Sleeping well is a prerequisite to being well, feeling well, and living up to your full potential.
A lack of sleep is a gateway to all kinds of unpleasant consequences. That includes a weaker immune system, increased risk of obesity, heart disease and other illnesses, impaired focus and productivity, worsened mental health, to name but a few.
Improving the quality of your sleep should be at the top of your list if you feel you are not getting enough of it or if you feel that the quality of your rest is not all it could be.
What is sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is the set of habits and rituals you have established around going to bed. Some call it an evening routine.
For example, if you go to bed at 2 AM every night, after drinking a cup of coffee at 8 PM, and spend the two hours between midnight and going to bed on your phone, you are practicing poor sleep hygiene.
Here are the steps you can take to improve it:
Know how much you need to sleep
While science says that we should aim for around seven or more hours of sleep every night, everyone is different, and you may need more or less than that.
Getting more sleep than you need is nearly just as bad as not sleeping enough, so figuring out what you work with best should be your first task.
Take a month to test out different amounts of sleep and figure out what works. Once you have that number, figure out when you need to get up and when you need to go to bed, to be able to fit in your desired and preferred hours of sleep in between.
Go to bed at the same time (and get up at the same time, too)
Your body thrives on order and routine, and going to bed at the same time every night will help your brain go into sleep mode faster. It will take some time to train it, but if you stick to the same routine every night, and consequently get up every morning at the same time (even on weekends), you will soon adapt.
Remember to factor your circadian rhythm into the mix too, if you can. If you are a night owl and do your best work late in the evening, it’s completely fine to go to bed at 1 AM, sleep for 7.5 hours if that’s what you need, and wake up at 9 AM.
You don’t need to get up at 5 AM to make your day work for you.
Ensure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and cool
Our brains need darkness and quiet to be able to doze off. While you may be able to fall asleep in a crowded airport, your nights should be spent in a darkened room, which you have aired first, and where it’s not too hot.
If you prefer to have a source of light, don’t pull down the blinds completely — but try to eliminate artificial light from the equation, as it will have an adverse effect.
Make sure your mattress suits you
Buying a good mattress designed for your personal sleeping preferences should be paramount, as being uncomfortable will not help you fall asleep any faster.
Some people prefer to have a firmer mattress to support them, while others would rather go for something softer and with more give. Whatever your preference is, make sure you invest in a quality option that will allow you to relax and rest as soon as you snuggle into bed.
Pillows, duvets, and blankets should also be tailored to your preferences. Make your bed as comfortable as you can and try not to work from it. That way, you will always associate it with rest and will be able to fall asleep with less resistance.
Establish a routine
Going through the same motions before going to bed is a way to tell your brain it’s time to recover.
Do the same things in the same order every night: things like brushing your teeth, taking a shower, reading a book, meditating, journaling, and so on.
Make sure this routine does not involve any screens (including your phone). The artificial light will keep your brain awake and will not serve the purpose.
The same goes for the morning: make sure you do something you truly enjoy as soon as you wake up (again, no screens): have a great meal, drink a cup of coffee or tea, stretch, work out, etc. Having something to look forward to right after the alarm goes off will make getting out of bed easier.
Make sleep a priority
Sleep is one of the pillars of a healthy life, and sacrificing it for other ends should no longer be an option. Instead of staying up late to finish something, try to stick to your routine. You’ll wake up refreshed and energized, ready to tackle whatever you need to.