What is sleep hygiene and why is it important for your health?
Sleep hygiene refers to behaviors that help promote good sleep. In a time when many of us are getting too few hours of sleep and are suffering with sleep disorders, good sleep hygiene is more important than ever.
Let’s take a look at the facts:
We’re exhausted. And it’s ruining our health, our economy, and our ability to live functioning lives.
The Impact of Sleep Deprivation
Before you go brushing off the severity of getting less than a solid 7-9 hours, let’s examine why that matters.
- Sleepy drivers are responsible for 1,500 fatalities and 40,000 nonfatal injuries in the United States every year.
- Sleep deprivation costs the US economy $411 billion annually.
- It makes you dumb. Sleep deprivation impairs your ability to be alert, focus, and solve problems.
- Leads to serious health problems like heart disease and high blood pressure.
- Lowers your sex drive
- Increases the likeliness of depression
- Makes your skin age more rapidly
- Makes you forgetful
- Sleep deprivation makes you gain weight and impedes your ability to lose it
- May increase your risk of death
- Impairs your judgment and ability to accurately recall events.
Did I mention that sleep deprivation is defined as anything LESS THAN 7 hours of sleep?
Want to dive deeper into the impact of sleep deprivation on your life? Watch the video below.
Still not convinced?
At this point, you may be running through a list of reasons why you can’t get the standard 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
Perhaps you’re stuck in a cycle of waking up groggy, slamming coffee or energy drinks, crashing, and then repeating throughout the day. Maybe that cycle is adding to your exhaustion and inability to make good choices.
Did you know that lack of sleep triggers the “munchies” much in the same way smoking marijuana does? When we don’t get enough sleep, the hormones that regulate appetite become all screwed up and we are more inclined to overeat.
If you’re tired all the time, carrying around some extra weight, can’t seem to get your moods balanced, and are sick of shelling out the big bucks for expensive face creams and overpriced coffee, you need to start a better sleep hygiene routine.
Tips for Good Sleep Hygiene
If you want to do anything productive with your life – start a business, lose weight, get sober – you have to have healthy sleep habits. It’s non-negotiable.
Assuming that’s you, let’s get right to business!
1. Keep the same sleep schedule every day.
I know this is going to make you scream inside. But, you need to go to bed at the same time every day and wake up at the same time every day.
EVEN ON THE WEEKENDS.
Also, ditch the naps.
Listen, nothing used to please me more than curling up on the couch with a soft blanket and letting some Law & Order SVU marathon lull me to sleep at three in the afternoon. I get it. But it’s ruining your bed time.
If you’re compensating for a lack of nighttime sleep with an after work nap, you’re guaranteeing that you won’t get to bed at a decent hour. Power through and go to bed a little earlier. Your body will thank you for it.
2. Go easy on the caffeine.
According to science, the cut off time for caffeinated beverages is 2 PM.
You got that? TWO. P. M.
Yes, that’s what they say and they make their living researching this stuff so that you and I can make informed decisions about how to live our lives.
If you’re REALLY struggling to get to sleep, you should heed this advice.
I know it isn’t popular and there will probably be a day or two in the beginning when your butt is dragging. You may even be reading this and thinking, “Are you mad?”
Take some steps back and think about the choice logically. What matters more to you? Your late afternoon soda/latte/green tea or sleep?
3. Exercise… at the right time of day
Exercise is critical to getting proper sleep, but there is a catch. You need to be mindful of the time of day you’re working out.
The ideal time to workout is the morning.
It will give you a burst of energy and mental clarity that will sustain you throughout your day. If you absolutely cannot workout in the morning, however, you need to get your workout in at least three hours before you go to bed.
Any later and you’ll be bouncing off the walls when you should be winding down.
4. Restrict your nighttime technology use
Your smartphone, TV and laptop emit blue light that disrupts the production of serotonin in your brain and makes you more alert. Basically the exact opposite conditions you need for excellent sleep hygiene.
You have two options.
You can either commit to shutting off your devices an hour or two before bed, or you can buy some blue light blocking glasses to wear at night if you can’t power down in time.
