How to Improve Your Sleep Hygiene
Winding Down to Sleep
We’ve all been there. It’s 10:00 pm. You’re exhausted from a long day at work, home, kids, sports matches, dance lessons, music lessons, school, and on and on. All you want to do is sleep! You turn on the TV in your room, change into your favorite jammies, tuck yourself in, close your eyes, and wait for Mr. Sandman to bring you a dream.
As you nestle your head into your Pillow Cube Pro, however, you notice a new ad on the television. You open your eyes to watch. As you watch, you remember that big meeting in two days’ time that you haven’t finished your slides for yet. Wait, is that the same day as your nephew’s piano recital? Your best friend’s birthday is coming up in two weeks—what are you going to get her? Did you drop the dry cleaning off yesterday? Before you know it, your brain is off on a never-ending procession of thoughts and you’re not going to get to sleep until you can derail that train!
What is Sleep Hygiene?
If this scenario describes you every night (or pretty close!), the best way to help derail this train, and help you get better sleep, is starting a “quiet routine,” scientifically known as “sleep hygiene.”
Sleep hygiene is different for everyone but, generally speaking, it’s a 30-60 minute personal routine you create to help you calm your mind before going to sleep.
How Do I Set a Good Sleep Hygiene Routine?
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to what to include in your sleep hygiene routine, however, the Division of Sleep Medicine and Harvard Medical School has some great suggestions!
1. Set a specific bedtime and wake-up time and stick to it daily (even at weekends!). Setting your body’s internal clock to a specific sleeping and waking time will help keep your circadian rhythm consistent.
2. Turn your bedroom into a sleep-inducing environment. Keep the lights low, the sound to a minimum, the TV off, and the temperature cool (between 60º-75º Fahrenheit is recommended). Along with this, limiting the activities done in your bedroom will help your brain set this room apart as a space where it can relax.
3. Unplug from all devices. Yes, ALL of them!
4. Establish a soothing pre-sleep routine. Okay, this is where this can get tricky. What do you do to “wind down” if you’re not scrolling your social media or watching TV? Here are a few ideas:
Read a book (a paper one), write in a journal (this is a great way to download your day), meditate (mindful.org has some great tips or try a brief, 5-10 minute guided meditation via franticworld.com), or try yoga poses for better sleep (yes, this is real! The Harvard University Health Blog has some great, simple poses to try. You can even use your Pillow Cube Classic with some of these poses!).
If none of these sound like your cup of tea, have a cup of (herbal) tea or hot chocolate and give yourself some quiet breathing space while you drink it!
5. Go to sleep when you’re truly tired. Staying up struggling to sleep or clock watching will only frustrate you. If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get up and do a quiet, soothing activity until your eyelids are drooping and you’re ready for sleep. This can also help if you wake up during the night and can’t go back to sleep.
6. Use light to your advantage. If you can, make an effort to get out for a walk during the day and let yourself get some sunlight! Allowing yourself to get out in the sunshine will help your body rest when the sun has gone down.
7. Exercise early—at least three hours before bed or earlier in the day.
8. Nap early—if you’re lucky enough to get a nap, nap early or not at all!
9. Lighten up on evening meals and eat a few hours before bed. Avoid foods that you know will give you indigestion.
10. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other chemicals that interfere with sleep for 4-6 hours before bedtime.
Whatever you decide to put into your sleep hygiene routine, be consistent! Give yourself the gift of making your bedtime a priority in your life. Sticking with a sleep hygiene routine will improve your chances of getting a restful night’s sleep, which will improve your waking hours, too!
Calming our brains before sleep is incredibly important not only for our mental health, but also for our physical and emotional health. Our brains are wired to worry. They are constantly on watch for anything that will harm us in an effort to keep us safe. They work hard to help us stay organized and avoid physical and social pitfalls every day. With all of this daily stress comes elevated heart and breathing rates, increased anxiety, and, yep, even more worry. It’s no wonder then that, without a break where our minds feel safe to relax, they don’t shut down. Be nice to your noggin and breathe before bed! You’ll thank yourself in the morning!