Do you find it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep through the night or wake up still feeling groggy and tired?
The answers lie in the ever-growing world of sleep hygiene — a stream of scientific study that explores how to sleep better. Every single day.
And good sleep hygiene is not just for those with sleep disorders like chronic insomnia, or committed night owls. It’s for anyone and everyone who’s looking for better quality sleep.
Because, unfortunately, most us are unknowingly living in an environment that’s not conducive to this very essential facet of our overall health (mental AND physical), skincare and productivity.
But first… why do we need sleep?
I started studying sleep hygiene after years of greeting every wake-up call with a foggy brain and groggy eyes, taking one tentative step at a time through the morning mess.
Seriously, I actually couldn’t remember the last time I woke up feeling fresh and ready to take on the world — even on those rare occasions when I managed to put in 6-8 solid hours of sleep and got out of bed closer to lunchtime than breakfast.
Combine this with all the ways in which sleep is essential for our bodies.
Frankly, you’ve got to be hiding under a VERY large rock to drown out all the health risks that being short on sleep puts you through. And how a good night’s rest is crucial for your overall quality of life.
And the productivity pitfalls.
And the negative beauty consequences.
It’s not just about dark circles and premature ageing.
Instead, think along the lines of more complex factors such as the fact that proper sleep:
- Helps the body to produce cortisol, which is crucial for keeping stress and anxiety in check
- Stimulates the release of human growth hormone, which keeps your body (and skin) healthy
- Reduces internal inflammation
- Maintains your brain’s health
- Keeps your memory sharp
- Boosts immunity
- Prevents weight gain and actually helps with weight loss
- And so much more… !
For example, research by the American Heart Association shows that you end up gorging an extra 500 calories on days that your body is sleep-deprived. This roughly translates to two pounds of weight gain over a month!
As for safety, even the simple act of driving to the local shop is laced with danger when you’ve fallen even 25% short of your daily sleep targets.
Which makes it very, very concerning that four out of five people suffer from disturbed or inadequate — so-called ‘toxic’ — sleep in today’s age.
In fact, poor quality sleep, sleep deprivation, and daytime sleepiness have been linked to 7 of the 15 leading causes of death in the U.S., including cardiovascular disease, cancer, cerebrovascular disease, accidents, diabetes, and hypertension
Hence: The importance of sleep hygiene as part of your daily routine, which is one of the main building blocks of a good night’s rest.
So, what is sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is, in essence, ensuring that our bedroom environment and nighttime habits are conducive to consistent, uninterrupted, proper sleep.
Because the quality of your sleep may depend on something as simple as ensuring that your bed is mess-free and comfortable, to more complex considerations like what kind of mattress or pillows you should be using.
According the The Sleep Foundation, “Every sleeper can tailor their sleep hygiene practices to suit their needs. In the process, you can harness positive habits to make it easier to sleep soundly throughout the night and wake up well-rested.”
Time, then, to give your bedroom a thorough health check keeping in mind these sleep hygiene tips!
Windows and what they let inside!
Consider the amount of light seeping into the bedroom: Talk to any sleep specialist and the quality of light filtering into the bedroom will always feature near the very top of their sleep hygiene recommendations.
Street lamps, for example, can wreak havoc on your sleep cycle because melatonin — the hormone that helps govern sleep — responds to light and darkness. It is released when the day starts darkening and is disrupted by bright lights.
Hence, the darker your room, the better you are going to sleep. So, install room darkening blinds, black-out curtains or even blackout stickers that come in window-size panels for an easy external-light-blocking solution. Cheaper fix? A good eye mask.
Check the air quality: If you often have trouble sleeping, check your room’s ventilation quotient. Fresh air is essential for good health AND better sleep hygiene.
Our indoor air, however, is often packed with dust, mold, pet dander and chemicals from household cleaners.
Plus, if you have one or two people sleeping in a closed room for about 8 hours, it depletes the air of oxygen and increases carbon dioxide.
So, one of the best sleep hygiene tips is to open the windows for at least a couple of hours every day.
Indoor lights need major attention
Dim it down: How does the lighting in your bedroom impact healthy sleep hygiene? It’s again about the production of melatonin.
Too much light exposure just when you are trying to sleep disturbs our circadian rhythm (internal clock) and doesn’t allow the brain to make enough sleep-inducing melatonin.
So, install dimmers and make sure that no source of light is more than 40 watts during the time you’re winding down.
And the bathroom: Similarly, if you switch on the light to find the toilet, you’ve just told your brain it’s morning! Install a couple of night lights instead for the sake of your sleep health.
