So many people are looking for that "magic pill" that will take all of their stresses and worries away. Ideally, this pill should fix all their problems. It should make life better — easier, happier and more enjoyable overall.
Sleep Hygiene Explained
So many people are looking for that magic pill that will take all of their stresses and worries away and help them to calm down. Ideally, this pill should fix all their problems. It should make life better — easier, happier and more enjoyable overall.
Many people seek this elixir in the form of a new relationship, a better job, an improved physique, or even an actual medication or drug. While some of these solutions certainly may improve your life, what if you had a more potent magic pill right in front of you? A fool-proof, cure-all, 100% free, all-natural magic pill available in unlimited supply.
Of course, this miracle solution does exist and it is called a good night's sleep.
If you think this sounds too simple, think again! Sleep is nature’s remedy for almost everything that ails us as humans. At the same time that sleep is critical to our physical health, it is also crucial to our emotional and mental health. People who get enough sleep regularly are healthier, happier and better adjusted.
Sleep addresses nearly every one of life’s potential issues, yet it is also one of the most overlooked and uncultivated habits for most people.
Who is Getting Enough Sleep?
While sleep experts tout the indisputable importance of getting at least seven hours of sleep each night, an astonishing 35% of Americans get less regularly.
In a way, this is perfectly understandable. You do not have to sleep to get through the day, after all. It’s possible to manage for a few hours here and there. The point is, that tackling the day is almost always easier, less stressful, and overall more enjoyable when you have had enough sleep. Furthermore, better sleep has been scientifically proven to help you live a longer, healthier and happier life in the long term.
So how can you sleep better?
It all starts with developing and cultivating better sleep hygiene.
What is Sleep Hygiene?
Just as we must all take care of our physical hygiene, dental hygiene and home hygiene, we also need to cultivate our sleep hygiene.
This can be defined as healthy habits and behaviors that, when combined, contribute to more and better sleep on a regular basis. This includes healthy hydration habits. These sleep habits may include practices like setting a regular bedtime, keeping digital devices out of the bedroom and maintaining a sleep diary. While individual sleep habits may vary, there are many standard sleep habits that can benefit nearly all good sleep hygiene routines, helping the individual fall asleep easier.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
Experts at The National Sleep Foundation recommend that those aged 18 to 64 get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
Those over the age of 64 may need less sleep, but only by a small amount. The recommended sleep amount for these individuals is seven to eight hours every night.
Children also require more sleep than those 18 and over. Preschoolers aged 3 to 5 should get between 10-13 hours of sleep each night. School-age children between 6 and 13 need 9-11 hours of sleep each night. And teens from 14 to 17 require between 8-10 hours of sleep each night.
Babies (especially newborns) will generally sleep for most of a 24-hour period. The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following sleep limits for babies and toddlers:
Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours a night/day.
Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours a night/day.
Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours a night/day.
How do you know if you Practice Good Sleep Hygiene Habits?
With good sleep habits, one should be getting the recommended amount of sleep every night, eliminating severe sleeping problems. Missing one or two nights here and there does not necessarily mean poor sleep health. Getting enough sleep or having trouble sleeping and ending up tossing and turning for long periods frequently or having difficulties falling asleep could indicate a review of the sleeping habits more closely.
Specifically, here are several signs that could improve the sleep habits and provide a restful sleep:
Consistently late bedtimes and early rising times
Trouble getting to sleep in the first place close to bedtime (laying awake for 30 minutes or more before falling asleep)
Waking up regularly during the night, not getting the sleep quality needed
Disrupt sleep by waking up during the night and being unable to fall asleep for 20 minutes or more
A diagnosis of insomnia
Poor sleep patterns or being sleep deprived
Lack of regular sleep schedule
What Causes Poor Sleep Hygiene?
Causes of poor sleep can be both unavoidable and avoidable. However, most of the time, poor sleep hygiene can be fixed or improved with a few simple changes to bedtime habits and nightly routine.
Let us go through some of the most common avoidable and inescapable reasons for poor sleep hygiene below.
Probable Causes Behind Poor Sleep Hygiene
Not honoring a set bedtime or not going to bed at the same time every day
Drinking caffeine close to bedtime
Exercising right before bed
Using gadgets before bed (smartphones, tablets, computers, etc)
Watching TV in bed
Using recreational drugs
Not creating a bedtime routine and practicing good sleep
Not cultivating a positive sleeping environment
Allowing anxieties and stresses to flood your mind before bed (sometimes, this is unavoidable)
The nervous system is "out of whack"
Incorrect Circadian rhythm
Mostly Unavoidable Reasons for Poor Sleep Hygiene
Being a new parent
Excess stress is caused by a life trauma, such as the loss of a loved one or the diagnosis of a serious illness
Do you think you may have poor sleep hygiene and be sleep-deprived? Learn more about sleep deprivation and the science of sleep ahead or skip to the end of this page and go directly to the “Healthy Habits = Healthy Sleep: How to Improve Your Sleep Hygiene” section. There, you can learn how to improve your sleep habits for better rest, with results as soon as tonight.
