Sleep Hygiene

You know that friend at the office that’s always perky and upbeat. He always turns in work days before the deadline and arrives early to every staff meeting. He’s the one who stays late on Friday typing away on some undiscovered code that’s sure to have him moving up to company VP in no time. Have you ever wondered if he took a magic pill or has a caffeine IV hooked up at his desk?

If you’re busy having a midday slump while ‘ole what’s his name is zipping around getting all the promotions, it’s normal to ask yourself what is he doing right that you’re obviously doing wrong?

The answer may be simpler than you might think. Your friend may simply have great sleep hygiene. When you hear the word hygiene, you might think it refers to that daily teeth brushing or hand-washing thing you each day but hygiene isn’t just for your six-month dental examination; it’s an actual habitual process that takes time to master but leaves you reaping amazing health benefits. Odds are that your cubicle neighbor is raking in hours of the stuff for free. If you’re feeling more tortoise than hare and want to boost your energy flow, follow these steps for zooming across the sleep finish line. These improvements to your sleep life will have you rocking your work and home life.

What is sleep hygiene?

Just like dental hygiene or personal hygiene, sleep hygiene is a set of rituals that you do each day to make sure you sleep at night and are alert and refreshed during the day. Having good sleep hygiene also means that you aren’t getting too much sleep either. The National Sleep Foundation requires that adults get between seven and eight hours of sleep each night to feel well-rested. So how do you know if you have bad sleep hygiene? If you are waking up throughout the night or are having a hard time staying awake during the day, it’s time to do a serious overall of your sleep routine.

Why is sleep hygiene important?

During the past few centuries, the general consensus was that your brain just shut-off while you were sleeping giving your mind and body a much-needed break. But studies now show that your brain is active and busy cleaning up the mess you’ve made of things from the day before. While you sleep, your mind and body are busy replenishing cells, restoring energy and rebuilding tissue. Without sleep, you wouldn’t have enough energy to accomplish basic bodily functions much less strive for that big promotion. Getting enough sleep can provide a ton of benefits for your physical and mental health as well. A proper amount of sleep has been known to lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer’s.  It also keeps your energy level up, increases your positive mood and fights off anxiety and depression.

Inside, you have a biological clock that helps regulate all the processes in your body that happen over a 24-hour period. These processes are known as your circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm lets your body know when it is time to go to sleep and time to wake up each day. When your rhythm is out of sync, you can have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep which can lead to insomnia and other sleep issues. The best way to control your circadian rhythms is by practicing good sleep hygiene.

How do you practice good sleep hygiene?

Now that you know what sleep hygiene is and why it’s important to your overall health, you might be wondering how you can create good sleep hygiene behaviors in your own daily life. The answer is easier than you might think. And it’s never too early to start. Putting your children on a sleep schedule now will provide a healthy sleep schedule for them for years to come. There are several steps you can take each day that will have a direct effect on the quality of your sleep. Let’s take a look at a normal day in your life and how you can start incorporating changes that will help you institute a better sleep regimen.

Morning

Starting in the morning, you’ll want to wake up and get that cup of joe out of the way. Having caffeine, alcohol or nicotine close to bedtime can stimulate your body to stay awake. By having your cappuccino in the a.m., you’ll avoid disrupting your nightly sleep cycle. Another thing to think about doing in the morning is your daily workout routine. If you exercise too close to bedtime, your body releases endorphins and cortisol, the stress hormone which can keep you energetic and buzzing around. This is great for your daily life but just awful if you’re trying to get to bed early.

Afternoon

Once the afternoon rolls around, do you like to get in a daily nap? This could be a good or bad thing depending on your sleep situation. You have a certain amount of time that you need to sleep to feel your best each day. For some, this means they take a little nap in the afternoon but are still able to sleep through the night and spend their day awake and refreshed. But if you are taking naps and find it impossible to fall asleep at night or stay asleep, you’ll want to cut out your daily nap. You might just simply be getting too much sleep. Ideally, getting your perfect amount of sleep should allow you to fall asleep at night and stay alert throughout the day.

Evening

Now that evening is rolling in, you’re probably already thinking about that big work day tomorrow but you need to stop your mind from going to that place. Thinking about work, money or stressful situations before bed can release cortisol and cause you to be alert instead of sleepy. In place of common stressors, try reading a book or doing a quiet activity (like a crossword or table puzzle) to relax and wind down before bed. And though I know you ate dinner a few hours ago, try to avoid reaching for that late-night snack which could give you just enough energy to keep you from falling asleep. Always try to avoid eating a few hours before bed. Not only will this help you get sleepy, you’ll avoid any nighttime disturbances like heartburn or indigestion that might keep you awake. You’ll also want to fight the urge to check your phone or turn on the T.V. right before you head to bed. The lights and information can be stimulating and keep you awake longer than your body would like. If you’re still not sleepy, try taking a warm bath. The rise and fall of your blood pressure will get your body in the mood to snooze.

Although I know you love Fido (your dog) and Stella (your kitty) more than anything in the world, it’s now the time to take them down to their own sleeping quarters so they don’t disturb your sleep all night long.

Bedtime

Once you’ve finally made it to bed, make sure your bed is comfy and the room is cool between 68 and 72 degrees. Your bedroom should be a sanctuary for love and sleep only. You shouldn’t come into your room for fun or entertainment. Before you crawl under the covers, you might want to consider opening your blinds. If you’ve been working on your sleep hygiene for a while, your body should naturally wake up with the rising of the sun. If not, don’t forget to set your alarm clock but face it away from your view. The light from alarm clocks or phones can be irritating at bedtime. Finally, make sure you go to sleep at the same time each night, give or take 20 minutes, and wake up at the same time each morning. This allows your body to get on a sleep schedule by predicting how much sleep it can expect.

Keeping up with your sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene, like most types of hygiene, will require daily maintenance and care. You’ll want to make sure to stick to a routine and stay on a schedule each day. Sleep is the most important thing you can do for your health and you want to make sure to give it the proper amount of attention each day. Now that you know what Tom’s been up to, you can get to that office with the same amount of energy and zeal. You’ll be climbing that ladder in no time and well on your way to conquering all the areas of your home life as well. Pretty soon, everyone will be asking themselves just what it is that you do each day that they just aren’t doing? Though they may think you’re sharing a special power pill with Tom or that you’re possibly both alien forms from another planet, you’ll smile at the fact that you know how simple it is to reap the health benefits of a great night’s sleep—No caffeine IV required!

Sources:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Why is Sleep Important?

Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Benefits of Sleep

National Sleep Foundation, Sleep-Wake Cycle: Its Physiology and Impact on Health.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Sleep Hygiene Tips

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