It’s common to think we can get by on little sleep occasionally, as we can always make it up later. In reality, we should pay close attention to our “sleep hygiene” and do all we can to get better rest.
What Is Sleep Hygiene?
The Sleep Foundation defines sleep hygiene as “a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness.” Proper rest not only improves mental and physical health, but also “productivity and overall quality of life.”
For people in addiction treatment and post-treatment, or for those learning to manage co-occurring and mood disorders, sleep is often elusive, interrupted, or short. It’s challenging to maintain effective sleep habits for numerous reasons, including:
- Chronic pain. More than 20 percent of people in the U.S. deal with chronic pain, and often don’t know about alternative treatments to alleviate reliance on painkillers or sleep aides.
- Insomnia. While we all suffer bouts of insomnia from time-to-time, people in recovery tend to deal with acute sleeplessness for up to a year. In general, about 25 percent of Americans develop insomnia each year, and 25 percent of these will have ongoing sleep issues for life.
- Stress. “Losing sleep” over an issue isn’t a cliché, according to Sleep.org—the more upset you are, the less rest you get, which spikes cortisol, the stress hormone. The more cortisol you have, the less likely you are to get a good night’s rest, which makes the next day more challenging, and the whole situation becomes a closed loop.
- Difficult dreams or night terrors. People in recovery dream they’re relapsing, or individuals with trauma or PTSD might revisit the inciting event. These nightmares often cause a “bad dream hangover” the next day that prompts someone to either dwell on the dreams or try to avoid them by not sleeping.
- Circadian rhythm disorders. This often is a result of shift work, jet lag, and other issues.
- Poor sleep habits. Eating certain kinds of food for dinner, leaving the TV on, having caffeine or nicotine before bed, and other behaviors contribute greatly to how well you’ll rest.
- Depression or anxiety. Both of these mental health conditions affect sleep patterns and might often be root causes for other disorders such as restless leg syndrome, teeth grinding, sleepwalking, and others.
In 2015, Time magazine shared research from studies examining the effects of interrupted sleep and short sleep—both of which have an impact on slow wave sleep (also called deep sleep). The slow wave phase in the rest cycle is what helps us feel restored and rested. People often feel better if they have at least one or two hours of deep sleep, even if they slept less overall, instead of waking up frequently during the night. Achieving more rest in the slow wave stage—which only accounts for 13–23 percent of our total sleep time—is one reason why medical professionals believe adults are healthier and perform better if they aim for seven-to-nine hours rest each night.
Some people have what’s known as “short sleeper syndrome”—even though they only get four to six hours of rest each night, they function well and are generally optimistic. Usually this is a genetic condition. However, most of us can’t thrive on just a few hours of rest, so here’s how to develop a sleep hygiene routine to discover how much rest you really need.
Methods for Better Sleep
Improving sleep hygiene is often based on important routines you establish. Having certain bedtime rituals helps prepare you mentally and physically for a good night’s rest. Here are some suggestions:
Find more ways to calm down before bed
These techniques might include breathing exercises; labeling, then relabeling, your emotions; using yoga, meditation, or passive muscle relaxation; taking a hot bath with Epsom salts and scented oils; and stimulating the vagus nerve with slow, deep breathing.
Your body knows when it has to rebuild and recover from effort, and so many people often experience deeper sleep with regular exercise. Make sure to complete your workout at least one hour before bedtime, and don’t shorten your rest for exercise in the morning—go to bed earlier instead.
Stay off electronics at least 30 minutes beforehand
This includes the TV, tablet, phone, and laptop. The blue light emissions from these devices block melatonin, a necessary hormone for quality rest. Read a paper book or magazine, listen to music, or do a calming technique prior to going to bed.
Eat lightly and healthfully
If you’re having trouble getting a good night’s sleep, adjusting your eating window and food choices is an easy fix. Ideally, your last meal should be at least 90 minutes before slipping between the sheets. Avoid fried, spicy, or fatty foods, caffeine, and sugar. If you can’t help but eat late before going to bed, reduce portion sizes. But when there’s a large gap between dinner and bedtime and you feel peckish, a small snack might actually help you sleep better. Just make it a healthy one!
Make the bedroom an invitation for sleep
Indulge in special linens, pillows, and a good mattress. Reduce clutter, bright light, and other distractions. Adjust the temperature between 62 and 68 degrees. Also consider aromatherapy, soft music, and a sound machine to create a restful atmosphere.
Take care of tasks ahead of time
Some people feel more at ease when they take care of certain tasks before bed. For example, they write down what needs to be done the next day, lay out their clothes, and pack lunches for themselves and family members. This feeling of accomplishment provides a “mischief managed” peace of mind.
Our Aim Is to Make Your Life Better
We want to improve your well-being any way possible. Look at some of our alumni resources, review our self-assessment quizzes, and read more of our blog articles for additional information that might help. Let us know in the comments below if there are other questions you’d like us to answer.