Keep in mind that even if you use the blue light blocking glasses, you still need to check that what you’re doing isn’t getting you riled up.
Engaging in a heated back and forth on Twitter right before bed (or any time really) is not going to benefit your sleep quality.
5. Limit your bedroom to sleep and romance (wink)
Good sleep hygiene means creating positive sleep associations. Your bedroom should be the place where you sleep and get busy. That’s it.
Create an environment that is conducive to that. Take out the television (if you have one in there), remove any distracting technology (that includes your cellphone if need be), and only use the room for its intended purposes.
Don’t crawl into bed with a snack and binge watch The Wire. Please.
If you are particularly inclined to check your phone while in bed, then it needs to go in another room and you should kick it old school and buy an alarm clock. (I can feel your separation anxiety from here.)
But ask yourself this – what’s more important? Staying current on your Instagram feed or waking up with the ability to form a coherent sentence?
What about reading in bed?
Okay, so here’s the thing. If you struggle to get to sleep (defined as taking longer than 10-15 minutes to drift off), then try shutting down the TV and phone and doing some reading in a different room before going to bed.
I always read in bed before I sleep, but I rarely have a problem falling asleep. Staying asleep has been my struggle.
It’s really up to you and how bad your sleep issues are currently. Proper sleep hygiene is not a one-size-fits all science. You decide where the wiggle room exists based on your needs.
6. Create an ideal bedroom environment.
Your bedroom sets the tone for good sleep hygiene. You need to make sure you bedroom is, A. dark, and B. set to a cool temperature.
My husband and I slept without curtains for an entire year and paid for it dearly. Because we were drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes right up until bedtime, our sleep quality suffered even more.
The easiest win here?
Blackout curtains. If you do nothing else, invest in some high-quality blackout curtains for your bedroom. You have a few options.
Personally, I cannot sleep in a room with complete blackout curtains. Actually, let me rephrase that. I can’t WAKE UP in a room with complete blackout curtains.
I need SOME light. You have three options for your curtains that will still produce optimal space.
In addition to providing you with the perfect lighting conditions for sleep, these curtains will help make your home more energy efficient so you can lower some bills. Win win.
Plus, nothing says, “I’m a proper adult” like quality curtains over your windows.
7. Use white noise or a fan if you can’t stand total silence
I have slept with a fan running for background noise since I was a teenager.
There’s something about total silence that drives me nuts. I’m also incredibly sound sensitive. A lot of free white noise apps loop the same sound and my ears instantly pick up on the pattern and can’t get to sleep.
You want your room to be quiet, but if silence makes your sleeping troubles worse, you need to invest in the right kind of ambient sound.
8. Invest in a good mattress.
A high-quality mattress is one of the best investments you can make for yourself.
If you’re known for taking whatever is available at the lowest possible price point, I’m not judging. I’ve historically gone to Ikea and gotten the cheapest option that didn’t feel like a brick.
Not great, folks. It’s time to upgrade.
When my husband and I moved abroad, the amount of money I spent on my mattress was equal to what I spent on our kitchen stove, refrigerator, and washing machine combined. And I have zero regrets.
If you have the ability, get yourself a quality mattress. It’s worth saving up for if you don’t.
Not sure what to get?
The whole bed-in-a-box thing is all the rage these days. There’s a new online mattress company popping up every day. That’s great! But it can be a bit daunting.
Buying a mattress before you lay on it? All the specs look the same. What’s the difference between all these brands?
The thought alone gives me major secondhand decision fatigue.
Have no fear! I did a bunch of research for you to eliminate the hours long “what should I get?” trap you’ll inevitably fall into (if you’re like me).
Here’s a short list of the most frequently-top rated mattresses on the market. You want to pick a mattress that has the right firmness, fits your sleeping style, has a good warranty, and generous trial period.
A generous trial period is the KEY. That way you can eliminate the worry of buying before testing it out.
Each option below ticks those boxes.
If you are a sweaty sleeper, this mattress sleeps much cooler than other options. It has standard memory foam so it conforms to your body which raises the comfort factor. BUT, it uses a gel memory foam as well which means you won’t sink into the mattress and get hot and sweaty.
