If you’ve been following the Pillows.com Facebook page, Twitter account and blog, hopefully by now you know just how important getting consistent, restful sleep each night is to your health! Sleep deprivation, especially over an extended period of time, can cause some really nasty health problems ranging from heart disease to diabetes. (Among many, many others.)
While an occasional bad night’s sleep is unavoidable—especially if you suffer from a sleep disorder like insomnia or sleep apnea—many of us aren’t getting enough shuteye each night simply due to practicing poor sleep hygiene.
Now you may be asking yourself “what the heck is sleep hygiene?” Well, The National Sleep Foundation defines the term as “a variety of practices that are necessary to have normal, quality nighttime sleep and full daytime alertness,” and we think that’s a concise description. Basically, it’s the collection of habits and rituals you practice before bed to prepare yourself for sleep.
Like all habits, our sleep hygiene routine can either be beneficial or harmful. So, read on to find out whether yours could use some cleaning up!
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Bad Habit #1: You don’t stick to a regular bedtime
Okay, we know you’re not five years old anymore. (Unless you are—apologies to any five-year-old readers out there in Pillowland.) But in all seriousness, sticking to a regular bedtime is just as important as an adult as it is for children! (Perhaps even more so—your five-year-old isn’t getting behind the wheel of a car in the morning or attending important meetings all day.)
By going to sleep at the same time each night, you keep your body’s internal clock on schedule and get more regular, restful sleep as your body adjusts to becoming tired at the same time. (This may be hard to hear, but keep your bedtime consistent on weekends too!)
How to break it
Colleen Carney, the director of the Sleep Depression Laboratory at Ryerson University in Toronto, advises setting an alarm one hour before your intended bedtime to use as a “power-down” period. She suggests using the first 20 minutes to finish up whatever tasks you’re doing, the next 20 minutes physically getting ready for bed (showering, brushing your teeth, etc.) and the final 20 minutes doing something calming like reading or meditation. After that, hit the hay!
Bad Habit #2: You don’t wake up at the same time
This may seem redundant, but it’s worth stating: if you aren’t going to bed at the same time each night, chances are you also aren’t waking up at the same time in the morning. This is crucial to establish your body’s circadian rhythm, or the cycle of sleepiness and wakefulness our bodies experience on a 24-hour basis.
How to break it
Fix your bedtime so that it’s consistent, and your wakeup time will be sure to follow. You might also consider investing in a natural light alarm to make the transition to consistency a little easier. (Many people swear by them, and they’re objectively much less jarring than waking up to a blaring alarm in the morning.)
Bad Habit #3: You’re drinking caffeine too late
Sleep hygiene is generally thought of as a collection of pre-bedtime rituals, but your daytime activities also play a role in how well you sleep at night. And this is especially true when it comes to caffeine consumption!
Because the half-life of caffeine is roughly 5.7 hours, this means that if you have a latte with three shots of espresso in it at noon (roughly 210mg of caffeine), you’ll still have 105mg of caffeine in your system at 5:45 p.m., and it won’t be fully cleared from your body until around midnight. So if you have an afternoon coffee habit, this may be why you’re tossing and turning by the time bedtime rolls around!
How to break it
If you’re going to drink caffeinated beverages, try to get them in at the beginning of your day rather than in the afternoon. Otherwise, there are some alternatives to caffeine that may work for you to increase your daily energy without the java!
Bad Habit #4: You’re using electronics before bed
This one is pretty common knowledge, but avoiding screens before bedtime is crucial to getting a good night’s sleep! Because our bodies use the levels of light in our surroundings throughout the day to regulate their production of melatonin, the blue light emitted from screens on tablets, phones, computers and televisions can trick our brains into thinking it’s still daylight when used right before bed.
Not only does this throw off melatonin production for falling asleep that night, but the effects can also trickle into the next day as your body recovers from having its cycle thrown off.
How to break it:
If you need some mental stimulation before bedtime, try reading a book. (A real, physical book—not the one on your tablet or e-reader!) Studies have shown that reading de-stresses our bodies and can help us fall asleep faster. If you absolutely need to be using a phone or computer before bedtime, try using these apps that reduce or eliminate the blue light your screen produces. There are also physical screen filters that you can attach to your phone or tablet to block blue light. SleepShield and Occushield are two manufacturers you may want to investigate!
Bad Habit #5: You’re drinking alcohol before bed
While alcohol can initially induce drowsiness and help you fall asleep more easily, once it wears off during the night it can disrupt your sleep! This is especially true for women, as they metabolize alcohol faster, thus making the sedative effects last less time and accelerating alcohol’s stimulating effects. (That said, alcohol has the same effect in men, just at a slower rate.)
In addition, if you take a prescription sleep aid, it is absolutely imperative that you avoid alcohol anywhere close to bedtime! Because alcohol and drugs like zolpidem are both depressants, when combined they can cause suppression of breathing, which can be serious enough to kill you!
How to break it:
Instead of an alcoholic nightcap, try one of these natural sleep-inducing concoctions! Tart cherry juice contains melatonin, so it’s a great bedtime beverage to help you unwind. Chamomile and lavender tea is another effective option, as it combines two of the most calming herbs known to man in one drink.
Like general hygiene, good sleep hygiene is so important to our general health! While this list of bad habits is nowhere near complete, these are some of the most common mistakes that people make when it comes to their bedtime behavior. So if you find yourself making any of them, clean up that hygiene! Your body will thank you.
Until next time: sleep well, live well and be well!