An introduction to sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene. This is a bit of a strange term, but it simply means ‘good sleep habits’.
Sleep hygiene is used to put into place changes in personal habits and your sleep environment to give you the best chance of sleeping well. So, if you are experiencing sleep problems, here are my Top 5 Sleep Hygiene Tips to help you sleep better.
Sleep Hygiene Tip No.1 – Make yourself comfortable
Find a mattress that is comfortable for you. When you are lying down, pressure is exerted on certain parts of your body, reducing the blood flow. After a while, you will automatically roll away from these pressure points but this action disturbs your sleep. If you can find a mattress which reduces pressure points on your body, then you are more likely to have a toss-free night.
This applies to pillows too. Everyone has a different shape and so while someone with a long neck might need two full pillows, this could give another person a neck pain the next day.
Experiment with your bedding and see what works for you. If you have a lumpy mattress, invest in a new one.
Sleep Hygiene Tip No.2 – Dealing with distractions
Do you jerk awake by the sound of a car in your street? Do you spend the night trying to block out the light that is flooding through your window?
Have you noticed how no-one around you seems to be bothered by the noises that plague you at night time? This is because it is not the noise that keeps you awake but your response to it.
If you try to fight the noises you will only wake yourself up more. Instead find a way of dealing with them. You could acknowledge each noise then calmly dismiss it from your mind. Another measure would be to listen to relaxing music which would not only drown out the noises but help you drift to sleep.
If it is light that bothers you at night, it may be worth investing in a heavier set of curtains to block out the light. This is a particularly useful tip for those working night shifts trying to sleep during the day.
Temporary measures such as hanging a towel or blanket over your curtain rail may help too. Perhaps a less adventurous but equally effective method would be to purchase a sleeping mask.
Sleep Hygiene Tip No.3 – Quietening your mind
Do all your troubles and worries flood into your mind just as you flick off the light-switch?
Stress is one of the most common reasons for lack of sleep, but the more you stress about stress, the less likely you will be to fall asleep. It is important to find methods which relax your mind enough to ignore your anxieties.
You need to make a pact with yourself that worries are for day time and sleep is for night time. Write down everything you need to do and everything that is concerning you before you go to sleep and leave these thoughts in your notebook for the next day.
Banning electronic devices from your bedroom will also make it easier to quieten your mind. There have been many tests that prove that electronic devices in the bedroom or their use just before lights-off reduce the quality of sleep.
Sleep Hygiene Tip No. 4 – Exercising your mind
Once you have counted more sheep than there are in New Zealand but are still awake, it may be worth looking into more effective sleep-inducing methods.
Research suggests that counting sheep can have the opposite effect from what it usually claims to do. Instead of lulling the mind into unconsciousness, most people find it boring and will be easily distracted by other thoughts, worries or noises.
A more effective method is to use a little bit more mental energy – this, paradoxically, helps you fall asleep more quickly. For example, counting backwards in threes from a hundred is suggested to be at the right level of mental activity to help you sleep.
Anything too hard or too easy will have the opposite effect.
Sleep Hygiene Tip No. 5 – Settling into a sleep routine
Good sleep hygiene is all about following a routine that will help lull you into deep and restful sleep. Your body and mind will respond best if you do this at the same time every day.
Sneaking an afternoon nap will confuse your biological clock and reduce your chances of sleeping at night.
It is important that you only allow your bedroom to be associated with sleep. If you begin to do work in it or watch television, you will get used to these activities instead of getting used to falling asleep. It is also worth eliminating any clutter from your bedroom. It is thought that the best night’s sleep is achieved in a bedroom that only contains a bed…
Exercising during the day (but not too close to bedtime) will help your body prepare for that ‘rest and regenerate’ sleep that you need. Even simple stretching exercises in the afternoon could make all the difference when it comes to lights-off.
Finally, it is important to remember that when what you eat can have a significant impact on your sleep. Eating late at night will force your body to be digesting when you are meant to be sleeping. Caffeine stimulates the nervous system and puts it on red alert. It’s not just coffee and tea, but chocolate and fizzy drinks too. Swap to natural alternatives such as pure juices and dried fruit.