Sleep hygiene is a topic that comes up often because it’s so important. It essentially refers to a set of strategies or habits that promote good sleep. Getting a full night’s sleep, each and every night, is one of the most powerful ways to reduce stress and improve your health. Poor sleep can dramatically diminish your quality of life, and if you regularly skimp on rest, you are at risk for a host of physical and mental health conditions, including:
- Mood disorders
- Cognitive impairment
- Decreased stress resilience
- Heart attack
- Heart disease
Sleep and Mental Health
Sleep disturbances and mental health issues are closely linked. Dysfunctional sleep patterns are particularly common in patients with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Clinicians have traditionally viewed sleep problems like insomnia and hypersomnia as symptoms of mental health disorders.; But research now suggests that disrupted sleep may directly contribute to — and certainly exacerbates — the development of mental illnesses. That’s why good sleep hygiene is critical.
Simple Sleep Hygiene Tips
- Maintain a regular sleep/wake cycle: Aim to keep your schedule the same each night of the week. Sleep regularity is a huge part of sleep hygiene. Go to bed and wake up at the same time, every day, give or take 20 minutes.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine: Stimulants should be avoided for four to six hours before bedtime. Alcohol may make you feel sleepy at first, but it acts as a stimulant after your body metabolizes it.
- Get regular exercise: Regular exercise reduces stress, depression, and anxiety, and can help you sleep more soundly. Physical activity helps us feel tired, making sleep easier. That said, exercising too close to bedtime is not recommended. Get your workout in at least three hours before trying to sleep. Better yet, exercise earlier in the day, whenever possible, especially if you’re able to do so at the same time daily.
- Eat healthy foods that promote good sleep: Refined and processed carbs, poor quality fats, and spicy foods tend to contribute to indigestion and acid reflux, and often interfere with a good night’s rest. Eat a balanced, whole foods diet with an emphasis on high-quality protein, good fats, complex carbohydrates, and antioxidants. Also, avoid heavy meals close to bedtime.
- Balance your liquid intake: Be sure to stay well hydrated during the day, and drink plenty of pure water. Limit fluids before bed, though, so you’re not losing sleep to middle-of-the-night bathroom trips.
- Establish a comforting pre-sleep routine: Make it a habit to wind down and relax before bed. Give yourself at least an hour before turning in, and engage in soothing activities: meditate, read a book, take a bath, or engage in relaxation exercises. Avoid stressful news, electronic media, intense conversations, or work.
- Get exposure to natural light: Natural light helps set our circadian clocks to a healthy sleep schedule. Let the light in first thing in the morning, and spend some time outdoors each day.
- Create a simple, comfortable bedroom: Keep work materials, televisions, computers, and devices out of the bedroom as much as possible. Create an atmosphere that is peaceful and conducive to rest. A cool, quiet, dark environment is best for quality sleep. Invest in a quality mattress, as well as blankets and pillows. Install blackout curtains, or use a sleep mask, and utilize earplugs or a white noise machine as needed.
Sleep hygiene is more important to overall health than many people realize. Make sure you’re getting sufficient quality rest for your mind and body, every night.