Sleep disturbances can be one of the most frustrating and debilitating experiences of modern life. This is due to the fact sleep affects the brainand those with insomnia may experience blackouts, appetite changes, and mood swings.
According to the review Sleepabout a third of American adults are not getting the sleep they need and it is now estimated that up to 35% of people will suffer from insomnia at some point in their adult lives.
For many, insomnia can be a passing phase, and overcoming it can be as simple as changing your sleeping position. But for those who find their sleep disturbed longer, it’s imperative to address the root cause of what’s causing you to lose sleep in the first place.
According to Kate Mikhail, journalist and author of Learn to Sleep: The Ex-Insomniac’s Guide, the first point of call is to improve your sleep hygiene. “Too often, we sabotage any real chance of getting a good night’s sleep without even realizing it,” she says. “And why? Because we don’t know what we have to do and when we have to do it.
What is sleep hygiene and why is it important?
“Sleep hygiene” is a catch-all term that covers all the good habits you can adopt to help you maximize your chances of getting the quality sleep you need. Too often, people who have trouble sleeping don’t pay attention to their sleep hygiene, which means they fail to create the optimal conditions needed for the best night’s sleep possible.
If you want to establish better sleep hygiene, it helps to understand what happens to you before, during, and after sleep. This way you can start working with your body and your brain, rather than against it.
Sleep is regulated by the hypothalamus, a small part of the brain controlled by light. It helps set your own biological clock and requires the right message to be sent to it at the right time of day for it to work effectively. “Sleep-promoting behavior is much more impactful if you’re aware of what’s going on in your mind and body,” says Mikhail. “For example, the fact that our bodies rely on routine and a regular sleep-wake pattern to function properly, including when to release certain hormones, raise or lower body temperature, and when to be alert or tired.”
How to improve your sleep hygiene
Having good sleep hygiene requires establishing the perfect conditions necessary to ensure that you give yourself the best chance of an uninterrupted night’s rest. But it is not enough to buy a good bed and quality pillows. It’s about creating healthy habits during the day and establishing a sleep schedule that’s both realistic and efficient.
Mikhail explains that there are a range of easy-to-adopt measures you can use to get your sleep back:
Charge your mornings with daylight
“Our biological clocks actually run a bit longer than the 24-hour solar clock, so ideally we should reset the main biological clock every day,” says Mikhail.
Morning light helps by grounding and strengthening the circadian rhythm. The light-sensitive cells in our eyes, on the other hand, relay surrounding light signals to the brain, triggering a physiological chain reaction.
Create a tech-free reward zone
“A key sleep hygiene tip is to make sure your bedroom is a restful environment,” says Mikhail. “If we look at this in terms of the science of habits and how to dislodge unwanted habits and create new ones, your bedroom should be filled with sleep-promoting cues such as blackout blinds and a comfortable bed, while being sleep-free. – sabotage cues such as blue-white lights from phones, tablets and modern technology, which have been shown to negatively affect the natural sleep process.
Take preventive measures
Sleep fragmentation — in other words, waking up at night — can be caused by a number of factors, including caffeine, alcohol, and high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Learning your optimal caffeine threshold and moderating alcohol, for example, can make your sleep less fragmented and more restful. “Everything about our day fuels our sleep, including what and when we consume things,” says Mikhail.
Relax properly before bed
In order to get a good night’s sleep, we need to move away from the fight or flight state – which can trigger repeatedly – throughout our day. “In order to settle into the opposite state of rest and digestion that we need to be in to sleep, it pays to be proactive about relaxing and making good use of science-based stress relievers,” says Mikhail. “This includes reframing our emotions and shifting your mindset and physiology in favor of sleep.”