Sleep Hygiene

What the Heck is Sleep Hygiene?

Sleep hygiene is basically all the things that you need to do to maintain correct sleeping habits.  Just like brush your teeth every morning and wash you hair and shower to maintain a healthy body, you need to do the same so you get good consistent sleep every night.

sleep hygieneThere are many things that fall under this category and I will go over them in a little more detail than most sites probably do.  I think they are more important than most people realize and are not practiced enough on a daily basis.  This is one of the contributing factors to why so many people nowadays are having sleep problems, when twenty or thirty years ago and beyond it doesn’t seem to have been near this bad.

So in no particular order, because I think they are all extremely important, I will start off with napping.

Napping

I know so many people that have trouble sleeping that they are almost constantly napping on a daily basis.  This drives me insane.  The logic they have is that they are tired and want to take a nap, so they do.  And then they wonder why they can’t fall asleep until 3 the next morning, well maybe it’s because you took a 2 hour nap this afternoon?

They don’t see it like that though, they see the 2 hour nap as making up for the bad night of sleep they had the night before, but it just doesn’t work that way unfortunately, trust me, I wish it did.

Many studies have shown that taking a 30 minute or less nap can have several benefits, including promoting wakefulness and enhancing performance and learning ability.  But any longer and they can disrupt your sleep patterns at night.

If you want to nap a few times a week I see no issue with that.  Just make sure you keep it to 30 minutes or less and try to do it as early in the day as possible, like right before or after lunch.  But most importantly, it needs to stay at thirty minutes max until further studies are performed.

Caffeine and Other Sleep Disruptors

I kind of made up that category to throw a few things together, including caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and nicotine.  All of these products can severely disrupt your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night.  One of the biggest offenders is caffeine I think.

Caffeine

A lot of people drink caffeine all throughout the day and think that it just doesn’t affect them.  It does.  I had a friend who would drink soda up until midnight sometimes, stuff like coke and mountain dew, and swear it didn’t effect him just because he always fell asleep the second he went to bed.

It wasn’t until a long time later that he complained to me that he always would wake up many times through the night and often have trouble going back to sleep.  C’mon! It’s the caffeine that does that to you.  He fell asleep so quickly because he was exhausted due to a sleep deficit, but the caffeine kept waking him up every 2 to 4 hours, causing a sleep deficit, a vicious cycle to say the least.

It’s not just right before be either, studies have shown that caffeine intake up to 6 hours before bed can have important disruptive effects on sleep including prolonged sleep latency (time to fall asleep), reduced total sleep time and sleep efficiency, and worsened perceived sleep quality as well as increased wakefulness and arousals during the night.

So that afternoon pick me up from Starbucks that you need to finish your day is very likely negatively affecting your sleep later that night, at minimum 6 hours later, and depending on the person as much as 8 to 10 hours later.

It’s really just not worth it, instead of having that coffee, go for a walk outside or do 20 minutes of light exercise, you will probably find you get the same results and you will also get a more restful nights sleep.

Sugar

Sugar is another one that a lot of people don’t realize can affect sleep, at least it can for me and many of my family members.  I was actually unable to find any studies that isolated sleep and sugar intake.  The only ones I could find were using sugary soda intake and sleep.  But they obviously have caffeine in them, so even though they showed they disrupted sleep, maybe it had nothing to do with the sugar.

I am just going off personal experience and those of my friends and family.  If many of us have dessert too late, a slice of birthday day cake after a late dinner for example, we will not be able to fall asleep until 2 to 3 hours after normal bedtime.  So I make it a point to limit sugar intake after about 5 pm or so, and I usually go to bed around 10:30.

Alcohol

Alcohol has been shown to be a sleep disruptor for many people, but it looks to be dose dependent, and that is what I found personally as well.  For most people it looks like one or two drinks in the evening, especially with dinner should not cause a problem.

But if you keep going and have a third or fourth, closer to bedtime as well, these could disrupt sleep patterns.  This study showed that men with higher AUDIT-KR scores (which is an alcohol use disorder test) tended to suffer from poor sleep quality. AUDIT-KR scores showed significant correlations with subjective sleep quality, sleep duration, and sleep disturbances in men. Basically the more they drank, the worse they slept.

So keep it two drinks or so to be on the safe side, and preferably be done with your last drink a couple of hours before bed.

Nicotine

We all know nicotine is a stimulant, but most people smoke or use tobacco because they fell like it relaxes them.  So they will regularly have a cigarette or cigar shorty before bed thinking it will help them go to sleep.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Studies have shown numerous disturbing facts for smokers and sleep including they take longer to fall asleep, they spend less time asleep, and they are in deep sleep less that those that don’t smoke.  One study showed they sleep on average 33 minutes less that non smokers and also feel less refreshed in the morning as well.

Nicotine is also extremely addictive and it leaves your body very quickly, a couple of hours.  If you are addicted to nicotine your body can actually start going through withdrawal just a couple of hours after going to sleep, and will try to wake you up so you can have another cigarette.

