Many people are used to associating the word ‘hygiene’ with ‘cleanliness’, so ‘sleep hygiene’ sounds odd. Simply put, sleep hygiene is a combination of different habits that help you have a good night sleep and full alertness during the day. This is so important for both your physical and mental health.
Sleep is one of the great mysteries of life. Scientists are still learning more about sleep every day. We used to think the brain completely shuts down during sleep, but we later on discovered this isn’t true. Sleep is an active process, which some authorities describe as a deeper firm of consciousness, rather than a lack of it.
Good sleepers and poor sleepers experience almost the same amount of daily stressful events, but those who sleep well are less disturbed by these events. Researchers have discovered that good quality sleep the night before a stressful event can protect you from negative health consequences. So it’s clear that good sleep helps you cope with life’s stresses.
HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep each night, and children and teenagers need even more sleep. Getting less than this leaves you tired and cranky, with poor concentration, the next day. Your performance at tasks suffers, and your perceptions emotionally may be distorted. It is also associated with health risks, like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, depression, dementia, and even an increased risk for some cancers.
It may seem overwhelming that all of these problems can occur simply from losing a few hours of sleep regularly. In today’s world where our time is in high demand sleep can easily drop from your priority list. Modern science is exposing the risks liked to sleep deprivation, and they have been found to be true even for people who have been sleep deprived for so long they think they are still thriving.
Sleep plays an important role in learning and long term memory formation, so it’s important that children and teens are not deprived of sleep, or their grades will suffer. Teenagers need up to 8-10 hours of shut eye at night, and children 6-13 years need 9-11 hours of sleep a night to support their rapid physical and mental development. Children younger need even more!
WHAT DO I NEED TO DO TO IMPROVE MY SLEEP?
* Craft a regular sleep schedule. Do your best to go to bed at about the same time each night, and wake up about the same time in the mornings. Establish a soothing bedtime routine, incorporating activities like a warm bath and relaxation exercises to increase your likelihood of falling asleep easily.
* Avoid eating at least 3 hours before bedtime. Digestion will make it difficult for you to fall asleep.
* Avoid stimulants like caffeine and alcohol 4-6 hours before bedtime. Alcohol may seem to be relaxing, but studies show it reduces the quality of your sleep, when you finally sleep.
* Limit daytime naps to not more than 30 minutes. Any more will deplete the ‘sleep debt’ necessary to get you to fall asleep at night.
* Get as much daylight exposure during the day, as you can. This ‘sets’ your body clock, and increases the production of hormones that promote sleep at night. Working in a dark environment all day ‘confuses’ your body clock and makes it harder for you to fall asleep at night.
* Remove electronics from your bedroom. Blue light emitted from TVs, computers, tablets, or cellphones suppress the production of your sleep hormone, making sleep elusive.
* Don’t allow pets in your bed, this will disrupt your sleep.
* Keep your bedroom cool, quiet and dark. Use your bed for only sleep and sex. A hot environment can make it hard for you to fall asleep. You can use an eye mask to simulate darkness, and cool with a fan or air conditioner.
* Use a low-wattage, yellow incandescent bulb for navigation at night. Using LED lighting or fluorescent bulbs may make it harder for you to fall asleep.
* Avoid using loud alarms to wake up. Being jolted awake can be stressful.
* Regular exercise will help you get to sleep more easily and sleep more soundly. However, exercising too close to bedtime(less than 2 hours) may keep your body upbeat and make it a bit difficult falling asleep.
* Evaluate your mattress and pillow. They should be firm but comfortable. Consider replacing your mattress after 9 or 10 years, the average life expectancy of a good quality mattress.
* Using diluted soothing essential oils, like lavender and chamomile, can improve the quality of your sleep, and how refreshed you feel by morning.
* Put away work brought home at least an hour before bedtime. You need a chance to unwind before sleep, without being anxious about work and deadlines.
WHY YOU SHOULD AVOID SLEEPING PILLS
People are taking more sleeping pills than ever before. It’s a million dollar sub-industry, and drug companies in the United States spent over 300 million dollars in 2005 advertising sleeping aids. If they can spend this much, how much do you think are the earnings? It should be obvious that sales of these pills will be more important than confirming if they are even safe for use in the long term. Experts worry that the drugs are being used without enough attention being paid to side effects, or the underlying conditions that may be causing the sleeplessness in the first place.
The first major problem with sleeping pills? They simply don’t work. They are usually not as effective as they are marketed to be. Some brands actually increase sleep time for just a couple of minutes more, but are marketed as more effective. Some even make you forget you had trouble falling asleep in the first place, giving you an illusion of better sleep!
Another major problem with these pills is their side effect profile. These effects range from weight gain and increased risk of diabetes, increased risk of depression and having a car accident, to an increased risk for different cancers. A study published in 2012 revealed that people who use these pills regularly have a 35% higher risk of cancer!
These pills are also highly addictive. People actually learn to depend on them, and experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to stay off them. These problems and risks are just too much to deal with, considering they can’t even give you restful sleep.
Your best bet is to implement sleep hygiene habits one by one, bit by bit, and slowly improve your ability to rest and ‘recharge’ just the way your body needs to.