We can all spout out some good sleep hygiene facts – get 8 hours of sleep, avoid blue light, avoid caffeine, and the list goes on. Typically, we have some awareness that sleep is important, but I think we tend to vastly underestimate just how important it is. Here are just some of the things affected by good or poor sleep:
- Brain function
- Capacity for exercise
- Immune system
- Susceptibility to disease
…and that’s not even all! Good sleep is so important, but much of our society seems to be consistently unconcerned with sleep hygiene. It comes second (if that!) to work, to school, and to fun. If you are constantly struggling to get a good night’s sleep, here are a few quick and easy changes you can make. These will likely lead to better mood and often to a consistently higher quality of life.
Develop a routine
It can be helpful to come up with some kind of bedtime routine (think back to when you were a kid or when you’ve babysat or parented kids of your own). This routine helps your body develop the habit of winding down and getting ready for sleep, signaling your body that it’s time to settle down and get some rest. The routine can be simple (take a shower or bath, brush teeth, read or listen to something relaxing, lights out) but should be soothing and consistent. Part of the routine should be consistent timing. Waking and sleeping with consistent times helps bolster that natural circadian rhythm.
Make a sleep-friendly environment
Try to make your room sleep-conducive. Maybe use curtains to minimize light from outside, get a fan or white noise machine if your room is in a loud or unpredictable area (traffic, roommates, appliances, etc), get a comfortable and quality mattress or pillow, etc. The most important thing is to try to reserve this place for sleeping. Working or playing games or watching tv from bed might be nice, but it can interfere with your sleep routine and lessen the association you’re trying to form between your bed/bedtime and sleep.
Maximize your daytime hours
When you’re not trying to sleep, be intentional with how you use your time. Spend time outside in bright light, exercise, avoid long naps. Take care of yourself during the day. Exercise (but not right before bed) can help tire you out, in addition to all the other reasons why exercising is healthy.
Avoid eating or drinking before bed
Try not to eat or drink anything close to bedtime – doing so might wake your body up when you’re trying to settle it down. It also might mean you have to get up at night to use the bathroom, disrupting your sleep cycle and decreasing your overall quality of sleep. It is also a good idea to avoid caffeine and alcohol, especially before bed.
Avoid blue light exposure
Light is great for you and your body during the day, and tends to be detrimental at night- specifically blue light. Blue light is the kind of light emitted by phones, tablets, laptops, etc. It interferes with your circadian rhythm and can confuse your body into thinking it’s actually still daytime, putting a hold on your body’s release of hormones (like melatonin) that help you get ready for and fall asleep.
If you’re having trouble sleeping try some of these simple changes. If you haven’t been sleeping well for a while now, your sleep quality is likely not going to change overnight. Your body might need to readjust to healthy and reliable sleep habits before you feel a real difference. If you’re still struggling to sleep, it’s a good idea to see your primary care physician to rule out sleep disorders, and a good idea to consider seeing a therapist! There are so many factors that can affect your sleep, and we as counselors would love to explore them with you and see how we might be able to work together to get you to a good night’s rest!
Written by therapist Clair Miller
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