Many people struggle with consistently getting a good night’s sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation (2018), 65% of Americans believe that sleep is an important factor in next day effectiveness, however, only 10% of Americans prioritize sleep over other daily activities such as exercise, diet, work, and even hobbies (all of which suffer greatly without proper sleep). Are you one of the 90% who could be getting more productive sleep? How much more effective could you be in your life if you slept better every night?
If you’ve felt that poor sleep habits have been slowing you down, the solution lies in better sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene refers to daily practices that can help to improve the quality and quantity of sleep. Sleep hygiene can be broken up into 3 categories, pre-bedtime, bedtime, and post-bedtime. By making small changes during these timeframes every day, you can expect to see improvements in both the quantity and quality of your sleep. In part 1 of this series, I will be focusing specifically on pre-bedtime strategies.
Good quality sleep actually begins hours before going to bed. If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, it’s important to train your body to prepare for sleep in the hours leading up to when you will actually be sleeping. Here are the most important factors in ensuring proper sleep hygiene before bed.
- Don’t nap during the day, especially closer to bedtime. If you are having problems sleeping at night, it might be tempting to take naps when you feel tired and groggy during the day, however, this practice actually makes it harder to sleep at night. Though you might have to endure some tiredness during the day for the first few days or weeks, not taking naps will actually help you get better sleep at night.
- Avoid strenuous physical activity for 2-3 hours before bed. Exercise is good for the body, the mind, and for our ability to get good sleep. If you want to get better sleep, definitely add or increase exercise in your daily routine, as it will help you to expend excess energy and feel more tired at night. But even though exercise is good for sleep, exercising too close to bedtime can be detrimental. Strenuous exercise results in metabolic changes that often continue long after the exercise session is over.
- Drink fewer fluids later in the day. One of the best ways to ensure uninterrupted sleep is to not fill your bladder up before going to bed. If you have trouble getting back to sleep after waking up, you can reduce the chances of this happening by avoiding a midnight bathroom break.
- Don’t consume caffeine, sugar, nicotine or alcohol at least 4 hours before bed. If you take stimulants close to bedtime, you’ll have a tough time sleeping. Although alcohol is not a stimulant and can result in sleepiness, consuming it as a sleep aid can lead to dependence, making it difficult to get to sleep naturally in the future.
- Don’t go to bed hungry. Though you want to avoid certain foods before bed (and you definitely don’t want to eat right before bed) it’s best not to go to bed on an empty stomach. Hunger is uncomfortable, and discomfort leads to difficulty sleeping. Also, it’s important for your body to be nourished in order to repair and recuperate during sleep.
- Don’t bathe before bed. Avoid a shower or bath in the hours before you go to sleep. Changing your body temperature can affect your metabolism, and this can make it harder to get to sleep. If you like to take your showers in the evening, make sure you do so at least 2-3 hours before going to bed.
- Avoid mental stimulation before bed. Heavy socializing, watching tv, and playing video games is not advised before bed if you want to get to sleep quickly. In the same way that exercise ramps up the body, mentally stimulating activities can ramp up the mind making it difficult to shut off when you want to go to sleep.
- Seek out relaxing activities before bed. Since both mental and physical exertion is discouraged before bed, it’s best to seek out activities that help promote relaxation in the hours leading up to bed time. Writing, sitting outside (weather permitting), listening to relaxation tapes, meditating, and reading (nothing too exciting of course) are all good activities to help you wind down before going to bed.
- Avoid bright lights. Light is very important when it comes to sleep. When light enters the eye, it tells the brain that it’s time to be awake. When there is a lack of light, the brain prepares to go to sleep. By exposing yourself to lots of artificial light right before bed (i.e. TV, computer, brightly lit room), you’re making it harder for your brain to slow down and get ready for a good night’s sleep. A sleep mask can be helpful in blocking out the light.
For more surprising sleep statistics, click here.
Next up: part 2 of this series where I will be discussing sleep hygiene tips to apply during bedtime.
References 2018 Sleep in America® Poll – Sleep Prioritization and Personal Effectiveness Sleep Health: Journal of the National Sleep Foundation, Volume 0, Issue 0