The best part? Nectar offers a 365 day trial period and a forever warranty. It’s a very low-risk purchase.
As far as memory foam mattress go, it is one of the more affordable brands on the market. It’s best for folks who weigh under 230 lbs. If you struggle with back pain, this mattress is especially suited for you.
Casper offers a 100 day trial so you have plenty of time to decide if it’s right for you as well as a 10 year warranty.
I slept on one of these bad boys at a friend’s house and thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I’m living outside the US currently, otherwise I’d have one of these instead of my Serta (which is still a great mattress).
It’s a medium-firm, adaptive foam mattress with pressure relief and support. It also boasts a “localized bounce” so that you won’t disturb your partner with your shifting and tossing about.
Sweaty sleeper? Not a problem. This mattress sleeps cooler than traditional memory foam mattresses.
They offer a 100 day risk-free trial and a 10 year warranty. Ninety-five percent of customers keep their mattress.
One side of the mattress is medium-soft and the other is firm, so if you’re not entirely sure which firmness level is right for you, you don’t have to choose!
Layla mattresses use Thermo Gel technology which is supposed to react to your body temperature and cool accordingly. The memory foam is copper infused which makes the mattress a hygienic choice as well.
Reviewers liken the soft side of the mattress to a hug, which sounds pretty damn nice to me.
PRO TIP – Guys, let your mattress inflate before testing it out. Pretty please. The thing’s been impossibly stuffed into a box. You need to give it a day to reach its full glory before you go hopping on it.
9. Clean your room.
Clutter is so detrimental to our mental health which is why I religiously make my bed first thing every morning because it adds an instant sense of calm to my world.
Good sleep hygiene means creating a bedroom that is warm and inviting. So it is with love that I tell you to PUT YOUR SHIT AWAY.
You don’t have to be a Marie Kondo disciple (oh, how I wish!), but at the very least, put your laundry away, take dirty clothes and put them in the hamper, tidy your shelves and keep your floors clear.
10. Create a bedtime ritual.
A bedtime ritual is anything you do every single night to set yourself up for quality sleep. Examples of this include, taking a warm bath, meditating or praying, reading for pleasure, listening to soft music, or writing in your journal.
Here’s my bedtime ritual:
- Wash my face and brush my teeth
- Meditate for ten minutes
- Read a book for 30 minutes to 1 hour
- Select sleep music
- Lights out
I do these things without fail, every single night. Even when I don’t feel like it.
You have to decide for yourself what will relax you and then commit to doing it every night. My suggestion is to start small. Do the obvious things like washing your face and brushing your teeth and then choose one calming activity to do.
Once that becomes second nature, build onto your habit by adding another step (if you want to).
Sleep Hygiene Matters To Your Overall Health
If you’re not familiar with my work (or couldn’t tell by my website name), I focus on sobriety. So why am I writing about sleep and sleep hygiene?
Because it matters.
Everyone needs high quality sleep in order to function properly, have a healthy mind and body, and to look his or her best. It doesn’t matter how many or few your struggles may be.
For those struggling with addiction and/or mental health issues, sleep is particularly important because without it, our mental health cannot improve and our body cannot properly heal and repair itself. Sleep deprivation is one of the worst things that can happen to someone who is already in an emotionally fragile state.
Even if you’re not struggling with those problems, sleep hygiene can be the difference between being effective in your work or just skating by. Look at the routines of highly successful people and you will notice a commitment to exercise and high-quality sleep.
Plus, it’s easy to get caught in an exhausting sleep deprivation/caffeination loop. You need to get off that train immediately. These strategies, while simple, can help.
And then….? Watch out world!
If you’re looking for additional resources on sleep, check out these books:
- The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington
- Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, PhD.
- The Promise of Sleep by William C. Dement, MD, Ph.D
- The Sleep Solution by W. Chris Winter, MD
Reading books about sleep before you go to sleep as part of a routine to get better sleep? It’s deliciously meta!
Want to learn more? Here’s another fantastic TedTalk to help you understand just how important sleep hygiene is for your life.
Resources from this post: