Sleep better, be better

Obtaining healthy sleep is important for both physical and mental health. It can also improve productivity and overall quality of life. Everyone, from children to older adults, can benefit from practicing good sleep habits. Improving your sleep hygiene is an easy way to get better sleep, and is the first thing you should consider when you have difficulties with sleep. Sleep hygiene education is an essential part of the treatment of insomnia.

Make Sleep a Priority

To begin a new path towards healthier sleep and a healthier lifestyle, begin by assessing your own individual needs and habits. See how you respond to different amounts of sleep, use a sleep diary to keep track of everything.

Pay careful attention to your mood, energy and health after a poor night’s sleep versus a good one. Ask yourself, “How often do I get a good night’s sleep?” Like good diet and exercise, sleep is a critical component to overall health.

Sleep hygiene is defined as practices and habits that support quality nighttime sleep and promote daytime alertness. Regularly pulling all-nighters, or sleeping in on the weekends so you can “make up” for lost sleep are examples of poor sleep hygiene.

Signs of poor sleep hygiene:

  • Waking up unrested each morning
  • Waking frequently during the night
  • Feeling tired during the day
  • Trouble falling asleep at night

One of the most important sleep hygiene practices is to spend the appropriate amount of time asleep in bed, not too little or too much. The amount of sleep we need decreases as we age and can be impacted by our lifestyle and health. Below are the current evidence-based recommendations for each age group, you can use this as a guide to help determine how many hours of sleep you personally need to feel your best. (info graphic)

Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day

Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours each day

Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours each day

Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours each day

School age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours each day

Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours each day

Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours each day

Adults (26-64): Sleep range is 7-9 hours each day

Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours each day

Your sleep environment is also vital to good sleep hygiene. The best environment for sleep is one that is: Dark, quiet, comfortable and cool. Make your room a haven for rest and relaxation, mattress and pillows should be comfortable and the nightstand free of clutter. The ideal temperature for sleep is between 60 and 67 degrees. Bright light from lamps, cell phone and TV screens can make it difficult to fall asleep, so turn all light sources off. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices that can make the bedroom more relaxing. Dedicate your bed to sleep and sex exclusively so that you can subconsciously connect being in bed with sleeping. Doing work, reading, talking on the phone and watching TV in bed can all be detrimental to sleep.

Before you go to sleep follow a bedtime routine: Think relaxation, the goal is to wind your mind and body down for sleep. Yours might include the following activities:

  • Be consistent. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends and during vacations. Otherwise, you could develop a rebound effect on Monday when you return to your routine.
    • Set alarm for the morning and get up the same time every day, even if you had a bad night with frequent awakenings.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and other potential stimulants before bedtime
    • Caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and THC disrupt sleep. While alcohol may make you drowsy and induce sleep initially, it disrupts your sleep in the latter part of the night reducing your REM and deep sleep. To avoid the negative sleep consequences of these substance avoid using them 4-6 hours before you plan on going to sleep.
  • Don’t go to bed unless you are sleepy, if you don’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed. 
    • Stay calm when you can’t sleep, leave your bedroom and do something relaxing somewhere else. You don’t want your mind to associate your bed with frustration. Do the same if you wake up during the night and can’t fall back asleep. In either scenario, don’t focus on the clock, it will just cause unhelpful anxiety. Read a book, sketch, or do another calming activity that can be done in low lighting. Do NOT turn on your electronics!
  • Drink a cup of herbal tea
  • Taking a warm bath or shower
  • Aromatherapy
  • Meditation or visualization
  • Deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation
  • Reading a book in a chair by a soft lamp (not in your bed)
  • Listening to soothing music

Other important sleep hygiene practices to consider are:

  • Limit exposure to bright light in the evenings and Stop using electronics 30-60 minutes before bedtime.
    • This includes television, computers, phones, tablets and e-readers. If you can’t tear yourself away from these items then at least turn on the red light filter.
  • Don’t eat a large meal before bedtime. If you are hungry at night, eat a light, healthy snack. 
    • Heavy or rich foods, fatty or fried meals, spicy dishes, citrus fruits, and carbonated drinks can trigger indigestion for some people. When this occurs close to bedtime, it can lead to painful heartburn that disrupts sleep. Sugar can also be stimulating when consumed before bedtime.
  • Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet. 
    • As little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise, such as walking or cycling, can drastically improve nighttime sleep quality.  Strenuous exercise may need to be avoided at night, it can energize you and make it harder to fall asleep, this isn’t the case with everyone, so find out what works best for you.
  • Get outside during the day
    • This is particularly important for individuals who may not venture outside frequently. Exposure to sunlight during the day, as well as darkness at night, helps to maintain a healthy sleep wake cycle. 
  • Reduce your fluid intake before bedtime.
    • Drinking a bunch of water before bed likely means getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
  • Limit day time naps, 30 minutes or less, earlier in the day.
    •  If you nap longer than 30 minutes, you risk entering deep sleep which can result in waking up groggy and getting poor sleep that night.
  • Experiment and figure out what works for you
    • Keep a sleep diary and pay attention to how your sleep hygiene practices make you feel, fine tune your experience to give your mind, body and soul just what it needs to be restored each night.
  • Get help when you need it.
    •  If you have cleaned up your sleep hygiene and you are still not getting restful sleep, talk to your doctor and get some help, you deserve to feel healthy and rested.