Smoking can also cause sleep apnea because the chemicals can cause the tissues in your throat and airways to swell, which creates and obstruction to the flow of air.  As if there weren’t enough reasons not to smoke.

There really isn’t an ok number of cigarettes or cigars to have and sleep good, I highly recommend never smoking and if you already do, please do everything you can to quit, it will likely save your life.

Exercise

There is no argument among the scientific community of the beneficial effects that regular exercise has on sleep.  There are numerous studies showing that people that exercise on a regular basis have much better sleep quality, sleep longer, go to sleep faster, and feel more refreshed when they wake up.

Exercise is free and has absolutely no unwanted side effects, unlike many other heavily promoted things such as prescription drugs for one.  Going for a brisk walk outside will cost you nothing more than 20 minutes of your time and a pair of sneakers, which you likely already have.

In a few studies on chronic insomnia sufferers,  regular exercise ranging from just 4 weeks to 24 weeks, adults with insomnia fell asleep more quickly, slept slightly longer, and had better sleep quality than before they began exercising.

The exact mechanism as to why exercise helps with insomnia is actually not completely understood, although there are many theories.  Honestly, they don’t really matter to me and shouldn’t matter to you either, just know that regular exercise is 100% one of the best things that you can do help you sleep better, hands down.

There are a lot of sites and “experts” they say you must workout in the morning or at least early in the day, but I am unable to find any date showing that matters.  The only thing that is consistent is that people who exercise sleep better, it doesn’t matter if it’s first thing in the morning or after dinner at 8 o’clock at night.

I can’t stress how much I recommend exercising everyday.  I know that sounds difficult, but I’m not saying to hit the gym for and hour and a half, all you need to do is walk briskly for 20 minutes.  Then at least 2 days a week or so when you have more time, it is a good idea to do something a little more strenuous, such as resistance workouts or some kind of aerobic exercise such as jogging or biking.

Not only will you sleep better, but you feel better!

Sunlight

Getting outdoors is an extremely important component of sleep hygiene.  Our bodies circadian rhythms are set by the light, especially the sunlight.  It’s how our bodies and brains know that its daytime versus night time and when to go to sleep.

Going for even a short walk or my favorite, a bike ride, outside everyday is a great way to get the sunlight you need while also getting in a little exercise.  Getting the light within 2 hours of waking up is best, it kind of anchors your circadian rhythm for the rest of the day and makes it harder for artificial light at night to disturb you.

I get a lot into the problems cell phones and screens are causing us in my review of best blue light blocking glasses if you want to read more about that.  I give a lot more information on how blue light at night is affecting our ability to sleep, so I won’t repeat it all here.

Bottom line, get outside for at least an hour everyday if possible, if not do the best you can, something is always better than nothing.

Sleep Environment

This is going to be a big section and cover a lot of different things, but I find them all important, so bear with me.

Dark

For the same reasons I covered in my review of best blue light blocking glasses, it is vitally important that your bedroom be totally dark when you are trying to sleep.  You should have good room darkening shades or curtains, and if you don’t, at least get a good sleep mask, this one works great, is extremely comfortable, and is the one I personally use.

Cold

It should be under 70 degrees ideally.  I know that seems cold but it is perfect sleeping conditions for your body.  If you can’t afford to keep the air that cold, just do the best you can.  A good ceiling fan will also help a lot in keeping the bedroom as cool feeling as possible.

Mattress and Pillows

Your mattress and pillows should be comfortable and you shouldn’t have to be constantly adjusting your pillow trying to find the perfect spot.  If it is that difficult, try different types of pillows until you find one that works.

A good mattress will do wonders for sleep.  A mattress only lasts about 10 years, yet most people continue sleeping on theirs long after.  If you have a mattress that is over ten years old, I highly recommend looking into a new one.

This is my mattress, and honestly, it is incredible. The Tuft and Needle Mattress!  You can sleep on this mattress for 100 nights and then if you aren’t happy, you can still return it.  Over 95% of buyers end up keeping theirs though so I doubt you will return it.

Noise

I am a big fan of white noise.  You can get a small machine that does this, use an app on your phone, or just get a cheap fan, which is what I do.  It drowns out all the small noises you normally hear throughout the night when there is silence your room.  No creaking or settling of the house, and no car doors closing or voices of people walking by your home.  I think this is ideal.

You can also get a good set of earplugs which work fine too.  I use these when I am somewhere that I can’t bring my fan, such as when I fly, or go camping.  The only drawback is that I feel like the feeling of the earplugs can sometimes disturb my sleep, but I know many people that use earplugs every night and love them.

Some other miscellaneous things that I notice include no big meals close to bedtime, no television in the bedroom, no bright lights after sundown, and no pets in the bed overnight either.

I hope you were able to learn some new things about sleep hygiene and how it can impact your night.  I posted some more links below to articles that I think you could also find helpful.

Other Posts You Might Find Relevant

The Best Blue Light Blocking Glasses and Why You Must Have Them

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The 5 Best Nature Sounds Alarm Clock