Nighttime reader?: If reading while winding down is part of your regular bedtime routine (it’s the single most relaxing activity for me personally), book lights are essential. You don’t want a bright light from a lamp on your head as it will prevent you from falling asleep.
Or get an eBook reader, like a Kindle (I literally can’t live without mine!), which doesn’t have melatonin-disrupting blue light that is common in most tablets and computers, and gives out just the right amount of glow for reading comfortably.
Electronic devices — the bugbears of sleep hygiene
Keep. Them. Away: This is one of the most cardinal healthy sleep habits. And it’s not just because of melatonin-disrupting blue light.
Televisions, WiFi connections, electrical wiring and cell phones emit electromagnetic fields that may contribute to sleep problems such as frequent waking up through the night, aches and muscle spasms.
To reduce your load and get proper sleep, remove electric cords and devices from the bedroom — or at least from within 8-10 feet of the bed.
Colors make all the difference
The color palette: Colors and sleep hygiene are closely intertwined. I mean, can you even imagine falling asleep easily in a bright red room?
Rather, bedrooms should be painted in calm hues, so you can walk into them and relax into a good night’s sleep. Some wonderful options are pastels such as lavender, beige or off-white, or muted flesh tones like cream, taupe, and rose.
Check for toxicity: Whatever hue you choose, make it non-toxic for the sake of proper sleep and health. Many paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which may continue to release hazardous fumes for years.
Cut the clutter: One of the best sleep hygiene tips I have ever received is not to put up too many pictures in the bedroom.
And to completely avoid art with violent or chaotic imagery as the last thing you see while winding down will set the the mood for the night. Plus, absolutely nobody would like to be confronted with scary stuff if they wake up in the middle of the night (hello, nightmares instead of restful deep sleep!).
Fragrance: Among the list of good sleep hygiene practices is fragrance. Specifically, home fragrance. Add a candle or an aromatherapy diffuser with a few drops of calming essential oil like neroli, rose or jasmine to enhance the sleep environment.
Filling the air with a luscious yet subtle fragrance makes your bedroom spa-like.
Clean it up: Hard-to-reach spaces (like under the bed) are prime breeding grounds for dust mites and moth eggs — which all contribute to poor sleep hygiene. Counter by vacuuming all carpets once a week and go over bare floors with a slightly damp mop.
Bedside table manners
Goodbye germs: Did you know that a bedside table is one of the dirtiest places in the house and this affects your quality of sleep? Disinfect yours at least once a week for proper sleep health!
Clear the clutter: Love reaching out for a book at night? Instead of having piles everywhere, keep one or two tomes next to your bed and store the rest on a book shelf. Clutter is distracting.
Time it right: More sleep hygiene tips? Get a comfortable mattress and keep an eye on its age.
The average mattress only lasts about 10 years, yet most of us persevere with a tired, old one. The result? Lack of proper sleep, achy muscles and insomnia.
The soft/hard quotient: Experts recommend a firm mattress for people who sleep on their back or stomach because they won’t end up sagging into the bed — which is completely counter-productive for restful sleep.
People who tend to sleep on their side put most of their weight on smaller areas of the body, reducing circulation and causing increased tossing and turning. A softer mattress is a better option here because it will minimise pressure and tension.
The material is important: A typical foam mattress is high in chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin. That’s why dermatologists and doctors prefer mattresses made of organic cotton, pure grown wool or natural rubber.
Or simply place a barrier cloth (such as a thick bedsheet or mattress cover) over your existing mattress — it will give you a layer of natural fibers next to your skin.
And remember: Mattresses are breeding grounds for dust mites, which can trigger asthma and allergies. Vacuum it twice a year with the furry upholstery attachment.
The bed sheets are important
Fiber first: Look for 100 per cent natural fibers — ideally organic cotton or hemp. To avoid chemically treated linens, make sure your purchases aren’t labeled “permanent press”.
Cleanliness counts: Wash your sheets every fortnight (every week if you’re a couple) at 140°F to kill bacteria and dust mites.
Pillows: High on the sleep hygiene checklist
Type it right: Your nose is right there, breathing in fumes from the foam. So, replace your current pillow with an organic cotton or wool version.
Pillowcase woes: Pillowcases catch everything — hair, moisturiser, sweat, saliva, dead skin cells, dandruff. Ewwww! Wash weekly or risk chronic zits and skin infections.
Wash, wash, wash: One of the most important sleep hygiene tips to keep in mind is that the pillows themselves need to be washed at least once a year.
Check how clean yours is by layering it over your arm. If it lies straight and crisp, it’s clean. If it dips, it’s dirty.