What is sleep hygiene?

Hi, I’m Miko and I’m an insomniac sometimes. You don’t appreciate sleep until you’ve gone through a period of severe sleep deprivation. As a society we don’t have the best habits that promote healthy sleep.. that’s where sleep hygiene comes in. Sleep hygiene is a set of guidelines that help you optimise sleep. Before I go into those rules though, let’s talk about sleep.

A good night’s sleep is important for brain function – performance, memory, concentration and cognition. It is also important for other bodily functions like the regulation of appetite, weight and glucose control via its effect on hormones. Proverbially waking up on the wrong side of the bed also has an impact on our mood and behaviour.

Our sleep-wake cycle is controlled by a hormone called melatonin, which is made in the pineal gland of the brain. Melatonin makes us sleep, and is produced at night time, and it is  inhibited by sunlight. This leads me to the first Sleep Hygiene rule I want to discuss: the environment.

  1. Sleep environment

To optimise melatonin, we should sleep in a dark room and get enough sunlight during the day. If you don’t have good blinds or curtains, it may be worth investing in an eye mask. The other environmental things you can control are the quality of your mattress and pillows, the room temperature, and noise. If you’re sensitive to sound and live in a noisy area, sleeping with ear plugs may be a good idea. Sleep is important to me, so I treat myself to nice sheets and a silk pillow case (which is also apparently good for skin and hair).

2. Listen to your body

If you’re not tired, don’t go to sleep (you’ll just end up laying in bed). If you are tired, then go to sleep. You know your body best, so the other things you should be mindful of are the things you consume like caffeine. If you’re like me and sensitive to caffeine, don’t drink coffee in the evening. I try not to drink coffee after 12pm. The other substance to consider is alcohol. Alcohol can make you dopey and you might fall asleep initially, but you can end up waking up multiple times in the night to go to the toilet and maybe even wake up with a hangover. None of these things help with sleep quality.

3. Exercise

Exercising has so many wonderful benefits, and one of them is sleep. You need to be physically tired enough to fall asleep, so if you’ve had a sedentary day then that might be one problem. On that same token, try and limit day time naps or else you won’t be tired enough at night. I tend to find that early afternoon is the best time to exercise, although I personally prefer to exercise early in the morning. Exercise increases your levels of adrenaline, so I find that exercising too late at night can create too high a “buzz” and stop you from falling asleep. I much prefer to do something relaxing like take a bath before bedtime.

4. Don’t read and do other stuff in bed

Psychological programming is an important part of sleep patterns. If we do activities like read, watch TV, or work on the laptop in bed (which a lot of us do!), the mind associates the bed with activity, and not sleep. So when it comes time to sleep, the mind is still active. Try and do everything else in the living room rather than in bed, although reading in bed with a cup of tea is such a glorious thing to do on a chilly day.

5. Have a bed time routine

Do something nice for yourself before going to bed. Lavender is an essential oil that has relaxing properties. I like burning a lavender candle 30 minutes before going to bed so that my whole room smells like lavender when I’m ready to sleep. I also like to use magnesium products. I will write another post on magnesium another time as there’s so much to say about it, but one of the benefits of magnesium is its ability to help you sleep. I take a shower using a magnesium soap, and also use some magnesium oil to rub into my neck and shoulders. I buy my products from the Base Collective – they are made in Australia, and organic. I also like to have a warm drink before bed. Chamomile tea is a firm favourite – it has an anti-oxidant called apigenin in it, which is thought to enhance sleep. I also love a mug of warm milk. There’s debate out there as to whether milk helps you sleep because of its tryptophan content (an amino acid that helps sleep)… but whether it’s true or not, it’s such a comfort drink and I love having it before sleeping.

Silk pillowcase, magnesium oil and my eye mask

What if you can’t fall asleep? Don’t stay in bed, because you will toss and turn and the negative experience will affect your relationship with sleep (again, psychological programming!). Instead, get out of bed if you haven’t fallen asleep within 30 minutes of going to bed, and do an activity like read in the living room. Then, go back to bed and try again. As per rule no. 4, train your brain to think of your bed as the place to sleep – so don’t do other activities there.

The other thing to consider is; are you worried about something? If you find yourself (over)thinking in bed, a helpful exercise is to write it down so that those thoughts aren’t circling in your head. If you’re someone who always has a lot going on inside, having a notebook and pen by your bedside table might help you.

Last but not least, if you’ve tried all of these sleep hygiene rules and are still finding trouble sleeping, please go and see your doctor. Poor sleep may be a symptom of something else like depression. Whilst chronic sleep deprivation can cause depression, depression may also manifest with sleep disturbances – it’s a chicken vs egg scenario. Most of the time, sleep quality can be improved by changing behaviours and environmental factors, but if it’s persisting and it’s affecting your daytime function, it’s time to seek help.

On that note, it’s nearly my bed time.

Good night,

Miko xx

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