Tonight the clocks will change, giving us an extra hour in bed. Psychologist Dr. Mimi Goess-Saurau explains the benefits of developing good bedtime and sleeping habits for life
Sleep hygiene is a term used by clinicians for good habits and practices that can result in healthy sleep. If you find that you are having difficulties getting to sleep or are frequently waking during the night (and it’s not due to nightmares) or you find that you are sleepy during the day then you may want to look at your sleep hygiene.
Current common consensus say that 8 hours sleep plus or minus 1 hour is what most people need, however there are people that function their best on 5 hours. If you find that you are sleepy during the day, the following might be reasons why you’re having difficulties alongside some simple, yet effective, habits to adopt:
Stimulants including caffeinated drinks, such as coffee and tea (even green and white), and energy drinks such as Red Bull should really be avoided after 3pm.
Getting regular exercise during the day can help facilitate sleep. However if you exercise too close to bedtime it can interfere with sleep.
Eating protein heavy meals such as red meat or rich cheeses can be difficult for the body to digest and be disruptive of sleep while eating a carb heavy meal can make falling asleep easier.
Drinking warm milk at night has recently been shown to be more than an old wives’ tale and has been shown to help people sleep.
Night Time Routine:
Establishing a stable bedtime routine is good for adults too! Consciously ending work, reading a book, brushing your teeth and washing your face while mindfully preparing yourself for sleep is helpful for giving your body the cue that it is bedtime. Having a warm shower just before bed raises your body temperature, the drop that follows after your shower is relaxing and sleep conducive.
Your bed should be associated only with sleep, avoid working and reading on it during the day. This means getting into bed should be a cue that it is sleeping time. The only thing your bed should be for is sleep and sex.
Make sure your bedroom and bed is a comfortable and restful place to be in. Having your bedroom be on the cool side has been shown to be helpful for sleep, but being cold is not advisable. Try to not have a visible bedroom clock, to prevent focusing on time passing when trying to fall asleep.
Get away from all screens (including your phone!) an hour before bedtime. I had a supervisor who would literally put a blanket over her computer at night and say “good night” to her desk and work when she was done for the evening….whatever works! Turning off as many bright lights as possible will help your body align itself with the natural sleep/wake cycle and its circadian rhythm.
Naps should be avoided if possible. If you’re getting enough sleep at night, then you shouldn’t need more during the day. Sleep can sometimes be used to avoid difficult feelings, if you are doing this then asking yourself what feelings you are wanting to avoid, writing them down and processing them may be more productive than duvet diving! If you do have naps keep them to 30 minutes in length. If you need a longer nap then you should allow your body to do a complete sleep cycle, which takes about 90 minutes, waking up in the middle of REM sleep can be disorientating and counter productive.
If you’re reading this and thinking ‘Oh, wow! I need to change how I sleep and it is going to be difficult!” Take a breath. I am not going to lie, the first few days are not going to be easy, but it’s worth it. Remember that in the grand span of your life time, a week, 3 months, even a year is a very short time in comparison. Practising good sleep hygiene really does pay off. Good sleep helps a person manage stress better, have better looking skin, a healthier immune system, better concentration, faster metabolism, not to mention feeling like a more rested human being.