Why does sleep hygiene matter?
By Rebecca Boothe (BHSc Naturopathy)
Anyone who has pulled an all-nighter studying, looked after a sick child in the middle of the night or accidentally binge-watched a few too many episodes of Stranger Things until midnight knows that when sleep habits get interrupted, it significantly affects you later. In fact, up to 45% of
Aussies are affected by inadequate sleep length or quality at some point in their lives. Over time this can lead to some long-lasting effects such as increasing your risk of obesity and heart disease, lowering immunity and activating the body’s “Fight or Flight” response. Creating good sleep hygiene practices and getting a restful night’s sleep on a regular basis can help us better manage stress, improve our memory and concentration and boost our immune systems. Read on to see how.
What is sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene simply means creating positive habits to allow for a good night’s sleep to happen. When good sleep happens, our bodies are better able to ward off viruses, handle life’s stressors and be filled with energy to power through our day. Which habits might need to be cut back on to improve sleep hygiene?
- Steer clear of alcohol and caffeine four hours prior to bedtime. This includes green tea, black tea, coffee, cola drinks & chocolate. If you indulge in a glass of wine after dinner or a few rows of your favourite chocolate bar, it may be affecting your snooze time. Did you know most chocolate bars have as much caffeine as an instant coffee?
- Try not to have rich, heavy meals or spicy foods three hours before bedtime. This allows your body to digest your meal before you lie down, freeing up sleep time for lots of other important jobs. The brain does it’s sorting and storing of information, the muscles look after growth and repair of tissues and the immune system can address inflammation and infection.
- Avoid exercise before bed, but do ensure you are getting enough physical exercise during the day. Look for ways to incorporate daily movement and cardiovascular exercise into your day, this could be walking to public transport or taking the stairs instead of the lift to your office.
So what SHOULD you do to practice good sleep hygiene?
Incorporating the following has been shown to help with getting a restful, refreshing night’s sleep:
- Keep your bedroom free from screens, at a comfortable temperature and use lamps or a dimmer switch to keep the lighting low. You could try a Himalayan salt lamp next to the bed to promote relaxation.
- Keep your bedroom as the place you associate with sleeping and your bed for sleep and sex only. Don’t eat, pay bills, study or look at your laptop or phone in bed. Create a calming space where you can mentally ‘switch off’ in the evening.
- Studies show it’s important to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day. Shifting your sleep schedule even by one or two hours can affect your attention span and concentration as well as increase feelings of depression and anxiety.
- Blue-light blocking glasses have been shown to improve sleep quality and regulate sleep patterns when used after sunset. In a small study, the use of blue-blocking glasses worn three hours before sleep showed a significant improvement in sleep quality and mood improvement after two weeks’ use.
- Have a hot bath with magnesium flakes or Epsom salts to both relax away muscle tension and raise your body temperature. Research shows this works because you feel sleepy after your body temperature goes back down again after the bath. You could add a few drops of essential oils such as Lavender or Roman Chamomile to the water to promote calming the mind for a restful sleep.
- Make a habit of doing 5-10 minutes of gentle stretching before climbing into bed. Yoga poses like Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani) or Corpse Pose (Savasana) are both relaxing and restorative for the body and mind. Add in some pranayama (Diaphragmatic Breathing) for a blissful pre-bed practice.
- Herbal helpers: consider relaxing herbal teas after dinner. Brewing a cup of Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) or Chamomile (Chamomilla recutita) tea is a lovely nighttime ritual to invite relaxation in. Enjoy the process of making a pot of tea, using your favourite cup and letting your brew steep gently for at least five minutes. Then sit quietly in a comfy spot and enjoy!
If insomnia is a chronic issue for you, a naturopath can prescribe herbal medicines containing sedative and hypnotic (sleep-inducing) herbs as part of a holistic healthcare treatment plan. Consider booking in with a naturopath if getting off to sleep and staying asleep is a challenge, you are frequently waking up feeling unrefreshed, or if chronic insomnia is an issue for you. Sleep is such a fundamental part of good health and wellness, so give yourself a bit of self-care tonight by adopting one or two of the above sleep hygiene practices and you’ll thank yourself for it!