In the U.S., the week before Daylight Savings Time, in March, is National Sleep Awareness Week. Proper sleep is extremely important to self care, so I thought I’d touch on proper sleep hygiene today.

What is sleep hygiene?

According to sleepfoundation.org, “Sleep hygiene is a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness.

Why is it important?

Good quality sleep is vital to good physical and mental health. Adults and children both sleep better when good sleep hygiene practices are used.

The most important part of sleep hygiene is to spend the right amount of time asleep in bed. Too much sleep can be just as disruptive to your health as too little. The right amount varies by the individual, but here is a chart that gives some age guidelines.

Some other elements to sleep hygiene include:

Limit daytime naps to 30 mins. Obviously this doesn’t apply to children. Naps are an important part of an infant’s sleep. For adults although, naps don’t make up for a crappy night’s sleep, a short cat nap may help you be more alert and improve your mood enough to get through the day.

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Avoid stimulants like caffeine and nicotine right before bedtime. Some sources recommend stopping caffeine at least 6 (and up to 12) hours before bed, if you are especially sensitive to it. Alcohol before bed can be disruptive to your sleep also. It is known for helping a person to relax and fall asleep, but too much right before bedtime is not good. It can interrupt the sleep cycle the second half of the night as the body begins to process the alcohol.

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Another way food can mess with your sleep is by giving you indigestion. This can lead to painful heartburn at bedtime. Heavy, rich foods; fatty or fried meals; spicy foods, citrus foods, and carbonated beverages can all have this result. Of course, not everyone has this reaction. If you do find yourself struggling with it, keep a food diary for a couple weeks, and see if you can find the culprit.

Regular exercise should help promote better quality sleep. Even as little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise a day, such as walking or cycling, can drastically improve nighttime sleep quality. Even so, you should avoid strenuous workouts right before bed, since that can make for a restless night. If the only time you have for exercise is right before bedtime, make it a leisurely walk or bike ride as opposed to Zumba.

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If you don’t already have one, develop a bedtime routine. Routines are  a recommendation for children and adults alike. A regular routine helps your body and mind recognize what is coming next and helps it ease toward bedtime. It can be as complex or as simple as you like.

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Some things you might include are: brushing teeth, a relaxing bath, reading, some mindfulness or breathing exercises, yoga stretching, journaling, listening to soothing music, or having a relaxing drink or light snack.

Check your sleep environment. Comfort is the overall plan here. A good pillow and mattress are very important. Make sure you have the right amount and weight of blankets. Some people sleep better feeling the weight of the blankets, but if it overheats you, you aren’t going to sleep well. A cool room, between 60-67 degrees, is optimal for sleep. Make your room as dark as possible, and limit blue light. Consider blackout curtains or an eye mask if you can’t darken the room enough otherwise. Ear plugs, white noise machines, humidifiers, fans, etc can all increase your comfort also.

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Finally, check your natural light exposure. People who get more natural light during the day have been found to sleep better. If you can’t get out more throughout the day, or open windows to increase your exposure, try to find time first thing in the morning to get that sunlight.

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Hopefully, a combination of these tips can help you to improve your sleep quality. If you don’t find yourself sleeping better after a good amount of time, be sure to talk to your doctor. They will want to help you figure out better sleep so you can be as healthy as possible.

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