Sleep hygiene describes a collection of strategies which can help to improve your sleep.
Do you get your recommended six to eight hours of sleep a night?
Facts about sleep
- Adults on average need between 6-8 hours sleep per night for optimal functioning
- We tend to sleep in 20 minute cycles, so it is normal to wake up on occasion during the night
- Poor quality sleep can increase the likelihood that we will feel low or anxious the next day, which over time can have a negative impact on our mental health. Similarly, people who experience mental health difficulties are more likely to suffer from sleep related disorders (Mind, 2020).
What might keep me awake at night?
- Noise from the street
- Stress and worry
- Room temperature i.e. too hot or too cold
- Sleeping in a messy room
- Uncomfortable mattress/bed
- Light from your phone, laptop or TV
- Light from outside of the room
Why does light keep me awake?
Our bodies are regulated by a system called the circadian rhythm. This is commonly referred to as our ‘body clock’. We produce a hormone called Melatonin which helps our body clock function normally i.e. sleeping on an evening and waking on a morning. Melatonin is stimulated by being in a dark environment and helps the body to rest, relax and prepare for sleep. If the room is light (from the sun, electricity or technology) it sends a message to our brain through our eyes that it is time to get up rather than sleep. The impact of this is that it makes us stay awake for longer (The Sleep Foundation, 2022).
Top sleep tip one – turn off electrical devices an hour before bed.
Tip 1: Turn off all devices an hour before bed to give your body and mind time to rest. If possible, charge devices away from the bed to resist temptation to wake and look at your phone. It can be easy to glance at it then find your mind has become intrigued by notifications! Then all of a sudden it is 3 AM. Make sure all windows are covered sufficiently by curtains or blinds to ensure that the light does not creep into your room at early hours of the morning. Black out curtains or blinds are ideal.
Why is my environment so important to sleep?
It is important that we feel safe and comfortable before we go to sleep but also during the sleep cycle. Otherwise, we might wake up during the night and struggle to get back to sleep. We feel most settled when we can rest somewhere consistently quiet. You are likely to have your own examples of times when you have woke up because of a car alarm going off in the distance, neighbours playing music or because you can hear a tap somewhere dripping. There are also several studies which suggest that cluttered, messy rooms can increase how anxious we feel before bed. Naturally, if we are physically uncomfortable due to a lumpy mattress, flat pillows or a duvet which is too thick or thin this will also have a negative impact on the quality of our sleep (The sleep charity, 2022).
Top sleep tip two – declutter!
Tip 2: When getting ready for bed spend around 15 minutes ensuring that the room is uncluttered by removing any pots, rubbish and tidying away miscellaneous items. While we cannot control when noises happen outside of the home, If you live on a noisy street it may be helpful to wear ear plugs to bed to help reduce the impact of external sounds. If possible, replace old mattresses when they show signs that they are towards the end of their life i.e. visible springs, lumps and tears. Similarly, replace bedding if there are any aspects of it which you find frustrating when trying to sleep.
How do stimulants effect my sleep?
- When we drink a single caffeinated drink, it can stay in our system for between 6-8 hours
- Hot chocolate often has caffeine in it, but people regularly drink it before bed without realising this
- Nicotine from cigarettes or vaping, like caffeine, is a stimulant which can affect your quality of sleep
- Drinking alcohol can make it harder to fall and stay asleep – however, as it makes people feel relaxed they associate it with getting better sleep. Research has shown that regular alcohol use is linked with insomnia. The rate our bodies metabolise alcohol varies, but it can be between 1-6 hours (Bupa, 2021).
Top sleep tip three – keep a sleep diary to help reduce stimulants.
Tip 3: Keep a sleep diary to track which stimulants you use on a daily basis. It can help notice any helpful or unhelpful habits. You could calculate when you would like to go to sleep and work out the best time to have your last smoke, caffeinated or alcoholic drink so your body has time to process it before bed. If you love hot drinks as much as we do, it might be worth trying a decaffeinated or herbal tea after 6. Small changes can make a big difference. It may be good to keep a diary for 1 week with what you normally do and then compare with a week making some changes to your usual habits.
If you are dependent on alcohol or drugs it is vital that any reduction is supported by a healthcare professional otherwise this method may be unsafe.
How does stress impact my sleep?
- Stress causes physical irritation – racing heart, sweating, tossing and turning in bed
- Worry can make us imagine worst case scenarios which can trigger our fight or flight response and increase cortisol which is a hormone which is stimulated by stress
- The more stressed we are, the harder it is to relax
- As humans, we need to feel safe and comfortable to sleep soundly
Top sleep tip number four – Yoga, meditation and relaxation.
Tip 4: If you are feeling stressed, it may be helpful to to do some gentle yoga or a guided sleep meditation around 60 minutes before bed to relax. This helps the body to regulate breath, heart rate and reduce cortisol. Journaling can also be beneficial for making sense of what has happened during the day before trying to sleep. Sometimes, when we get in bed its the first opportunity we have to think about our day – which can mean we spend a few hours lying awake while we consider conversations and activities.
Sleep still disturbed? Contact your GP.
If you have disturbed sleep consistently and the above tips have not improved your sleep, I recommend speaking to your GP or referring to a local mental health service for some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
Please let me know if you found any of these tips useful.