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Sleep Hygiene: What is it and how can you improve it?

'Sleep hygiene' may conjure up images of sheets fresh out of the dryer and a nice shower before bed. While these things don't hurt, the term refers to the habits surrounding your nighttime routine and sleep environment.

Developed in the 1970s to help patients with moderate insomnia, sleep hygiene can have positive impacts on sleep quality for almost anyone and may extend benefits to managing anxiety or depression. In cases of severe insomnia, sleep hygiene can help build a healthy routine, but further professional support may be needed for effective results.

Practising good sleep hygiene can involve:

  • Developing certain lifestyle habits throughout the day
  • Working with your body clock
  • Curating your sleep environment for comfort and relaxation
  • Sticking to a wind-down routine
  • Avoiding stimulants close to bedtime

Daytime habits for better sleep

Preparing for a good night's sleep can start when you wake up! Daytime habits that can help you drift off easier at bedtime can include:

  • Waking up at the same time each day (more on that later)
  • Getting some sun in the morning. Sunshine can help your body understand it's time to be awake, which can support the appropriate release of melatonin when it's time to sleep.
  • Lifestyle habits like exercise, meditation, journaling or your unique mindfulness practices can all lead to better sleep.
  • Avoiding stimulants within a few hours of your sleep time (the bigger the gap, the better). Stimulants can include:
    • Blue light
    • Caffeine
    • Nicotine
    • Alcohol (which can have a sedative-like effect in that you feel sleepy but physically keeps your body stimulated)
    • Saturated fats (in many foods like processed meat, potato chips and lollies – you can check the packet of these foods for the saturated fat content)
    • While not a stimulant, eating a protein-heavy meal too close to bedtime can kick your digestive system into gear which can make it harder to fall asleep.

We detail these stimulants further and offer solutions for what  you can take and do for better sleep in our article Natural Ways To Support Sleep.

Working with your body clock

Are you familiar with your circadian rhythm? Your body has a natural 'clock' that tells it when to sleep and when to wake up. If you're one of the lucky people whose natural rhythm loves to fall asleep around 10 pm and wake up around 6 pm, you're well suited for a 9-5 lifestyle. For others, trying to force yourself into a sleep schedule that doesn't suit your body can lead to less quality sleep overall.

So, how do you work with your body clock?

  • Listen to your body – if you're tired, try going to sleep. If you're not, don't force it, as this can reinforce bad habits and experiences like lying awake for too long. 
  • Wake up at the same time on your days off. 'Yo-yo' sleeping, or trying to catch up on sleep when you don't have to wake up early for work or school, can backfire, as your rhythm falls out of pace and your body won't know when to release melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy. 
  • Avoid napping to 'catch up', as this can make it harder to fall asleep at night, continuing a poor sleep schedule. If you need to rest in the afternoon, try to limit your nap to 10 to 30 minutes before 3:30 pm.
  • Prime your body for sleep with stretching and breathing exercises that help you feel centred.
  • Stick to a consistent wind-down routine that will send cues to your body to release sleep hormones. This could involve self-care habits like showering or washing your face, mindfulness habits like journaling and using the same smells and sounds each night as relaxation triggers.
  • We list some morning and night mindfulness habits that can help keep your body clock on track in our article Mindfulness Exercises For Better Sleep and Calmer Mornings.

Improving your sleep environment 

Give yourself the best chance of peaceful rest by creating a relaxing sleep environment. This could involve:

  • Finding a light level that suits you for winding down. It's best to keep lights dim in the hour leading up to sleep and turn them off before you sleep.
  • Finding a soundscape that calms you. This could be silence, white noise, nature sounds, a podcast or music.
  • Using calming scents like lavender or chamomile.

World Sleep Day 

Sleep is so crucial to well-being, but it is often overlooked when life gets hectic. While you might feel you don't have time to sleep enough, ironically, your performance, effectiveness, mood and overall health will suffer if you are sleep-deprived.

World Sleep Day is a global initiative that highlights the importance of sleep. It occurs annually in March. The 2023 theme is "Sleep is essential for health". Our article on the 2022 theme "quality sleep" explains the sleep cycle and outlines what makes for quality sleep.

Did you know RESCUE Sleep® uses white chestnut? White chestnut is traditionally used to help stop distracting thoughts from circling around your mind while you’re trying to drift off, so RESCUE Sleep could be a very welcome addition to your nighttime routine.