When I ask my clients "have you heard of sleep hygiene?", to this day not one person has answered "yes". I often get a range of responses from "does that mean you have a shower before you go to bed?" to "I wash my sheets every week". Sleep hygiene is defined as "habits and practices that are conducive to sleeping well on a regular basis".
I care about the sleep quality of my clients for a number of reasons.
First of all, when we are lacking good quality sleep (shoot for 7-9 hours) we often experience that afternoon slump when we are more likely to reach for a bag of chips or a specialty coffee drink. The immediate result of our choices is a short spike in our blood sugar giving us a short-lived burst of energy, however the long-term result is a slow but steady increase in the number on the scale.
When we are running on little sleep, the brain reward centre revs up meaning we are desperately looking for something to make us feel good.
Sleep also impacts our production of hunger hormones leptin and gherlin (read more about these hormones here). When we are tired, more gherlin is produced and less leptin is produced.
Finally, when we are getting little quality sleep, our cortisol (stress hormone) levels will rise. Having higher cortisol levels will signal the body to conserve energy and losing weight will become much more difficult.
My top sleep hygiene tips:
- Limit the use of your bedroom for sleeping and sexual activity to help re-establish the association between bed and sleep. This means no studying, eating, watching TV, scrolling Instagram.. you get the idea.
- Don't go to bed until you're sleepy. We've all had nights where we lay in bed watching the time pass on the clock and getting more and more anxious and frustrated, anticipating the long day ahead running on little sleep. If you can't fall asleep within 10 minutes, get up and go into another room until you start to feel sleepy again. During this waiting period, any quiet activity is great - just remember to stay away from any bright lights from your TV, laptop or cell phone.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. This may sound boring but this is extremely helpful in developing good sleep hygiene.
- Spend time outside in the late afternoon/early evening. Our sleep cycles are very heavily dependent on light levels in nature. So leave blinds open and get outside during the day to help regulate your cycle.
- Engage in physical activity on a regular basis. Sitting in front of a TV or computer all evening will not do any favours for your sleep routine. However, avoid major exercise within 3 hours of bedtime so that overstimulation is not an issue.
- Set aside time to engage in a relaxing bedtime routine every night. This could be taking a shower or bath, skin care routines, some mediation, reading, or setting out clothes for the next day. Repeating this routine night after night will signal to your body that it is time to go to sleep.
- Turn your alarm clock backwards. Even the red light omitted by your clock has the potential to disrupt your sleep.
- Avoid long naps in the afternoon. If you absolutely must take a nap during the day, do it before 3:00 pm and keep it to 30 minutes or less.
- Keep your feet warm and your bedroom cool. A cooler temperature works to enhance production of the hormone melatonin, which helps to regulate our sleep cycle. Interestingly, having a cool face but warm feet and hands actually induces sleep more quickly! You may not be a fan of wearing socks at night but if you're struggling with insomnia, it is definitely worth a try!
- Write down your to-do list/worries/issues each night to get them off of your mind and reduce any lingering anxiety from the day.
- Have a light bedtime snack. Have you ever woken up between 2:00 and 3:00 am with a growling stomach? Avoid this by enjoying a light bedtime snack of a carbohydrate (fruit or vegetables) and either a good protein or fat source within an hour of going to bed. Some examples of a good bedtime snack would be 1 cup of berries and 1 ounce of raw almonds, 1/2 cup of plain Greek yogurt (try to avoid fat free) sprinkled with some grapes, or 2 tablespoons of guacamole with 1 cup of carrot sticks.
- Avoid your laptop and cell phone within 2 hours of going to bed. This one will probably be the toughest for most people. Remember the time before cell phones when no one phoned your house after 8:00 pm? Unfortunately, time does not matter to many people anymore and it is expected that we are "reachable" 24/7. Answering a phone call, urgent e-mail or text can stimulate our sympathetic nervous system (think: fight-or-flight). This is something we want to avoid at all costs if we are trying to catch some quality zzz.
Begin implementing some of these tips into your routine and improve your sleep hygiene tonight!
Yours in health,
O'Brien, M. (2011). The healing power of sleep. California: Boomed General Concord.
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