04 Feb What is Sleep Hygiene and why is it important?
The importance of a good night sleep can’t be underestimated. It’s a vital component of your physical, social and emotional well-being. To achieve a good night’s sleep, practicing sleep hygiene is essential. So, what is sleep hygiene and how can you incorporate it into your daily life?
Sleep hygiene is a term used to describe a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good night time sleep quality and full daytime alertness. Having good sleep hygiene can take some practice, but it’s worth it. Poor sleep duration and quality can have a negative impact on your mood, mental health and your performance throughout the day.
So how much sleep is enough?
How much sleep you need varies across your lifespan and can be different from person to person. As we begin to age our sleep duration requirements reduce, with most research indicating basal sleep (or normal sleep) should be 7-9 hours for young adults and adults (18-64 years) and 7-8 hours of sleep for older adults (65 + years).
It’s normal to have a bad night sleep from time to time. If this happens, try not to stress too much about it! However, if you regularly struggle to get enough sleep you enter into sleep debt. Sleep debt is a term which refers to consistently failing to achieve your body’s basal sleep needs. Accumulated sleep can be lost from poor sleep habits, sickness, waking up due to environmental factors and other causes. Sleep debt will leave you feeling more sleepy (no surprises there), less alert and possibly more irritated.
So why is a good night sleep so important?
Sleep is one of the key pillars of health. We need sleep to survive, and beyond that, a good night sleep can also:
- Lower stress and improve mood
- Help you maintain a healthy weight
- Increase your ability to pay attention and remember new information
- Increase energy levels
- Assist with management of conditions causing pain
How do I practice good Sleep Hygiene?
There are a lot of simple things you can do to improve your sleep hygiene. Changing your habits can be a challenge, but like most things in life, consistency is key! Here are a few small changes that can make a big difference to your sleep:
1. Establish consistent sleep and wake schedules
Yes, even on weekends! Ensuring you go to bed and wake up at similar times is an essential component to developing a good sleep routine. Try also to avoid napping during the day, as this may affect your body’s routine; however, if a nap is necessary it’s important to keep it approximately 20-30 minutes in duration so as to not disrupt night time sleep.
2. Sleep rituals
Create a regular bedtime routine! Listening to relaxing music, soaking in a hot bath, completing light stretches or breathing exercises are all strategies that can help and will create a routine to prepare you for sleep.
3. Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol
It’s best to avoid these substances for 4-6 hours prior to bed. This is because they can act as stimulants and interfere with both your body’s ability to fall asleep and the quality of the sleep you have.
4. Minimise screen time before bed
We live in a society where we are constantly using a variety of electronic devices (TV, tablets, phones, laptops… you know the drill). It’s recommended you stop using these devices at least 30 minutes prior to bed, as light from screens can stop your brain from producing the sleep chemical melatonin, which is important in helping you get to sleep.
5. Keep your bed for sleep and sex
Performing other activities in your bed, such as watching TV or working, can cause your brain to associate your bed with a place for increased levels of alertness. This can once again negatively affect your ability to fall asleep.
6. Regular Exercise
There’s extensive research on the benefit of sleep with exercise. Exercise during the day can be a good way to make you tired and assist falling asleep at night. However, you might want to try to avoid vigorous exercise immediately prior to bed time as this may increase the body’s levels of alertness. There’s been no research to say what type of exercise is best to assist with sleep quality. Try doing exercise that you enjoy, this will have a positive effect on your mood and may reduce stress levels which will help you to fall asleep.
Remember that having a good night’s sleep is a skill, and like any skills, to become good at them you have to practice! To achieve sleep mastery will take time, so be patient. Do your best to make small changes and work towards practicing good sleep hygiene. The above list is a great place to start!
If you’re still struggling, you can find more information around sleep hygiene as well as various apps to help you sleep below:
Written by Kara Santoro. Kara is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist at Guardian Exercise Rehabilitation. She is passionate about delivering holistic and individualised exercise health interventions to help optimise her patient’s quality of life and physiological and psychological well-being.