Sleep is essential for your health and well-being. It affects your mental and physical health, including mood, immunity, memory, and productivity. A lack of sleep can exacerbate anxiety, depression and other psychological disorders. It can also lead to a deterioration in physical health, such as weight gain and an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.
For this reason, it’s important to get enough sleep. If you want to get more and better sleep, then you need to make some changes that will enhance your quality of sleep. This can be difficult if you don’t know where to start. You may have tried a few things before and nothing has helped.
But don’t worry. This blog post will provide a comprehensive sleep hygiene checklist to help you optimize your sleep. Read on to learn the most important sleep hygiene tips you need to know.
An Overview of Sleep: Sleep Hormones and Sleep Stages
Sleep is an active, highly regulated process that occurs following an array of physiological processes.
Sleep and wakefulness are governed by the circadian rhythm, which is the body’s internal clock. It responds to light and darkness. Darkness favors sleep, while light favors wakefulness.
One of the most important hormones that regulate the circadian rhythm is melatonin. Others such as cortisol also play a role. At night, darkness causes the release of melatonin, which then signals the body to sleep. Light, on the other hand, reduces the production of melatonin, signaling the body to stay awake or wake up.
Cortisol production follows an opposite trend. It’s highest in the morning when you need to get your energy and metabolism fired up for the day. At night, cortisol levels drop in preparation for sleep.
Sleep is a dynamic process that’s divided into four stages within two major categories:
- Non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep: Also known as quiet sleep, non-REM sleep precedes REM sleep. It constitutes the first three stages of sleep (N1, N2, and N3). Each stage can last 5-15 minutes. Non-REM sleep is important for tissue repair and boosting the immune system as well as bone and muscle growth.
- Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep: REM sleep, also known as active sleep or paradoxical sleep, is considered the fourth stage of sleep. REM sleep is important for memory consolidation and can enhance your cognitive performance.
Since both of the categories of sleep serve unique purposes, a healthy balance of each is good for your overall health. For you to get the most out of sleep, you need to achieve both the depth and amount of sleep your body needs. That’s where sleep hygiene comes in.
Let’s briefly explore what sleep hygiene is before we look at what you need to include in your sleep hygiene checklist.
What Is Sleep Hygiene?
Sleep hygiene consists of environmental changes and overall habits that optimize sleep quality and quantity.
Everyone suffers from sleepless nights at one point in their life. If this is you and you’re looking for a way to get better sleep, sleep hygiene is for you. Improving your sleep hygiene is part of the strategy you need to counteract sleep problems and get more restful sleep.
Good sleep hygiene will help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep for longer, and get better quality sleep. Signs of poor sleep hygiene include:
- Sleeplessness: Also known as insomnia, sleeplessness refers to difficulty in falling asleep.
- Sleep disturbances: These are disorders that cause difficulty in initiating sleep or staying asleep, such as frequent arousals or sleep-wake schedule abnormalities.
- Daytime sleepiness: This is the state of being drowsy or sleepy during the day.
- Sleep deprivation: This refers to the lack of enough sleep, either due to inadequate quality or quantity.
- Poor sleep performance score: Your wearables might also signal to you when your sleep is off.
Luckily, there are a ton of things you can do to enhance your sleep hygiene.
Sleep Hygiene Checklist: What You Can Do to Sleep Better
Good sleep hygiene can help you get on track and start getting a better night’s sleep. Read through this checklist to learn the 10 steps you can take to improve your sleep hygiene.
1. Maintain a Regular Bedtime Routine
A regular bedtime routine reinforces your circadian rhythm, making it easier to stick to your sleep schedule.
Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including the weekends. Also, limit daytime naps to less than 90 minutes, or don’t take naps at all. This will help your body stay in its daily rhythm and give you the best chance of falling asleep when it’s time to go to bed.
2. Follow a Nightly Pre-Bedtime Routine
It’s important to have a pre-bedtime routine. This includes things you do to prepare for sleep, such as putting on your pajamas, brushing your teeth, or reading a book.
A consistent pre-bedtime routine signals to your brain that it’s bedtime. Make sure your pre-bed routine involves activities that help to calm you down.
3. Avoid Electronic Devices Before Bed
Electronic devices, like smartphones, tablets, and televisions, emit blue light. Blue light interferes with the production of melatonin, making it difficult to get a good night’s sleep.
Electronic devices are also sources of distractions. They keep your brain alert and prevent you from fully relaxing your mind in preparation for sleep. Avoiding the use of electronic devices late into the night is an important strategy you must include in your sleep hygiene checklist.