What Happens if you do not get Enough Sleep?
Above, we described sleep deprivation as getting poor sleep regularly (less than seven hours a night).
The peculiar thing about sleep deprivation is that it is not a specific illness. While it can be diagnosed, sleep deprivation does not have a well-defined set of symptoms and effects. On the other hand, you will see the negative effects of sleep deprivation clearly if they happen to you.
This is another way to explain why we need sleep. We have already touched on the fact that it is virtually impossible to know for sure why we sleep. However, researchers and scientists can look at what happens if people don't get enough sleep and make assertions from there.
What are the Effects of Sleep Deprivation?
Sleep deprivation has both short-term signs and symptoms and long-term effects.
Top Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation
If you are concerned that you're not getting enough sleep, it may be a good idea to examine your own behaviors and try to notice any of the following symptoms of sleep deprivation. Additionally, if you are concerned that your child is not getting enough sleep, look for these symptoms:
Frequent irritability and mood swings
Regular feelings of drowsiness
The desire to take naps during the day
Forgetfulness and/or clumsiness
Feel like you have a “fuzzy” head
Short-Term Effects of Sleep Deprivation
In the short-term, after just one or two sleepless nights, you may notice the following effects:
A higher likelihood of accidents (car, on-the-job, or in-home accidents)
Trouble learning new concepts at school or work
Severe moodiness (being short and irritable with friends, family, and coworkers for example)
A diminished sex drive
Clear signs of fatigue in your skin, especially in the face (bags under the eyes, sagging skin, dry skin)
Chronic forgetfulness, a feeling of being fuzzy and not being able to focus or concentrate for more than a few moments at a time
Judgment impairment or not being able to make sound decisions that have been arrived at through prudent, rational thought (eating cookies for breakfast or driving without a seatbelt, for example)
Long-Term Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Long-term, the consequences of sleep deprivation are more serious and can continue to get worse. You may notice the following effects of sleep deprivation if you go for weeks, months or even years in a sleep-deprived state:
Weight gain is thought to be due to an increase in appetite resulting from a sleep deficit
Depression and/or anxiety disorder, both of which can cause and be negatively impacted by lack of sleep
A higher propensity for disease and illness, which may be exacerbated by a reduction in immune system function because of inadequate sleep
A less-sharp mind and worse memory, caused by not allowing your brain enough time to rejuvenate and consolidate memories (functions that are usually carried out during sleep)
Disease and Sleep
Research has shown that most people with insomnia also have at least one additional health condition. Insomnia and other sleep disorders may be a contributor to these health conditions. Conversely, other health conditions may be a cause of insomnia and other sleep disorders.
The most common physical diseases associated with sleep deprivation are:
High blood pressure
Healthy Habits = Healthy Sleep: How to Improve Your Sleep Hygiene
Anyone can improve their sleep hygiene and healthy sleep habits in many ways. It is crucial to find what works for you.
Below, we go over some of the basic tenets of improving your sleep. As well as a few specific suggestions for making your bedtime and sleep routines more enjoyable and effective.
Four Sleep Hygiene Tips for Better Sleep
The following is a list of sleep hygiene tips for better sleep before we get into specific tips and suggestions.
1. It is important to prioritize sleep in your life.
First and foremost, remember that you have to make sleep a priority. It is true that you cannot get by in life without sleeping, but there is a lot of wiggle room as well. Many people think they can operate on four or five hours of sleep a night and it will not be a problem. Do not allow yourself this margin. Make getting at least seven hours of sleep each night a priority for your overall health and well-being.
2. You must figure out how much sleep you need.
Above, we outlined the recommended amounts of sleep for different ages of people. However, it must also be noted that it's not uncommon for individuals to actually need varying amounts of sleep, depending on their genetics, lifestyle and other behaviors. We tell you how to know how much sleep you optimally need below when we discuss keeping a sleep diary.
3. Avoid being a “weekend warrior” when it comes to sleep.
In other words, if you tend to lose sleep during the week, do not try to make it all up on the weekends. Sleep does not really work that way.
While it is fine to go to bed early or sleep in to catch a few extra zzzs on the weekends, you should not rely on this additional sleep time as a make-up for lost sleep Monday through Friday.
4. Remember that the “best sleepers” invest in their sleep.
So many people take sleep for granted — and it is certainly easy to do. But if you want to improve your sleep hygiene, it is critical to invest some time, energy and money into your sleep routine.
