Many people experience difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night, have trouble waking up in the morning or may find that they didn’t have a restful or satisfying sleep. Sleep is also one of the first things we sacrifice to accommodate our increasingly busy lives. However, the health benefits of a good night’s sleep can not be stressed enough. Poor sleep hygiene is directly associated with low energy, slower reflexes, poor concentration, and loss of productivity at school, work, and at home. Lack of sleep can lead to irritable moods, stress and anxiety, and can negatively affect our relationships. Adequate sleep also has crucial restorative and regenerative functions for both the body and mind. Over time, poor sleep habits can adversely impact metabolism, lead to digestive issues and can even lower the immune system.
While chronic insomnia and other medical reasons for sleep disturbances may require a formal assessment by a physician, there are many ways we can try to improve our sleeping habits that are easy enough to implement at home and have been proven to be effective.
- Develop a routine. Your mind and body can be trained to prepare for sleep. Be consistent when you go to bed and when you wake up in the morning (even on the weekends!). Over time, this routine can help restore your body’s normal circadian rhythm. Having bedtime rituals like practicing skincare and selfcare, taking a warm bath, reading a book, or meditating can also help you relax and wind down the day, and ease you into a good night’s sleep.
- Sleep only when sleepy. One of the hardest things to do is try to fall asleep when you are not sleepy. Forcing yourself to try to sleep in that moment can leave you feeling more awake and anxious about sleep. If you find yourself tossing and turning in bed, it may be better to get up and try a relaxing activity until you find yourself start to be sleepy. Avoid things that will activate your brain further and instead help your mind relax and distract from the worries that may be keeping you awake.
- Minimize screentime. These days we’re all glued to our phones, laptops, or tablets either for work, study, or recreation. This constant over-stimulation especially close to bedtime can interfere not only with our mental activity and energy levels but can also affect us emotionally and psychologically that may in turn hamper our ability to fall or stay asleep. Having healthy boundaries around technology use and limiting screentime especially right before bed can help minimize excessive stimulation, distractions and stresses that can make it harder to fall asleep.
- Create the right space. Optimize your environment to suit your needs, which will help you relax and promote sleep. Make sure your bedroom is cozy, quiet, and free of distractions. Use appropriate curtains or an eye mask to block out light if necessary. You can also consider using gentle, soothing sounds to create a calm environment. Ensure your bedding, mattress and pillows are comfortable and that your room is at the right temperature. All these adjustments can help minimize distractions and discomfort and hopefully promote restful sleep.
- Use the bed for sleeping (and intimate activities!) only. Try to avoid spending the whole day in bed doing different thing that require you to stay alert and active such as eating, watching tv, reading, studying, or working on your laptop. Reserving your bed, and if possible, your bedroom, for sleeping and sex will help reinforce the association with relaxation and intimacy.
- Watch what you eat (or drink!). A balanced diet and timely meals are crucial to overall good health. It’s best to have dinner in the early evening so your body has sufficient time to digest the meal before going to sleep. Avoid eating heavy, spicy, or sugary foods close to bedtime, especially those that can trigger heartburn or gastric discomfort. A light snack before going to sleep can stave off hunger if needed! Also, avoid caffeine in the evenings since it is a known stimulant. Remember that coffee isn’t the only source of caffeine – many teas, soft drinks and even chocolate contain caffeine so it’s best to steer clear of them late in the evenings. Nicotine and alcohol consumption can also interfere with a good night’s sleep so avoid smoking or drinking closer to bedtime.
- Exercise at the right time. Exercising routinely has many health benefits and can promote healthy sleep. However, avoid exercising 2-3 hours before bedtime since that can activate your body and make it harder to relax and fall asleep. If possible, aim to wrap up your exercise routine during the day or early evening so your body has the time to relax and feel tired enough to drift off to sleep.
- Avoid napping during the day. Even if you did not have a good night’s sleep and feel tired, try to avoid taking naps during the day to catch up on sleep. Day-time naps don’t have the same health benefits as a good night’s sleep, can further disrupt the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle and make it harder to regain a healthy rhythm.