A previous article, Time Change for Better Sleep, addresses the question, “Does the scheduling of classes affect the quality of students’ sleep, and in turn their academic achievement?” This article covers how we affect our own sleep.
What is Sleep Hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is the habitual practice of activities which help us get to sleep and to sleep well. Poor sleep hygiene is habitually doing those things which hinder good sleep.
Good Sleep Habits
There are several things we can do to improve our sleep quality. Several authoritative sites, such as the National Sleep Foundation, its satellite blog site Sleep.Org, the Centers for Disease Control, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School, and the University of Maryland Medical System, have lists of what we can do for better sleep. The lists vary in length from five points to 14, but this has more to do with how detailed they are. Essentially they’re the same, though the order may differ. These fall into a few categories: Environmental, Timing, Activity, and Intake.
The place where we sleep must be conducive to sleep. The room should be quiet and dark with a moderate temperature – not too warm, not too cool, preferably in the mid 60’s. If you have to sleep in the daytime because of work or latitude (far north in the summer), use opaque blinds, shades, or drapes. Turn the bed so if light comes in from the window it will not shine into your eyes. For those sleepers who may not tolerate absolute silence, use a white noise machine or play soothing music or sounds (such as waves on a beach).
Shift house lights from bright daylight with more blue (such as fluorescent and LED lights) to less bright with more reds and yellow (low wattage incandescent). Midday sunlight is high in blues, but sunsets are reddish and yellowish. Your eyes send signals to the glands that produce serotonin for being awake and melatonin for going to sleep.
Your bed is an important part of your sleep environment. This includes the mattress, the foundation, and the bedding. The mattress should be supportive, but also relieve pressure on joints. The back and neck need to be kept in proper alignment.
Relieving pressure is why cushioning materials have been used for millennia, leading to the development of the mattress. This includes materials used in mattresses, such as innersprings, cotton batting. microcoils and nanocoils, polyurethane foam, latex foam, and memory foam. There are several types of innersprings, with pocket coils the most pressure-relieving. Memory foam, designed for pressure relief, was first used in mattresses by TEMPUR-Pedic, and has been adapted and refined by other brands including Selectabed, Tempflow and Snuggle-Pedic.
Developments in modern mattress design are aimed at achieving the right balance of support and pressure relief. Choosing a mattress should take into account your weight and size, as well as your physical conditions, including things such as back pain, neck pain, arthritis, bursitis, sleep apnea and fibromyalgia. The right mattress for someone else may not be the right one for you.
The foundation should provide solid support to the mattress, especially an all-foam or pocket coil mattress. Adjustable foundations can elevate the feet and/or upper body for a better sleep position.
Have well-fitting sheets for the bed, and use the right covers for the season. Loose night clothes are best for sleep. Also have the pillow which best suits you.
Two previous articles in this blog, A Time to Sleep – Part 1 and A Time to Sleep – Part 2, focused on the time we go to sleep and how much sleep we need. It should be obvious that if we need a certain amount of sleep, we should go to sleep that amount of time before we have to wake up.
However, this does not work well with different times each day. Our bodies are designed to have circadian rhythms. These are 24-hour cycles of when we are up and when we are down, and it depends on consistency. This is the cause of jet lag. When we go to a place several time zones away in a matter of hours, our bodies are out of sync with the local time at our destination.
We can induce jet lag with a sudden shift change. As much as you can, go to bed and wake up at the same times each day, even on days off. This keeps your body clock set. If you change shifts every few weeks, begin re-adjusting your sleep time as soon as you can. Two or three days gives you a better start on your new sleep schedule. Be sure to account for the time to get ready to go after you get up. If it takes an hour, set your wake-up time at least an hour before you’ll leave.
Between two and four hours before bed, begin to shift from more intense to quieter activity. This allows you to begin winding down. Get your exercise during the day, and in the evening do less strenuous things. Turn off the TV a half hour to an hour before bedtime. Choose a relaxing show for the last one of the night. Read a book or browse through photos. Keep any electronic screen devices outside the bedroom unless needed to control the bed (then lay it screen-side-down).
During the day, it is all right to take a short nap if you need it. Take it no later than the afternoon and limit it to no more than 30-45 minutes so it does not compete with your regular sleep.
What we eat and drink approaching bedtime affects whether and how we sleep.
- If you’re hungry about an hour before bed, settle for a light snack. If you eat a big pizza with loads of pepperoni at this time, you may lie there feeling like the “before” of an Alka-Seltzer commercial.
- Coffee and other caffeinated drinks are great for a start in the morning, because they help wake you up, but they’re a poor choice for the last three or four hours before bed – for the same reason.
- Alcohol may help you get to sleep by relaxing you, but a little later it will disturb your sleep by stimulating you.
Factors Outside Our Control
Many of the factors affecting how we sleep are within our control. However, when certain key components of our sleep hygiene are not under our control, we need to make adjustments for good sleep quality. For most of us, one of the factors controlled by others is our work and school schedules.
As has been shown by several studies, scheduling of required activities (in this case school) has an effect on adolescent students’ length and quality of sleep. The same is true regarding work schedules. Many industries by necessity have round-the-clock operations. This requires workers to be present all hours of the day and night. Some places have fixed schedules, where a person works one shift for a long time (permanent or several months). Other places have rotating shifts.
In conclusion, to get better sleep so we are awake and alert during the day, we need to control what we can and make adjustments for what we can’t.