You may know someone who’s able to fall asleep the moment their head hits the pillow. But, for some of us, that’s not the case. Maybe you have difficulty falling asleep easily or you don’t feel well-rested even after 7-8 hours of sleep. For the vast majority of the population, we need time to rest and slow down in order for our mind and body to relax bit by bit from the rush of the day and settle into the steadiness of a peaceful sleep.
There are some scientifically supported ways to improve your sleep quality, also known as sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene can be defined as the rules and methods that we apply to improve our quality of sleep. It’s possible to get a better sleep following these easy steps and you’ll see that many of them may already be familiar to you.
Poor sleep hygiene means having habits that negatively influence our sleep quality. Scientific evidence shows that poor sleep quality disrupts mental and physical well-being, affecting our attention and decision-making skills as well as our cardiovascular systems. Sleeping less or more than the average 7-9 hours can also be associated with low life expectancy.
Research indicates that fluctuating sleep hours, a noisy environment, and consuming alcohol and caffeine can lead to poor sleep quality among university students as well. Further, a literature review revealed that poor sleep can be associated with inability to focus, worse academic performance, risky driving behavior, depression, stress, anxiety, weakened social skills, and poorer overall health.
A vast majority of research indicates that good sleep hygiene is associated with better sleep quality. Having a regular sleep routine enhances your sleep quality and thereby improves your overall well-being. Implementing sleep hygiene tips into your life can also reduce the adverse effects of stress and anxiety and improve your cognitive skills.
We humans are diurnal beings, which means we prefer to stay awake during the day and to sleep at night. Our metabolic activities such as eating, sleeping, and hormone secretion follow a repeating pattern in a 24-hour cycle, also known as our circadian rhythm or our internal clock.
It’s important to synchronize our sleep routine with our circadian rhythm, which means sleeping in the night and waking up in the morning in order to achieve optimal sleep. Try going to bed and waking up around similar times each day. You might have difficulty sticking to that schedule at first, but you’ll fall asleep easily and wake up well-rested as your body gets used to this routine.
Get to know yourself better by learning your chronotype. Find the best routine that works for you and make it a habit, following your schedule regularly. Include things that you can easily adapt because if your routine is unsustainable, you’ll inevitably drop it before seeing the positive effects.
Center relaxing activities in order to slow down your body and your brain. Drink chamomile tea, do a gentle stretch routine, read a calming book, put on lavender oil, listen to relaxing music or a sleep story. Repeat the routine every night as long as it brings you joy. Having a routine will prepare your mind for sleep even on those nights when you’re wide awake because you’ll have strategies that work for you at the ready.
Check Meditopia to listen to Sleep Stories.
Make sure your room and bedding are clean. Imagine a dreamy, peaceful sleep in fresh sheets and pajamas. Tidying up your space can also help you relax. Too much stuff in your room can distract you or keep your mind busy. Minimalist settings can be more relaxing because there are less stimuli that can bother you. Open your windows once in a while and make sure that the air can circulate within your room.
Our bodies secrete melatonin, a hormone responsible for our sleep-wake cycle regulation, in the dark at night. It’s important that you sleep in complete darkness so that your body can secrete melatonin in order to have a balanced sleep-wake cycle. You can purchase blackout blinds or wear a sleep mask to block any light coming in from outside.
Caffeine and alcohol can disrupt your sleep cycles. Caffeine and alcohol consumption has been found to reduce time spent asleep, worsen sleep quality, and increase wakefulness. You might have experienced falling asleep easily when you’ve consumed alcohol. Nevertheless, it’s almost unavoidable to wake up feeling tired and lacking enough sleep when you’re hungover.
Limiting the amount of alcohol and caffeine you consume will help you regulate your sleep schedule and improve your sleep quality.
Being exposed to blue light has been found to be harmful to our sleep cycles. Research shows that limiting the exposure to blue light in the evening can help regulate sleep cycles and has been used in the treatment of insomnia. Avoiding blue light, especially at night, can contribute to your sleep quality. You can turn night mode on in your technological devices, which help to limit blue light exposure.
Try to limit the use of technological devices. As long as you’re in “response mode”, your brain will spend most of its energy getting ready to respond and react as soon as possible. Try to change your habits if you’ve been checking Instagram or Twitter before bed. It’s best not to get new information as your brain is trying to go to sleep.
Scientific evidence that exercise has a direct, positive impact on sleep quality is controversial and more research is needed to confidently argue its benefits. On the other hand, it’s generally agreed upon that moving our bodies can be associated with increased overall health and well-being, which will eventually contribute to your sleep quality as well.
Sometimes, we try hard to fall asleep when we’re wide awake. The more we try, the more difficult it is to close our eyes and let ourselves drift into the arms of a peaceful sleep. During those nights, try not to fight with sleep and instead just get up from bed. Go to your bed only when you are tired and sleepy. Similarly in the mornings, don’t spend too much time in bed after you wake up. These tips will help you associate your bed with sleep and with time and practice, getting into your bed will make you sleepy.