On average, humans spend about 1/3rd of their life sleeping. This process of mental and physical “rest” is undoubtedly a critical part of human development and optimal well-being throughout the lifespan. The quality of one’s sleep has both immediate and long-lasting effects on physical and mental health.
Poor sleep quality is highly correlated to worsening symptoms in not only one’s mood and mental health (specifically depression and anxiety) but also social interactions and physical immunity.
Good sleep quality, obtained through proper sleep hygiene, optimizes emotional regulation and behavior, alleviates symptoms of depression and anxiety, facilitates learning, preserves short and long-term memory, and leads to better general well-being and quality of life.
Whether you are a night shift worker, young professional, student, new parent, or retired senior, getting optimal sleep can be difficult. Below are a few sleep hygiene tips that may help you get the quality sleep you need.
Essential sleep hygiene tips that you can try to include in your life:
- Try to keep a consistent and regular schedule. Have the same bedtime every day, even during weekends. Meals should also be within the same time frame. If you work night shifts, a light snack during the night shift may be better than having your dinner during the night shift instead of at its regular (late evening) time.
- Avoid consuming caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and some medications (consult your doctor about an alternative time) several hours before your anticipated sleep time. It takes the body around 8hrs to fully metabolize stimulants and alcoholic beverages. This can hinder your sleep quality.
- Keep the bed and bedroom only for sleep and sleep-related activities. Doing work or studying on your bed will allow for the association of other activities (apart from sleep) to form. Making it harder to fall and/or stay asleep, leading to longer sleep onset latency, disrupted sleep, and more nocturnal awakenings.
- Start to wind down an hour before you expect to sleep. Turn of the T.V, laptop, news, put your phone on vibrate or silent mode and avoid any situations that may stimulate you – including non-urgent phone calls that may keep you thinking in bed (maintain your boundaries).
- Avoid intense exercises several hours before sleeping. It may be physically tiring, but it will increase your body core temperature, which is unconducive to a good night’s sleep.
- The optimal temperature to fall asleep and sleep in is 18-21°C. If possible, set your thermostat/ environment to a temperature within that range. Note that if you do strenuous activities before bed, your environmental temperature may need to be adjusted.
- Naps can be very beneficial, especially for night shift workers. Instead of sleeping 8 hours straight during the day to compensate for the “sleep debt,” – try to take a 90 minute nap after and a few hours before a night shift.
- For non-shift workers (e.g., new parents, students, older adults), naps are beneficial and have protective factors for mental health and cognitive reserve. It is important to note that the time and length of your nap are crucial. Avoid naps after 2 pm and refrain from naps lasting longer than 90min.
- Sleeping attire makes a difference, so try to wear loose and light clothes for sleep. If you are a cold sleeper, an extra sheet or blanket will serve better than thick or tight pajamas.
- If you find yourself thinking about your to-do list, remunerating, making plans, or maybe even that brilliant ideas pop into your head when you lay on the pillow, keep a journal and pen on your bedside table to make quick short notes. Avoid opening your phone to text the reminder/note. This will help let you sleep with a clear mind and reduce your worry about potentially forgetting what it was you thought of last night in bed.
If you have sleep-related issues, such as trouble falling or staying asleep, CBT-I is an effective therapy for insomnia. It may be a treatment to consider if these difficulties are disrupting your functionality and are impeding your well-being.