11 Sleep Hygiene Tips to Optimize Your Sleep
Sleep issues are one of the most common concerns I see as a clinical intern. Even if it's not the main reason someone is coming in, I see patterns of people unable to slow their mind down before bed, or waking up multiple times a night unable to fall back to sleep.
We know sleep is essential for our well-being, and that thought in itself can make sleep more challenging... if I fall asleep now, I'll get 5 hours of sleep.. come on sleep... okay 4 and a half hours if I fall asleep now...
...oh, the vicious cycle.
We're a chronically tired culture, waking unrested, excess caffeine consumption the norm for remediation.
The first place I start is lifestyle factors or "sleep hygiene" that may be preventing you from your precious zzz's. It may be adjusting your routine, or incorporating simple tips to facilitate your body's natural sleep-wake cycle.
- Build a routine.
Your body loves routine, from when and where you eat, to your sleep & wake cycle. Obviously there will be some variation in your day-to-day, but if you can give yourself a bedtime and stick to it, your body will thank you! When your body become familiar with this routine, it's better able to support you physiologically.
- Start a Night-time Ritual.
To support the above tip, a bedtime ritual primes the body to know it's time for sleep. Whether it's a relaxing soak in the bath (my fav is a herbal bath), reading a book, doing light gentle stretches, breathing exercises, meditation, or a night-time beauty ritual, customize something that is sustainable and makes you excited to go to sleep.
- Remove distractions.
The clearer your space, the clearer your mind. Remove distractions such as a TV, and for goodness sake turn off your smart-phone or put on airplane mode. Not only will this prevent you from checking your notifications or news feed, but reduce harmful electromagnetic frequency (EMF) waves.
Close closet doors and drawers for clean lines and to hide clutter (if you have it).
- Limit blue-light exposure.
Try and be screen-free for at least an hour before bed. Smart-phones, laptops, tablets, TVs, all emit blue-light that impairs the natural production of melatonin that provides deeper, quality sleep.
If you really need to be on your computer before bed, download the free app F.lux. This app varies the wavelength of light emitted from your screen to mimic natural wavelength variation from the sun.
- Mimic the rising and setting of the sun.
Our body is programmed for our sleep-wake cycle with variations of light from the sun. But, as a society that is constantly polluted with light, out rhythmicity is greatly impaired. Ever notice how deeply you sleep when camping and how refreshed you feel? You can partly attribute that to the lack of light pollution and following the sun' rhythm.
Dim lighting in the evening or use (paraben-free) candles to darken your environment. When it comes to your sleeping space, use blackout blinds or an eyeshade to limit light exposure.
One nifty tool I've always wanted to try is a sunrise wake up alarm clock which are a fantastic way to mimic rising with the sun, especially if using black-out blinds or during the winter months.
- Assess your exercise routine.
Does exercising before bed energize you making it difficult to sleep? Experiment doing your same activity at a different time of day, or change the type of exercise you're doing.
- Consider Air circulation.
Try opening the window for fresh air circulation, or a fan if you prefer a little white noise.
- Avoid stimulants later in the day.
I feel like this is one goes without saying, especially something like caffeine. Try making your latest caffeinated beverage at noon. Depending on the caffeine source, the half-life can be 4-8 hours, meaning you may want to give yourself this time to eliminate half the stimulating factor from your system.
A source of stimulation that's not so obvious includes some medications. Talk to your prescribing doctor about adjusting your medication dose or timing. You may also consult a Naturopathic physician with their pharmaceutical license (if they aren't already your prescribing doctor) if your medication may be the cause of your sleep concerns.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
Many believe that alcohol helps them sleep, and while it may make it easier for one to fall asleep, it actually reduces deep, therapeutic sleep. If you're going to have a drink, try including it with dinner and avoid excess consumption before you go to bed.
- Write that sh*t down.
If you're guilty of monkey-mind, or thoughts racing before bed, try writing everything down before attempting to sleep, even if it's gibberish.
I like to keep a jot-pad beside my bed for those moments when I need to get the important ideas out to remember, and then trust myself to let the rest of my thoughts go.
- Create a sacred space for sleeping.
Your bed should be used for sleep and sex only. Working with your laptop in bed or eating and creating a pest-picnic confuses the environmental conditioning at work.
Your mind will draw the connection bed=sleep.
B's. BONUS tip: A note on reducing your toxic load
Try and buy organic cotton and/or natural fibres for your bedding and night clothes, as well as an eco-friendly mattress. This is important because we spend so much time with direct skin contact in bed serving as a portal for absorption. Reduce your exposure to unnecessary chemicals by switching to a natural laundry detergent.
After making these adjustments yourself, there may be hormonal issues or other factors contributing to your restless nights.
- Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believes that when the stomach is active, the mind cannot rest.
It's best to avoid late meals and night-time snacking, however waking in the late may be due to blood sugar dysregulation and a protein-rich snack before bed may prevent you from waking in the night.
- Find that you're dragging yourself during the day and then get a burst of energy in the evening?
You may have cortisol dysregulation.
Consult with your Naturopathic physician to assess if the above issues may be your contributing to your poor sleep and receive a treatment plan catered to your specific wellness goals.
Your advocate of quality zzz's,