Sleep Hygiene 101

For the next post in my series in the Know Thyself collection, I’m happy to share an article written by my personal friend Elle Martin, a certified health and wellness coach:

What is Sleep Hygiene?

Many people suffer from the harmful effects of disrupted or sleepless nights. To make matters worse, they don’t know exactly how to go about finding a solution. Poor sleep patterns may lead to a number of health issues, both immediate and long-term. A lack of sleep contributes to obesity by increasing hunger hormones, along with increasing stress hormones, and overall inflammation in the body. Not to mention you feel like crap the next day.

I’m including five of the most important habits to create in your evening regimen to help start your own sleep hygiene practice, and set you on a path to better sleep and a healthier life.

Sleep hygiene begins during the day (yep, this is a lifestyle thing)

Many things you do during the course of your day affect your sleep quality. Drinking caffeine late in the day disrupts sleep patterns (this includes soda, tea, energy drinks, etc.). No exercise or late evening exercise also affects sleep patterns. Regular exercise promotes continuous sleep, while late night workouts amp up the body and brain instead of signaling quiet time. Consuming too much alcohol late at night may also hinder sleep, along with nicotine and many prescription drugs.

Important Tip: Avoid late night eating. If your body is sending energy to your digestive tract it isn’t in a restful state, it’s working. Eat lighter meals earlier in the evening (a minimum of two hours prior to your bedtime.

Set Your Bedtime (same time each night)

It is very important to sleep as close to eight hours a night as possible. I understand everyone is very busy, but most of us understand that anything important is worth setting time aside to do. A bedtime is no different, and when committed over time, this habit will benefit you in many ways.

If you find yourself getting distracted, set an alarm and stick to it. Put aside the laundry, dishes, last email, binge TV shows, etc., and prioritize. What does getting enough sleep mean to your life? Perhaps you’ve been told by loved ones you’re cranky all the time? Maybe your daily triple latte is costing you more than just money? Have you been trying to lose weight but even with exercise and a good diet you still can’t shake those pounds? These are all signs it’s time to put your sleep hygiene at the top of your priority list.

Important Tip: Start with a 30 minute bedtime regimen and build up to a one hour regimen. The longer time you have to “turn your body down” the better.

Turn Off Your Technology (yes, that means your Smartphone)

This is a huge issue for most people (I get it). TV, Smartphones, Internet, Kindles, etc., these all tell your body to be awake and alert. The light, noise and energy that is directed at you while using these items encourages your brain and body to be ready to react instead of directing it to prepare for a night of rest. To retrain your brain and body you first need to train your mindset. Turn off your tech 30 minutes prior to your bedtime (build up to one hour). This will signal to the brain and body it’s time to “power down.”

Important Tip: Your bedroom should be your sleep sanctuary. This means you should have it free of technology. I realize for some people watching TV, reading a Kindle, or checking emails on your phone in bed seems like an okay practice. However, the only thing you should be doing in your bedroom is sleeping and having sex…and how is that a bad thing? Create a space that is conducive to restoration of your mind and body.

Please note: Do not include sex as part of your sleep hygiene regimen. Some people might find sex induces sleep, while for others it creates a sense of action. I would recommend having a discussion with your partner about how to find a practice that supports both of your needs.

Feng Shui Tip: For those of you interested in Feng Shui but not practicing, here are a few tips on setting up your bedroom space.

  • Soft colors
  • Candles
  • Plants and air flow (crack a window even in the winter)
  • No or minimal metal (no iron bedframes)
  • No clutter
  • No work papers, laptops, etc.
  • Replace an old mattress and purchase quality linens (please tell me your mattress isn’t 20 years old!)

Take a warm shower or bath (alone is best, unless you can increase your bedtime timeline)

Beyond the basics of a nightly hygiene routine such as washing your face, brushing your teeth and moisturizing, a warm shower or bath is comforting and helps wash the day away, both physically and mentally. Calming scents that encourage sleep such as lavender, chamomile, bergamot, jasmine, rose and sandalwood are all excellent aromas to include in your hygiene routine. Bath or shower, these scents can be incorporated in cleansers, salts, soaks, etc. Don’t be afraid to experiment with which scents work for you. Soft music and candles can increase the relaxation and prep your body for a blissful night of sleep.

Important Tip: Some people might find that more than one shower or bath a day is too drying to the skin. Regular soap can be drying so if you cannot find a product that is appropriate for your skin type, but still want to have this hygiene practice, look into products made specifically for sensitive skin. I highly recommend shopping at stores like Lush, as they focus on ingredients that are natural, organic and cruelty free.

Practice Meditation (did I just lose you?)

If you don’t currently have a meditation practice because you don’t have time, the attention span, or the mindset of it being worthwhile, take a moment to rethink what meditation could do for you. As defined, meditation is a practice of mind “self-regulation.” This definition can have many meanings and there are many different styles of meditation, so it’s best to find what works for you. However, what I want to stress is for you to set time aside to be present and in the moment. When you slip into bed and begin your meditation it can be upright or in the sleep position. It can be as simple as sensing how each body part feels under the covers, or focusing on a color or shape. Nobody is asking that you become a Buddhist monk. You only need to settle your mind from the chaos of the day and just be in the moment. Start with five to ten minutes and you might find you fall asleep without even trying.

Important Tip: If you still don’t think you have a meditation practice in your future, start with breathing exercises. Simple deep breathing drives oxygen rich blood to the brain and is extremely relaxing. The practice of 4–7–8 is a tool to use to help you quiet your mind. Simply breathe in for four seconds, hold for seven seconds, and exhale for eight seconds. Do this three to four times while in bed with the lights out.

These five tips are meant to be suggestions. Only you know what will work for your specific needs. However, make the commitment for at least two weeks and you may be pleasantly surprised by the health benefits you receive from a deep and undisturbed sleep.

Look for more posts by Elle Martin on her Medium account (so show some love ❤) This is the second article in a series in Know Thyself