Sleep Hygiene for You, Me, and…..well, Everyone!
Kinsey Shumaker, MA, NCC, Resident in Counseling
In this post, we’re going to explore sleep hygiene. You may not have been familiar with this term when you read it in the title and that’s okay! Let’s dive in right away and look at what sleep hygiene actually is. When we think of hygiene you most likely think of things such as taking a shower, brushing your teeth, washing your hands, and combing your hair. Or, you might think of hygiene products such as deodorant, toothpaste, shampoo, body wash, hand soap, or even tampons and pads for the ladies. But what is the meaning of hygiene?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, hygiene means conditions or practices conducive to health. So, hygiene isn’t necessarily being cleanily (although that’s a big part of hygiene), it’s more so altering your environment and actions to promote your overall well-being. Now that we’ve defined hygiene, let’s look at actual sleep hygiene and what that entails. Truly, we all can be guilty of poor sleep hygiene from time to time; life gets busy, and there aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish it all, so why not steal a few hours from sleeping? I am personally guilty of this more often than I’d like to admit!
Why is sleep so important? We demand a lot of our body throughout the day physically and mentally. Sleep is an essential function of our body that allows us to recharge from the busy day. Most adults should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night whereas children and teenagers need even more to support their growing and changing body! Check-in with yourself right quick: Do you get 7-9 hours of sleep each and every night? If the answer is no, don’t feel ashamed as most people don’t achieve this 100% of the time.
Unfortunately, those of us who aren’t getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night are impairing our body’s ability to fight infections and diseases, decreasing our ability to concentrate, and impairing our ability to process information and think clearly. If you aren’t sleeping enough each night, you may be experiencing fatigue during the day, “foggy” thinking, frequent headaches, weight gain, impaired judgement, and more! Studies have shown that lack of sleep can contribute to the severity of depression, and the likelihood of accidents. A pattern of lack of sleep can contribute to your skin aging faster, loss of sex drive, and increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and other medical conditions.
We all have sleep hygiene whether it’s poor, fair or excellent. Truthfully, at the time of writing this article, I’d place my sleep hygiene at fair, with definite room for improvement. So let’s look at what sleep hygiene may look like for you. First, sleep hygiene is important for everyone, and the basic concepts can apply, but understand that your sleep hygiene may look different than that of someone else. Keep in mind that your body is unique and so is its needs. So find what works best for you!
First, let’s start with what you probably already know: set a sleep schedule and stick to it. This means you should go to bed and wake up at the same time each and every day, regardless of whether it’s a week day or the weekend. I am guilty of sleeping in on the weekends, but truthfully, it does nothing but confuse your body! Maintaining a regular schedule will allow your body to develop a routine. The longer you practice your schedule, the easier it will be to fall asleep and wake up at these times feeling refreshed. The important thing that goes along with this, is that we all need to prioritize sleep. This means waking up in the morning and planning your day accordingly so that going to bed at the scheduled time is feasible. I know, what a hard thing to plan with all life throws at us. Remember, the more you do so, the easier it will be until it becomes a habit.
Moving forward, make sure not to nap too much! (Ehem, I am extremely guilty of this.) Napping can be a great way during the day to rest and recharge, but ultimately, napping too frequently or too long can mess with your regular sleep schedule. If you nap too much, you may find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. If you need to nap, try to keep them relatively short, and early in the afternoon. This way, you have time to tire yourself out before your scheduled bedtime.
Try to follow a nightly routine, such as shutting off electronics at least an hour before bed, dimming the lights, turning down the bed, taking a shower or drinking hot tea. The beauty of sleep hygiene is that you can customize the routine to suit your needs and lifestyle. Maybe this is the time you want to use to gratitude journal, do devotions, or spend quality time with your loved one discussing the day. In counseling, we stress the importance of self-care and this is a great time to practice that!
Other things that may be a part of sleep hygiene for you may include increasing the amount of sunlight exposure you have, as this can support circadian rhythms, or it may be that including exercise into your daily routine would make it easier to sleep each night. I know that working in the counseling field often means I sit still a lot, so exercise helps my body burn excess energy and feel tired at the end of each day.
Also consider the environment in which you sleep in as it may contribute to difficulty falling or staying asleep. So, make sure you have a comfortable mattress or pillow; if these aren’t comfortable, buying new pillows, a new mattress or even just adding a mattress pad can make a difference. Do you have sheets and pajamas that are comfortable or do they feel stiff and scratchy while you sleep? Depending on where you live, there might be a lot of light or noise filtering into your bedroom which can make it more difficult to achieve good sleep hygiene, so you may need to consider or add light blocking curtains, or a white noise such as a fan or a sound machine if possible.
I urge you to look at your current sleep hygiene and determine whether you could make any changes that would improve your sleep; however, remember that, as with anything, it can be overwhelming to change all at once. So pick one or two things that need improvement and work on those first. As you experiment, you will discover what works best for you and your lifestyle. In addition, remember that there are many resources available to you on the Internet, such as articles to read; or reach out and speak with your doctor or counselor to help you develop and implement a sleep hygiene plan.