There are many ways you can improve your sleep, simply by changing your routine. Good sleep habits are often referred to as ‘sleep hygiene’. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that following good sleep hygiene guidelines is an effective, long-term solution to sleep problems. In contrast, medications for sleep carry the risk of side effects and tend only to work in the short-term. Below, we introduce you to some sleep hygiene tips that you can start using today to improve your sleep habits.
Optimise your environment
- It is important that your sleep environment is comfortable. Do your best to ensure that your bedroom is quiet, dark and a good temperature. A cooler room with adequate blankets is best. Eye masks and earplugs can help to block out unwanted light and noise.
- Fluctuations in temperature overnight can disrupt your sleep. Try to keep your room at a stable temperature throughout the night.
- Get rid of unnecessary sources of light and noise in your bedroom (e.g., illuminated clocks, uncovered windows, technology devices). Turn phones and other devices off or onto silent mode at night.
- Use your bed only for sleeping (and sex). This way, your brain will associate bed with sleep. If you use your bed and bedroom for other things, like work and TV, your brain will associate bed with being awake.
Get your timing right
- Try to go to sleep and wake up at roughly the same time each day, even on weekends. This will help your body find its natural rhythm.
- Avoid naps during the day, as this can interfere with your sleep patterns. If you must nap, make sure it is less than an hour and prior to 3pm. Anything longer or later might mean that you aren’t tired at bedtime.
Get ready for rest
- Create a sleep ritual which calms you down and prepares your body and mind for rest. Some people find it helpful to do some relaxation, gentle stretching or breathing exercises. Alternatively, you can dim the lights and sit calmly with a hot drink and a book. Avoid using technology during this period, as the blue light can keep you awake.
- Have a hot shower or bath an hour or so before bed. We tend to feel sleepy when our body temperature drops. Having a shower or bath will raise your body temperature and make you feel sleepy as you cool down.
- Only try to sleep when you feel sleepy. Don’t try to force sleep, as this will just cause frustration and keep you awake longer.
- Many people with sleep problems fall into the habit of watching the clock too much. Don’t do this, as clock watching can wake you up and create anxiety about not being able to sleep (e.g., “Oh no, it’s only 4 hours before I have to wake up”)
- If you can’t sleep after about 15 minutes, get up and do something else. Lying in bed feeling frustrated won’t help. Try doing something quiet and calming for a while and return to bed when you are sleepy.
Adapt your activity
- Try not to alter your daytime activities based on the amount of sleep you got the night before. This can disrupt your sleep pattern and reinforce insomnia. Instead, try to keep your daily activities the same, even if you feel tired.
- Regular exercise has been shown to help with sleep problems. On the other hand, physical inactivity is disruptive to sleep. Find a healthy activity pattern for you and stick to it. However, avoid doing strenuous exercise right before bed.
- Avoid mentally stimulating activity right before bed, as this can make it harder to wind down and get to sleep. For example, loud music, stimulating conversations, and complex problem solving should be avoided before bed.
Mind what you put in your body
- Avoid consuming caffeine and other stimulants for at least 4-6 hours before bed. These substances increase alertness and interfere with falling asleep. Also avoid these substances if you wake up during the night.
- Avoid alcohol for at least 4-6 hours before bed. Although many people believe alcohol helps with falling asleep, it actually interferes significantly with sleep quality. Alcohol often causes people to wake earlier and feel unrested.
- Don’t try to sleep on a full stomach, as this can interfere with sleep.
- If you are hungry before bed, eat something very light. Try to avoid sugary snacks, which will give you a spike in energy.
Try out these simple sleep hygiene techniques to improve your sleep. Of course, there are other things that interfere with good sleep, including negative thoughts and beliefs about sleep. For example, assuming the worst (e.g., “I haven’t slept so I won’t cope with today”) or holding unrealistic expectations about sleep (e.g., “I should always get 10 hours of sleep per night”) can cause problems. Challenging these thoughts is an important part of healthy sleeping. We talk more about how to challenge unhelpful thoughts next week.