feed on social media, even when you know you have to get up for work in the morning. Maybe you find yourself walking to the fridge for a late-night snack before bed, or you enjoy an afternoon pick-me-up cup of coffee to help you get through the rest of the workday. All of these habits lead to a less-than-restful night, and you can create these habits without even realizing it.
Good Sleep Hygiene
Fortunately, like any habit, you can change your behaviors to create a good sleep hygiene routine. It also takes time to develop a new habit. Changing your sleep routine can have a positive impact that permeates all areas of your life, but it’s important to be kind to yourself in the process. Tap into your natural sense of curiosity to explore how your brain and body work together and learn how the choices you make throughout your day impact your sleep at night. Hold onto this curiosity as you create a positive sleep routine.
Developing Good Sleep Hygiene
Many people become so accustomed to getting too little sleep that they believe they don’t need much to function. The reality is that adults aged 18 and up need at least seven hours of sleep, and sleep quality matters as much as quantity. Good sleep hygiene helps you get both. To develop good habits that contribute to a more restful night, approach your sleep hygiene from four angles:
- Your environment
- Your schedule
- Your nightly routine
- Your daily habits
As you make changes in each of these areas, your body and mind will adjust to a new and healthier sleep cycle.
Creating a Positive Sleep Environment
One of the first and easiest steps you can take is to create an environment conducive to sleep. Your bedroom should be all about comfort. It should radiate a sense of calm and tranquility. To create a space that invites sleep, do the following:
- Get a comfortable mattress and pillow: Having the right type of bed and pillow helps you sleep more soundly, with less tossing and turning. There is no single best choice for everyone; make sure yours supports you in the way you sleep.
- Use bedding that makes you feel good: Choose sheets and coverings that feel good to you. The texture is important, as is weight.
- Make it dark: People sleep better in total darkness. Minimize how much light enters your room with black-out curtains or wear a mask over your eyes (if you can do so comfortably).
- Keep it quiet: If you live in a noisy area, try using earplugs to drown out the sound. Some people find listening to white noise or turning on a fan to be helpful.
- Turn down the thermostat: Room temperature has a significant impact on sleep. If it’s either too hot or too cold, your sleep quality declines. Though everyone has a different comfort zone, cooler temperatures lead to better sleep.
Setting a Sleep Schedule
Your circadian rhythms regulate numerous functions in your body, including your sleep cycles. Poor sleep habits disrupt the circadian rhythm, with negative long-term health implications. A regular sleep schedule has a positive impact on your circadian rhythms and your sleep cycles.
Establish a time for going to sleep and waking up daily, including on the weekends. Prioritize sleep to ensure you stick to your schedule. It will take some time for your body to adjust, so make the changes gradually and be patient with the process.
Establish a Sleep Routine
What you do to prepare for sleep every night can affect when you fall asleep and how well you sleep. Establish a routine at night and maintain consistency. As you go through this routine, it’ll signal your body that it’s time for sleep. Follow these tips to help you get started:
- Unplug from devices and turn off the television an hour before bed.
- When you turn off your devices, turn down the lights in your room.
- Take 30 minutes to unwind by engaging in calming activities such as listening to music or reading a print book.
- If your mind tends to get locked into a thought cycle, try a guided meditation when you get in bed.
- If you can’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed. Go back to your calming activity, and then try again after 30 minutes.
Develop Good Daily Habits
Your lifestyle and daily habits have an impact on your sleep. If you want to develop good sleep hygiene, develop positive habits throughout your day. These behaviors can improve your sleep and your overall quality of life:
- Exercise regularly
- Eat a healthy diet
- Stop eating two hours before bed
- Stop drinking caffeine early in the day
- Avoid alcohol and don’t smoke (both lead to sleep disturbances)
- Expose yourself to natural light
Practicing good sleep hygiene can improve your physical and mental health. It may take some time to develop these good habits, but once you do, you’ll reap the benefits for the rest of your life.