Back in the late 70s, a US psychologist introduced a series of behavioural and environmental recommendations to help promote a better quality sleep, labelling them with the pleasant, almost vanilla-scented phrase ‘sleep hygiene’*.
Fast forward some forty years, and one could argue that we haven’t paid enough attention to these essential tips. Digital technology has hardly helped, but either way, we’re not doing so well when it comes to sleep. The 2016 Sleep Health Survey of Australian Adults, highlights a few staggering statistics:
- inadequate sleep (meaning either duration or quality) and its daytime consequences affect 33 - 45% of Australian adults
- inadequate sleep problems affect Australians of all ages
- 20% of us are affected by insomniac
- 18% of us are affected by restless legs
- 8% of us have sleep apnoea.
Sleep deprivation is affecting us a lot. And, without adequate sleep, life is not the same. Our physical and mental health suffer. Our productivity, immunity, mood, alertness and overall quality of life can start to slide downhill. Yet, many of us don’t do what is necessary to give ourselves the best possible chance of a good night’s sleep. So if sleepless nights are a problem for you, or you have a hard time getting into that sleep cycle, here are some important tips.
How to improve your sleep hygiene
1. Get moving
Can’t sleep? Even some exercise, such as just 10 minutes of aerobic exercise can be enough to drastically improve the quality of your sleep. However, avoid strenuous exercise before bedtime as some find this overly stimulating, preventing them from sleeping well. Individual responses vary, so if evening exercise is your thing, you’ll need to experiment to see how much exercise you can get away with.
Make sure you get enough daily exposure to natural light, sans sunglasses. Exposing yourself to the natural sun rays helps your body create an adequate sleep-wake cycle.
3. Stay cool
If you want to know how to fall asleep, it helps if you keep your room at a slightly cool temperature, say approximately 16 to 19°C. Avoid overheating with heavy doonas or blankets.
4. Stay comfortable
Invest in a good-quality mattress and a pillow that’s right for you. Your sleeping conditions and environment should be as pleasant and as comfortable as possible, so also check that there’s no annoying lights or sounds that distract. You may want to try a sleep mask, earplugs or put up some heavy curtains. ‘White noise’ can also be useful – that comforting, relaxing sound of a fan or humidifier humming gently in the background. And, you might find that a ticking clock in eye-shot will only remind you that you can’t sleep, so move it out of earshot.
5. Establish a routine
Our bodies like routine. With routine, your body will recognise that it’s bedtime and will have more of a chance of slowing down. Try taking a warm bath or shower, reading a good book or doing some gentle yoga stretches or meditation. Make sure you unplug – keep away from your iPhone, computer screen or TV. Remember, the bed is a place for sleep and intimacy only, which isn’t such a bad thing...
6. Don’t eat late
Avoid eating a heavy meal before you sleep, particularly one with hard to digests foods like meat.
7. Avoid napping
Napping for less than 30 minutes in the daytime is fine, and has been proven to improve alertness, performance and mood. However, sleeping longer hasn’t proven to give you any added benefits and will not make up for lost sleep at night.
8. Avoid drugs (mostly)
If you want to sleep well, certain drugs are a no-no, such as caffeine and nicotine. Specifically, avoid drinking tea or coffee for at least three hours before bedtime. Nicotine, aside from the small issue of potentially causing premature death, is also a stimulant, increasing your blood pressure and heart rate, so give it a miss. Generally speaking, many health professionals recommend you avoid sleep medication due to their negative side-effects (read: a failure to address the real sleeping problem, addiction issues – and the fact that you’re left feeling like rubbish in the morning). However, your doctor may occasionally recommend medication, particularly if they help to improve specific problems which will also help with the ever important good night’s sleep.
*The term “sleep hygiene” was originally introduced in 1939 by sleep researcher Nathaniel Kleitman.
References: Report to the Sleep Health Foundation: 2016 Sleep Health Survey of Australian Adults, by Robert Adams, Sarah Appleton, Anne Taylor, Doug McEvoy, and Nick Antic. The University of Adelaide, The Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health.
Sleep Hygiene, Better Health Victoria:
Sleep Hygiene, Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_hygiene
Mattress & PIllow Science - the healthy sleep specialists.