If you’re somebody that wants to skip to the end to get the summary of a long post or article, this blog post is for you! You won’t be able to skip to the end to get an overview, but in this post, I will summarize the past blog posts and condense them down to a comprehensive list of the best practices for improving your sleep based on the available data. Before reading on, these practices are not going to cure clinical insomnia. If you believe you have clinical insomnia, check with your local sleep doctor to go through the appropriate tests to determine that. These sleep hygiene tips are going to act more like how a band-aid helps anti-bacterial ointment stay in place to help heal an open wound. If you put a band-aid on a large cut on an artery, it isn’t going to do much, and that is true if you are someone with insomnia. These are good tips for anyone to use if you’re wanting to increase your sleep quantity and quality! If you are struggling with insomnia, please take the time to find a CBT-I (cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia) therapist instead of relying on sleeping pills. In the next blog post, we will discuss the dangers of sleeping pills but for now, let's dive into sleep hygiene!
What is sleep hygiene? Essentially, it’s certain behaviors and practices that promote increased quality and quantity of sleep. Similar to how brushing your teeth twice a day fends off plaque and tartar, these sleep practices can keep your sleep in a healthy place. Dr. Matthew Walker is a fantastic resource for a deep dive into some of these tips. You can search for his podcast on Spotify, you can also check YouTube for the plethora of podcasts he’s done with others, and you can read his book Why We Sleep and you’ll learn far more than you think there is to know about sleep. Here are 15 tips that you can use to help you sleep better at night that are supported by quality peer-reviewed data.
- Keep a consistent bedtime throughout the week including the weekends!
- Keep your bedroom as cool as you can, 65-67 degrees Fahrenheit is the optimal temperature for healthy sleep on average.
- Keep your bedroom dark! Whether you use blackout curtains, a sleep mask, or some combination of the two, keep your bedroom as dark as possible to allow the uninhibited production of melatonin.
- 30 minutes to an hour before going to bed, shut off all electronics, and screens to give your brain time to rest from the cognitive stimulation.
- 1-2 hours before bed, begin dimming your lights by half. If you don’t have a dimmer switch, switch off half of the lights in your house instead. This will help the production of melatonin but will also act as a signal to your brain and body that it’s time to start winding down for sleep. Sleep is a process and doesn’t always happen right away when you lay down!
- Your bed should be for two things only: sleep and intimacy. Any other activity risks your brain confusing the purpose of your bed which leads to sleep latency issues. If your brain sees your bed as a place to eat or watch Netflix, it will keep you awake when you’re trying to sleep.
- Keep technology out of the bedroom! Charge your phone in a different room, move that TV out of your bedroom, and put your laptop on the kitchen table! Buy a cheap $10 alarm clock and turn the clock face away from you so you can’t see the time.
- Drink caffeine no later than 10-12 hours before going to bed to ensure your deep sleep is uninhibited.
- Avoid using alcohol as a sleep aid. Alcohol is a sedative and does not produce naturalistic sleep. It causes your sleep to be fragile and therefore more fragmented because the number of awakenings through the night greatly increases.
- If you exercise, try to do it in the morning but if you have to do it at night, be sure to finish 2-3 hours before bed. Exercise may be physically tiring but it is cognitively stimulating and wakes you up!
- If you can’t sleep, get out of bed. You don’t sit at the dinner table waiting to get hungry and you shouldn’t sit in bed waiting to get tired. Go to bed when you’re tired!
- If you need to nap, avoid taking them after 3 or 4pm. Let that healthy sleep pressure from adenosine work for you. Releasing it too late in the day with a nap can be disruptive to your nightly sleep.
- Before going to bed, take a hot bath! Your core body temperature needs to drop by 2-3 degrees and a hot bath will accomplish that goal. As weird as it sounds, wearing socks to bed can do something similar since the most heat escapes the body from your extremities and your head. Socks can coax that heat out of your feet, which cools your core!
- Have your last meal 2-3 hours before bed to allow your body to digest the food. Digesting food causes your body temperature to rise, which is the opposite of what you need to sleep. A light snack is ok as long as it isn’t too thermogenic, avoid sugary foods or carbs.
- Create and implement a wind-down routine. Your body and brain need time to wind down to get ready for sleep. Giving yourself time to relax before bed will help your sleep latency and sleep efficiency. It can also help you maintain a consistent schedule. Try some meditation, mindfulness exercises, or breathing exercises to help bring down your sympathetic nervous system, a poorly named system that is responsible for the stress hormones in your body such as adrenaline, acetylcholine, and cortisol.
I hope you find these tips helpful! 15 is a lot so feel free to pick a few and tackle them. These are behavioral changes and sometimes you need to take it one step at a time. This is a better approach than trying to do everything at once! With that, I will say thank you for reading this blog post and I hope you are able to sleep well tonight!
Fun fact for your next party: Counting sheep has actually been shown to keep you awake so don’t do it! Instead, pick a place outdoors that you can vividly recall and imagine yourself taking a walk in that area. Maybe that’s a walk in a forest or by a lake. Whatever that looks like, it has been shown to be effective at improving sleep latency!