Practical tips for better sleep hygiene
Sleep is a cornerstone of health; and deep, quality sleep is the one of the best things we can do for our well-being. So why do so many of us have a hard time sleeping well? Since hitting my 40s, I wake up more often, sleep for fewer hours, and seem to have lighter sleep. Sleep is so important for every aspect of health, so practicing good sleep hygiene throughout the day is key for better sleep at night.
Sleep hygiene is a combination of all those rituals, routines and choices we make throughout the day to support sleep. It's backed by science that shows that good habits throughout the day will help you get a deeper, more restful night’s sleep.
The most obvious signs of poor sleep hygiene are trouble falling asleep, disrupted sleep, and feeling irritable, tired, and lacking in concentration throughout the day. Sleep and mood are deeply interconnected and this study showed that poor sleep affects our moods, contributes to depression and makes us less resilient to stress. When we sleep is when the body repairs and rejuvenates itself. Whether it be skin, brain, or muscles, if you want to see how vital role sleep plays in every system in the body, read this.
Daily rituals for better sleep: where to start
What you do during the day sends powerful signals for how you sleep at night. There are many sleep and awake signals that the brain needs for regulating the circadian rhythm, which resets according to the daily light and dark cycle. This 24-hour cycle is the body’s internal clock and it coordinates many of our mental and physical systems.
One of the most powerful things you can do for sleep is to view morning sunlight as early as possible, this is a critical awake signal for your brain. However, in the evenings and the closer you get to bedtime, you want to avoid bright light. Some other tips include:
- Follow a consistent sleep schedule, even on the weekends. Staying up or sleeping in even an hour or two later than you normally do is a form of “social jet lag” and can have the same effects as jet lag.
- Exercise in the morning or afternoon.
- Eat your last meal at least four hours before bed, this allows you to digest your food properly.
- Avoid caffeine after 12pm. Caffeine has a half life of about 4-6 hours. It can still be present in your body 6 hours after consuming it. Steer clear of other caffeine-containing stimulants during the day (yes, even chocolate).
- Avoid alcohol because it disrupts sleep, affecting both sleep length and depth.
The place where you sleep is very important and creating a relaxing environment will support better sleep. The bedroom should be for two things: sleep and sex. Consider incorporating the following elements for a relaxing and sleep-supportive bedroom.
- Keep all technology/screens out of the bedroom. Light from these screens is a powerful awake signal for your brain and will keep you awake.
- Create a sanctuary in your bedroom with soft colours and no clutter.
- In the evenings keep the light low to send those relax and wind down signals to your brain.
- Keep your bedroom cool. We sleep best in a cool environment.
- Keep your bedroom dark. This one can be difficult in a city with all the associated light pollution. Black out blinds can help and so can an eye mask.
Better sleep through rituals
The rituals you have before bed are signals to your brain telling it to prepare for sleep. You can create your own relaxing rituals or consider incorporating these into your evenings.
- Avoid all screens an hour or more before bed.
- Create relaxing rituals that include reading, facial care, or deep breathing.
- If your mind is still ruminating and worrying over work and life, it helps to write things down with notes on how to take action. Give yourself five minutes to write everything down and then move on.
- Use blue light glasses before bed if you absolutely must use screens before bed.
- This one is my favourite and has been passed down from my mom: I never go to bed with dishes in the sink. There is something satisfying about knowing I will have my morning coffee in a clean kitchen!
Natural sleep aids
Of course despite our best intentions, we all sometimes need a little help to sleep well. Some herbs and supplements can help to nourish the immune system and support restful sleep.
- Magnesium is an all around super star mineral that we are all probably not getting enough of. It’s involved in hundreds of biochemical processes in the body. In terms of sleep, studies have shown that consistent use of magnesium can help adults fall asleep faster, stay asleep for longer, and increase their levels of melatonin.
- L-theanine is a constituent found in green tea and has been shown to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation in the brain. L-theanine can help promote sleep by slowing brain activity, promoting positive feelings, and reducing alertness and anxiety.
- Hops is used as a nerve tonic and good for relaxing an overexcited and hyperactive mind. In Germany, hops is licensed as a standard medicinal tea and about 70 prepared sedative medicines in Germany contain hops extract.
- Valerian root has, in many studies, shown to be a safe, natural sleep aid. It's often combined with hops.
- Passionflower supports those with nervousness, anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia.
- Reishi mushroom is a great adaptogen that helps to promote calmness and support stress management.
- Melatonin is a hormone found naturally in the body. It is safe and effective to take short term to reset the circadian rhythm and treat insomnia.