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The science of sleep tells us that restful and healthy sleep are vital for overall physical and mental wellbeing, yet for many a good night’s sleep is rare. We struggle to get to sleep or to stay asleep, then may wake up ‘on the wrong side of the bed’, feeling sluggish, moody, and not quite on our game. Not only does this impact how we show up throughout the day, but over time may lead to chronic health challenges. What can be done? Enter: ‘sleep hygiene’, a term that has been popularized to describe the behaviours that contribute to restful and healthy sleep.
Sleep Hygiene Rituals
Good sleep hygiene begins with creating rituals – habits that we observe to help increase the ease with which we get to sleep as well as improve the quality of our sleep.
There are a number of research-based sleep hygiene practices that can be ritualized to become part of a lifestyle that promotes great sleep.
Establish a regular sleep-wake cycle.
Practice listening to the body’s feedback and going to bed when drowsy. Ignoring these sleep cues and pushing through the fatigue is one reason people wake in the middle of the night and may not be able to get back to sleep. Over time, going to bed within the same window each night helps to establish a rhythm that tells the body and mind when it is time for sleep. Waking up at the same time each day reinforces this. To set this internal circadian clock, it can be helpful to view sunlight within the first 30-60 minutes of waking. Step outside and enjoy a few breaths of fresh air or sips of your morning brew. Doing this again in the afternoon or early evening – stepping outside for a few minutes when the sun is low in the sky – similarly impacts this rhythm by helping to prepare the physiology for sleep. Follow through by avoiding bright artificial lighting and keeping the sleep environment dark. Lowering the lights in the evening and/or lighting some candles can be a nice way to ritualize this practice.
Regulate body temperature.
Keep cool. It is natural for the body to drop its core temperature as it prepares for sleep. When our environment is too hot this can frustrate the process. To support the body, it can be helpful to keep room temperature between 17-19 degrees Celsius. Keeping a fan nearby or a window open can help. Another supportive habit is to take a cool shower before bed.
Turn down the volume; quiet down.
Noise – even noises we have learned to sleep though – can interfere with how deeply we are able to enter each stage of sleep. Because this can negatively impact the quality and restfulness of sleep, a quiet sleep environment is ideal. White noise, however, is one exception and can be helpful in drowning out peak noises from loud sources like a city street outside your window.
The process of becoming more quiet as the evening progresses can happen in many ways. If you are using technology, consider turning off devices an hour or two before bed. Choose programming or reading that is less mentally stimulating. Listen to music that is calming or explore apps with research-based guided protocols or meditations that promote sleep.
Enjoy a cup of tea – avoid caffeine and alcohol.
While many enjoy their java, and caffeine has a number of cited benefits, too much caffeine too late in the day can be disruptive to sleep. Similarly, alcohol, although it can help with falling asleep, can interfere with the ability to stay asleep. Research suggests that generally caffeine should be avoided 8 hours and alcohol 3 hours before retiring. The ritual of sipping a drink before bed, however, is a common sleep aid. There are a number of popular herbal teas that help to promote relaxation and prepare the body and mind for rest.
Interested in Learning More?
By prioritizing sleep hygiene, individuals can create an optimal sleep environment and optimize their sleep-wake cycle. This may include maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a comfortable and relaxing sleep environment, avoiding stimulating activities before bed, and practicing relaxation techniques to unwind.
Check out these sleep resources:
Written by: Miriam Desjardins, MACP
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