4. Optimize Your Sleeping Environment
A good sleep environment helps your body and mind relax and minimizes distractions. Here are a few ways to optimize your sleep environment:
- Avoid bright lights in your room: A darker environment makes it easier to fall asleep. You can also wear an eye mask to block the light.
- Ensure your room is a comfortable temperature: Your body temperature needs to drop by 1-3 degrees for you to fall and stay asleep. Body temperature increases are one reason you wake up. Always keep your room cool and remove blankets as needed.
- Keep electronic devices out of your room: Electronic devices, such as televisions, may keep you alert when you are trying to wind down your mind. (Plus, they are sources of blue light.)
- Eliminate any sources of noise: You can also use earplugs to block the noise.
5. Exercise Regularly
Research shows that regular exercise can improve the quality of your sleep. The type of exercise you engage in and the time of the day you do it matters too. If you exercise at night, ensure you stick to mild to moderate exercises. High-intensity exercises late at night can interfere with sleep — possibly by increasing your physiological arousal and the intense muscle soreness.
6. Avoid Eating Too Close to Bedtime
Eating heavy meals close to bedtime can compromise your sleep. Research shows that late-night food intake results in poor sleep quality. Even though it might increase your sleep duration, it impacts the general quality of sleep as it causes more awakenings in-between.
For optimal sleep quality, it’s recommended that you eat dinner 4-6 hours before your bedtime. Your sleep may also benefit from circadian rhythm fasting, which involves restricting your food intake to a certain window of time when your metabolism is highest, typically during the day.
7. Cut Down on Caffeine Too Late in the Day
Caffeine is a stimulant. Stimulants keep your brain active, making it difficult to fall asleep.
The effect of caffeine lasts for 3-6 hours so it’s important to avoid caffeine intake within 8-10 hours of bedtime. Studies show that caffeine taken as much as six hours before bed can disrupt sleep.
Caffeine responses vary from person-to-person, so you’ll need to find out what works for you.
8. Manage Stress Levels Before Going to Bed
Another healthy sleeping habit is to engage in activities that help you relax before going to bed. Stress and anxiety keep your body alert and prevent it from winding down for sleep. When your mind is more relaxed, you’re more likely to fall asleep faster and get better-quality sleep.
Whether it's a 15-minute meditation, yoga, or soothing music, make sure you include some stress-relieving activities in your sleep hygiene checklist.
9. Get Some Sunlight
Getting exposure to natural light, like sunlight, or bright indoor lights in the morning can also boost your sleep quality. Light is the principal factor that controls the release of melatonin, and therefore, the sleep-wake cycle.
Just as you want to avoid light at night so that your body can produce melatonin to help you sleep, you want to expose yourself to light in the morning and during the day to slow the production of melatonin.
Strive to get some sunlight within 30-60 minutes of waking up and again in the late afternoon prior to sunset. If you wake up before sunrise and you want to be awake, turn on artificial lights and then go outside once the sun rises.
10. Limit Alcohol, Cigarettes, and Other Drugs
Drinking alcohol may help you fall asleep faster. However, alcohol is a depressant. It acts on the central nervous system to disrupt the sleep cycle and intensify some sleep problems. Alcohol has been shown to reduce the amount of REM sleep.
With regard to cigarettes, nicotine in tobacco is a stimulant that keeps your brain active late into the night.
Sleeping pills have long been used to improve sleep in people with a myriad of sleeping disorders. Some, like melatonin, act directly on the central nervous system to cause sleep. But they are also notorious for side effects like daytime sleepiness, which may further exacerbate sleep problems.
Ensure you consult your healthcare provider before using sleeping pills. Your healthcare provider will help you decide whether you need them in the first place.
Optimize Your Sleep for Better Health
Getting good sleep is one of the most important things you can do to improve your health. Good sleep means getting quantity and quality that’s sufficient to meet your body’s needs. To enhance your sleep, sleep hygiene practices can help. Following a comprehensive sleep hygiene checklist can improve your sleep by reducing factors that affect sleep and maximizing those that promote sleep.
Apart from practicing sleep hygiene, you can also leverage wearable technology to track your sleep quality. By tracking things like your normal vital signs, wearables can provide you with a sleep performance score and suggest interventions that can help you sleep better.
If you’re looking to optimize your sleep quality and overall health, sign up with Vital today. Vital helps you connect all your health data, be it from wearables or other apps, in one place. You can even challenge your friends or join a healthy community and grow with them.