Head of The Sleep Council
If there’s one thing you do this year, it should be making sure sleep is a priority. Good sleep habits will last a lifetime and it is one of the fundamental tools for maintaining good physical and mental health.
We all sleep, but many of us don’t do it very well. A good night’s rest is essential to a healthy lifestyle – protecting you physically and mentally as well as boosting your quality of living.
While there is no magic number for how many hours’ sleep you need, the consensus is most of us need around seven to eight hours. Being properly rested means you’re clear-headed, more focused and more patient.
It’s not uncommon to have one or two poor nights of sleep a month, but if you feel your sleep is starting to suffer and could be improved or optimised further, then it’s important to look at your sleep hygiene, which may be able to solve the problem.
What is sleep hygiene?
For starters, it isn’t about brushing your teeth or having a wash before bed! Sleep hygiene is a variety of different healthy lifestyle habits and behavioural approaches that play an important role in how alert we are in the day and how well we sleep at night.
Everyone can benefit from practising good sleep hygiene to help create ideal conditions for healthy, restorative sleep.
Sleep hygiene education is often used alongside other strategies such as medication or cognitive behaviour therapy to treat insomnia.
Key steps to maintaining good sleep hygiene
Regularly assess your sleep quality, as even small changes can have a huge impact. Completing a sleep diary for two weeks is ideal to see what you are doing, eating, etc on the days when you do and don’t sleep well.
From that you can start to identify what sleep hygiene principles to put into place. For example, if you can see that on a day you didn’t sleep well you drank eight cups of coffee then maybe it’s time to limit the caffeine intake!
To ensure you experience good sleep it’s essential to follow good lifestyle habits and to eliminate the factors that are causing you disturbed sleep.
For example, making sure that your bedroom is the right environment (cool, dark and quiet), that your bed is comfortable, limiting daytime naps, exercising to promote quality sleep and avoiding foods, drinks and stimulants that hinder sleep.
A daily dose of natural light (even on cloudy days) also helps reset our internal body clock. It helps us get over feeling groggy when we have just woken up and makes us more alert.
Get out into the natural light as soon as you can after waking up, and preferably around the same time every day.
Avoid screen time at least an hour before bed – not only does it keep us awake longer as the blue light suppresses the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin, but the content can be stimulating and keep us alert at the wrong time of the day.
Routines that are associated with sleep signal the brain that it’s time to wind down. Find alternative ways of relaxing like warm baths with calming scents, quiet, soothing music, reading, gentle stretching and yoga.
It’s also important to establish a regular sleep pattern – i.e. going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time. Your bodies and minds will feel much better for it.
The health benefits
Getting quality sleep is important for your physical and mental health. It improves mood, concentration, decision-making, alertness and memory.
It helps lower your risk of health conditions such as diabetes, strokes and heart disease. It strengthens your immune systems and can help maintain a healthy weight.
Sleep makes you look better, feel better, behave better, perform better and think better!