I am often asked what sleep hygiene is, and how it can improve the quality of sleep. And no, it’s not about brushing your teeth before bedtime. Which is of course good for oral hygiene. Before we discuss this topic, let’s discuss the importance of sleep on mental health.
Do you often wake up groggy and wish for just a little more sleep? It’s quite common for me to hear from clients that they’re not getting the amount of sleep they would like, or the sleep they do get is not the best quality. Lack of sleep can take a physical and mental toll on the body and mind’s ability to function optimally. Experts such as Dr. Stephanie Silberman, author of the book “The Insomnia Workbook” (2009) state, “the number of hours of sleep needed varies among people, with the best indication of getting enough sleep is how you feel and perform each day.” Sleep problems are particularly prevalent in individuals who present with concerns relating to anxiety, depression, and other significant stressors. In such cases, lack of sleep can cause, or exacerbate symptoms. Reduced or poor quality of sleep can result in memory impairments, an inability to think clearly, cause lapse of attention on tasks such as driving, resulting in feeling irritable and angry, and lessen our ability to cope with stress. Other signs can include constantly feeling tired, yawning throughout the day, and the use of caffeine to stay awake and alert.
What is sleep hygiene and how can it help?
Sleep hygiene involves incorporating a variety of routines before bedtime and in the morning in order to help the body and mind. The quality of your sleep depends on the quality of your days. This speaks to the importance of having a daily routine and schedule that matches your circadian rhythms. The overall objective is to ask yourself, “is this activity going to help me relax, or will it provide unnecessary stimulation for my brain?” Stimulants such as coffee, eating or drinking alcohol, and electronics should be avoided close to bedtime. Instead, focus on activities that promote relaxation such as: a warm bath or shower, warm glass of milk, or reading a book or journaling. The struggle some individuals commonly experience relates to electronics, and our desire to remain connected on the phone or social media with friends and family before bedtime. The desire to stay connected may in fact keep you disconnected from quality sleep.
Healthy associations to sleep can be valuable to a good night’s rest. Think of your bedroom as a space of comfort and rest. It is your escape after a busy day. Remove distractions such as computers, televisions, or other electronics from your bedroom to create a sanctuary. Create a routine that allows you to set a time for sleeping and waking which works for your schedule and needs.
I always look forward to the fall months and the beginning of the school year because it’s a fantastic time to create new and healthy opportunities. Why not begin with sleep?