There’s no question: Most people aren’t getting enough sleep. According to the American Sleep Association, 35.3% of Americans report sleeping less than seven hours a night (that’s more than one third of the population!). The sleeping sweet spot is closer to seven to nine hours per night all days of the week, and anything less can have a profoundly negative impact upon your health. In fact, chronic lack of sleep lowers immune-system functioning and increases one’s risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. Lack of sleep also negatively impacts cognition, impairing memory, judgment and concentration.
If you fall into that 35.3%, what can you do to ensure a good night’s sleep? Two words: sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is comprised of the daily rituals we use to aid us in getting a good night’s sleep. While some people think it’s enough to try to go to be earlier, these daily before-sleep rituals are far more powerful. Here are a few tips to help you get started on the path to better sleep.
Your first step is to set up your environment for a good night’s sleep. Your room should be as dark as possible and slightly cool. If unwanted noise or silence is an issue, a white noise machine or a fan can help neutralize the sound. Ensure you are sleeping in comfort with the right mattress and pillows.
Now that you are set up, here are some sleep hygiene dos and don’ts:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (give or take 20 minutes).
- Don’t eat a heavy meal near bedtime as it can interfere with digestion. Also, avoid caffeine and alcohol as well, which can interrupt sleep in the middle of the night
- Keep all blue light electronics out of the bedroom. That includes TV, smartphones and tablets.
- Exercise regularly but not right before bed if it tends to rev you up instead of calm you down.
- If you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep after five to 10 minutes, get out of bed and sit quietly in another room (don’t turn on electronics).
Now that you know some sleep hygiene basics, let’s create a bedtime toolbox. These are the things that you can do to promote sleepiness and a better night’s sleep. Write down any more that come to mind:
- Hot bath/shower
- Gentle stretches
- Journal writing
- Hot cup of decaffeinated tea
- Quiet time
One of the most important things to remember is that it takes time to build sleep rituals. Unlike habits, which become almost unconscious routines, rituals are conscious and deliberate. Right now, take stock of your current sleep habits and identify any negative factors. The biggest culprits tend to be TV and social media, which include perusing social media or binge-watching watching TV until you pass out.
How to make a change? Take a moment to write down what your typical weekday and weekend sleep routine looks like. What are the things that you are doing that are getting in the way of a good night’s sleep? Writing them down can help you decide exactly what you would like to change. Begin with one item at a time.
A good approach: Start small with the low-hanging fruit. For example, if you are in the habit of checking your phone for an hour in bed, rather than saying you’ll keep the phone out of the bedroom right off the bat, start with a more realistic goal of keeping the phone out of the bedroom one or two nights a week, and then build up from there. Even better, replace bad habits with good ones. For example, replace checking your phone in bed one or two nights a week with gentle yoga stretches instead. Keep drawing from your bedtime toolbox.
From improved cognition to greater energy and health, a good night’s sleep is the bedrock to wellness and well-being. Making small incremental changes to your sleep habits can reap big dividends. Even better, deliberately ritualizing new changes can make them stick.