Do you struggle to fall asleep? Do you find that you wake up often throughout the night? Is it difficult to stay awake during the day? Difficulty sleeping can be caused by many different factors. Psychological effects from anxiety, depression, trauma, or relationship conflict can interfere with the amount and type of sleep we are able to achieve. Maintaining a routine schedule can allow us to maintain our circadian rhythm and experience the appropriate phases of sleep. Sleep hygiene, or the healthy habits we engage in before bedtime to prepare our bodies and minds for sleep, is also important in this process. Becoming aware of your own circadian rhythm can help you gain a better understanding of how much sleep your body needs. Developing and practicing healthy sleep hygiene can help your body achieve the quality and quantity of sleep necessary to help your body and mind function properly.
First let’s review what circadian rhythm is. This is known as a person’s sleep/ wake cycle and is basically a 24-hour internal clock that regulates your body between alertness and sleepiness, and also tells your body when to eat. Environmental signals such as darkness can signal your brain, which then releases melatonin, making you feel tired. On the same note, sunlight can aid in energizing your body to help wake up. Because of this, waking up in the morning and going to bed at night helps to support your rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is also affected by temperature. It is important to respect your circadian rhythm; if the rhythm is disrupted, your sleeping and eating patterns can become dis-regulated, which can cause weight gain, slower thinking, higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, and reproductive problems.
It is important to determine how many hours of sleep your body and mind need in order to function. It is recommended that the average person sleep 7.5 hours each night. However, if you are waking up before the 7.5-hour mark and feel refreshed, you may need less sleep. On the other hand, if your alarm wakes you at the 7.5-hour mark and you are feeling tired still, you may need to add an additional half hour to full hour. By determining the amount, it can be easier to plan your bedtime and wake time. Once this is determined, you can begin to incorporate sleep hygiene habits into your nightly routine. These habits include going to bed at the same time every night, along with waking up in the morning at the same time. By doing so, your body will naturally become tired around that time each night, and can naturally wake up each morning. Because light can activate your body to become alert and awake, it is important to avoid light stimulus close to bedtime, such as TV and cell phone exposure. You should also avoid drinking caffeine before bed due to it’s ability to inhibit the release of melatonin, making you feel more alert rather than tired; avoid drinking alcohol close to bedtime due to the chemical effects that can interfere with the body’s ability to enter certain stages of sleep, and therefore interfere with the healing processes that take place as we sleep. Also avoid exercising close to bedtime due to its activating properties to the body. Exercising earlier in the day is recommended, or light stretching before bedtime.
Developing a nightly routine before sleep is also important. About an hour before bed, begin this routine in order to help your body slowly become tired and prepare for sleep. Turning off the television, switching your cell phone to do not disturb, and putting any work aside for the night can be a first step, along with dimming the lights and turning off anything creating noise. By making the room dark and quiet, your brain will be signaled that it is almost time for bed and begin releasing melatonin that will start to make you feel tired. Taking a shower or bath followed with a scented lotion, such as lavender, can help keep you in longer deep sleep by increasing relaxation and decreasing anxiety. Finally you can change into comfortable pajamas and lower the temperature in your room. Keeping your room at a cooler temperature can help you fall asleep more quickly and reach a deeper level of sleep.
Although it may be difficult at first, developing healthy sleep hygiene and respecting your circadian rhythm will aid in obtaining the appropriate amount and quality of sleep your body needs to stay healthy. Feeling rested and energized not only helps with your day-to-day functioning, but also can help you work efficiently and manage stress.
In summary, ways you can improve your sleep hygiene are:
1. Wake up and go to bed at the same times everyday
2. Avoid light stimulus near bedtime: turn off computer, TV, and phone
3. Do not consume caffeine or alcohol close to bedtime
4. Exercise earlier in the day.
5. Dim the lights and quiet your space
6. Take a warm shower or bath followed by using a calming scented lotion, such as lavender
7. Change into comfortable pajamas
8. Lower the temperature of your room