Twelve Simple Tips to Balance a Healthy Sleep-Wake Cycle
No bright lights in the bedroom and try to eliminate any natural light
The use of an eye mask helps block out bright lights
Blue light has proven to help provide sound sleep
Listen to the body clock
Avoid daytime naps
Reduce alcohol consumption
Exercise stimulates the sleep drive
Implementing a relaxing bedtime routine
Ban electronic devices from the bedroom
Practice meditation or mindfulness to lower the stress hormone cortisol
Take a warm bath just before bedtime
Performing relaxation exercises
Sleeping Too Much
While sleeping is important for us to keep healthy, reduce stress and ensure we are relaxed, sleeping too much can negatively impact our lives. Ask yourself, “Why am I sleeping so much?” and “What can I do to stop it?” It might be that you are suffering from a sleeping disorder; a condition that only a doctor could diagnose. If you believe you are suffering from one, which is a form of sleeping sickness, you should seek medical advice! Leaving a sleeping sickness untreated could cause you harm, both physically and mentally.
Sometimes when we feel exhausted, we tend to oversleep in order to compensate for the rest we missed out on. But oversleeping on its own can produce its own side effects. Headaches, back and neck pain from sleeping too much are not too uncommon, which is why it is not recommended. For your health, simply stick to a strict sleeping schedule. By doing so, you reduce the chance of suffering from any of these side effects.
Owning the Correct Mattress and Pillow
By sleeping on a mattress or using a pillow that is not suited for you, your body type or the way that you prefer to sleep (whether you sleep on your back, on your side or on your stomach), you need to ensure that you have the correct tools in place to promote healthy and good quality sleep. The last thing you want to do is wake up in the morning feeling:
Pain due to sleeping without a pillow: Sleeping without a pillow might feel good for some, but it puts your neck at an odd angle, which after an extended period in the same position can cause pain.
Numbness in hands: If you wake up during the night and experience numbness in your hands, this could be caused by the use of an incorrect pillow for your posture or a mattress that is either too hard or too soft.
Neck pain: When using the wrong type of pillow, one of the most common results is neck pain. Every morning when you wake up, you feel stiff in your neck, and the simple solution could be that you are sleeping on the wrong type of pillow, it is either too high, too low, too hard or too soft. Try to find the best pillow for neck pain available on the market. Just make sure that you try it out first.
Shoulder pain: The same can be said for shoulder pain, but instead of the incorrect pillow, which could also be the cause, the more likely culprit here is the mattress. Waking up in the morning with shoulder pain from sleeping might be traced back to the type of mattress that is either too soft or too hard.
Hip pain: Again we come back to what type of mattress you are using. Hip pain is also in correlation with the mattress type. There are professionals who are able to assist you in choosing the right type of mattress for your body type and posture.
Lower back pain after sleeping: The last of the side effects of sleeping on a bad mattress is lower back pain. This again could be related to the type of mattress you sleep on, but it could also be caused by how you sleep. Getting out of bed could become difficult due to back pain. If you usually sleep on your side, try sleeping on your stomach or on your back. Certain positions can aggravate these types of pains. So, before you run out and spend too much money on a new mattress, try a different sleeping position first and see if that helps. Or try meditation, yoga, or even Pilates, to strengthen those lower back muscles along with the abdominal muscles, which could reduce that back pain of yours. Pain, no matter what, disrupts sleep. This affects your REM sleep and you will not feel as rested in the morning as you usually should.
Sleep Hygiene: Frequently Asked Questions
What are healthy sleep habits for kids and teens?
Kids and teens require a bedtime routine just as adults do. Fortunately for children and teenagers, they do not have to create these routines for themselves. As a parent, this is a job you must take on.
For starters, set bedtimes for each of your children. Younger children require more sleep and should go to bed earlier than teenagers. It is wise to have a policy of keeping devices like smartphones, televisions and tablets out of the bedroom at night. Also, remind your children that their beds should only be used for sleeping and not for studying, reading or using the computer.
How do you survive lack of sleep with a newborn?
It is almost a sure thing that after you become a parent, you are going to lose sleep while you have a newborn in the house. The good news is that this stage does not last forever. To help you better manage this period of sleeplessness, try the following tips:
- Trade-off when it comes to nightly diaper changes and feedings (when possible)
- Catch a nap whenever you can
- Make up for lost sleep whenever you can
- Get help from friends and family
New parents (especially moms who breastfeed) may find these first few months (or indeed, years) of their children’s lives challenging. While this is to be expected, it is also essential to make sure they are taking care of themselves by getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising and making time for their own hobbies and interests. The other sleep tips above — including practices like Yoga Nidra, guided meditation, sleep meditation, and mindfulness — can help tremendously.