The art of sleeping is truly just that. It is not as simple as lying down and entering a peaceful slumber. Actually getting good quality sleep requires a multidimensional effort in terms of good sleep environment, a relaxed state of mind, and good sleep behavior.
Once you are able to "master" all three of these, then you can prepare yourself for a very restful night of sleep, consistently. A good sleep environment is one that is dark, quiet, and cold. If it's clean and decluttered, that also helps. A relaxed state of mind is achieved by doing relaxation techniques before going to bed, and trying to stress dump before it's time for sleep.
However, sleep behaviors can be a little more tricky to achieve because they require consistency and have to be individual to you! Sleep behaviors are the things you do before bed that prepare you to go to sleep. They are important because they get your body ready (or un-ready) to go to bed. Once you get a good pattern of sleep behaviors down, you can complete your triad of necessities for sleep.
So, in this article, we are going to talk about good and bad sleep behaviors, and what you can do to get ready for bed.
What is sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is a catch-all phrase pertaining to how you get ready for bed. This includes the aforementioned aspects of sleep, as well as sleep behaviors. The better your sleep hygiene is, the better you will sleep.
You can have poor sleep hygiene by sleeping in a room with many lights, distractions, sounds, and too high of a temperature. You can also have poor sleep hygiene if you are extremely stressed and do nothing to destress before going to bed.
Sleep hygiene is a consistent routine of things you do leading up to bedtime. The first step to improving your sleep hygiene is determine what makes you feel relaxed. After you achieve that, you can begin to curate your evening schedule so you are coaching your mind to recognize your routine so it can begin preparing your body for sleep. Your brain can be conditioned to recognize these signs, and then start releasing melatonin, cooling your body temperature, and slowing down metabolic processes.
Part of developing your sleep hygiene is having a good sleep behaviors.
Bad sleep behaviors
Watching TV before going to bed is a common practice. In fact, there is some debate of whether or not it negatively impacts sleep. However, the main issue with sleeping with the TV on, or consuming too much TV before going to bed, is that there is a lot of blue light exposure. Blue light interrupts melatonin production, which can inhibit your ability to go to sleep. TVs also have a lot of sound, which can be distracting as you are trying to go to sleep.
If you need the TV as some sort of white noise, then it can be beneficial. In order to balance this need with good sleep, make sure to turn the sleep timer on, turn the brightness down, and choose a show with a boring plot or one with which you are very familiar so it is not very distracting. Also avoid adrenaline-pumping shows that can cause you to increase your heart rate instead of lower it, which is what you want for positive sleep.
Working or hanging out in the bed
Your bedroom may be a very comfortable space, but it should only be used for sleep and sex. With the emergence of working from home and quarantine, the bedroom has become multi-functional. However, this is antagonistic towards your sleep efforts.
Our brains make associations between spaces and what they are used for. When you walk into your room, you want your brain to associate it with peace and sleep. So when you work in your room, your brain associates that space with the stress from working. This is the opposite of what you want/need for a good night of sleep. This is why it's important to avoid working in your room, and designate another space.
Hanging out watching TV in your bed is also harmful to your sleep. Again, your brain is associating that space with leisurely TV watching instead of sleep. Be very cognizant about how much time you spend in your room and what you're doing because your brain is picking up on everything.
Working out and exercising is great for your sleep. In fact, it is highly encouraged that if you have sleep issues, you incorporate a workout regimen in your routine. However, working out too close to bedtime is not a great sleep behavior. Your body increases heart rate, blood pressure, and metabolism when you workout. This is the opposite of what happens when you are trying to sleep.
Therefore, if you workout within two hours of your bedtime, you may not give yourself enough time to cool down before it's time to go to bed. If possible, try and do your workout very early in the morning, or right after work. Middle of the day also works. Exercises like yoga (non cardio) are great to do before bed, but anything that increases your heart rate is not the best option.
Before bed, you should avoid eating within two hours. This is because of how long it takes your body to digest food. This can lead to indigestion, heartburn, stomachache, and just overall discomfort. All of these can reduce your sleep quality and slow down the metabolism of your food, leading to constipation and other gastrointestinal discomforts.
Try and eat earlier in the night, and then give yourself a small snack before bed. You don't want to go to bed hungry as that also can make it harder to fall asleep. Try to choose a low sugar, high protein snack that will curve your hunger throughout the night.
Drinking before bed is also a poor sleep behavior. Just drinking anything in general can lead to an increased need to urinate throughout the night. Nothing ruins sleep like having to get up constantly to use the bathroom. This can be avoided by restricting fluids closer to bedtime.
What you're drinking is also important. Drinking caffeine or alcohol, is not the best beverage to have before going to bed. Both are a diuretic, which means they will make you have to urinate more frequently. And alcohol ruins your sleep architecture by inhibiting REM sleep. Caffeine, from teas, coffees, sodas, etc., is a stimulant which can make it harder to fall asleep. You should stop consuming caffeine in the early afternoon as it can take up to 6 hours to full be eliminated from you body.
Good sleep behaviors
Before going to bed, it's essential to destress from the day. If you don't, you will take that stress with you to bed which can cause stress-induced insomnia. One healthy way to destress is to meditate. Meditation is a common mental exercise that helps improve focus and concentration, reduces stress and anxiety, and induces a sense of calm and relaxation.
This is exactly what your body and mind needs before going to bed. Meditation can be intimidating because our minds are constantly running around, and it doesn't seem like we can control those intrusive thoughts. This is why meditation is a practice. It takes time to achieve the ability to meditate for hours without distraction. But for going to bed, learning how to meditate for just a minute or two can truly help prepare your mind and body for bed.
Warm bath or shower
When you go to sleep, your temperature drops a couple of degrees. You can augment this process by artificially inducing a temperature drop. Take a warm bath or shower, and then when you get out, the ambient temperature is lower than your body temp, which can help you prepare for bed.
Warm baths and showers are also just relaxing because it's like you're washing the stress away. Try using a calming moisturizer after the shower, one that has chamomile and eucalyptus oil. These extra practices will help induce a sense of calm for an uninterrupted night of sleep.
Instead of watching TV or scrolling on social media, reading is a great way to prepare for bed. You get no, or very little blue light exposure (if you read on an electronic device) and it's something that is mentally stimulating, but doesn't engage so much of your brain that you can't go to sleep. Reading also has chapters, which means there are good stopping places so you don't keep yourself up way past your bedtime. If you have children, this is a good pre-bed routine that gets everyone ready for bed and helps them academically.
Another way to destress before bed is to journal or do something to "brain dump" before bed. When you take the day's stress with you to bed, it can lead to a night of tossing and turning. When you wake up in the morning, you will still be exhausted which can contribute more to the stress of the day. Journaling before bed can help you write out everything you may feel anxious or nervous about, so you are putting it in a different space.
Journaling doesn't have to be a long, drawn out process. Even if you have a small note pad, just write a couple of things down here and there to get them out of your mind. Then, when you wake up in the morning, you may have a fresh new perspective on whatever you were worried about, and you have the mental capacity and energy to handle the day's problems.
If you are having trouble sleeping, and changing your sleep behaviors doesn't help, then there may be an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. Please click the orange button below to take a free online sleep test and speak with one of our sleep health experts as soon as possible.