What is Good Sleep Hygiene and Why Do You Need It?

August 04, 2017 |

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If your doctor recently told you that you need to practice good sleep hygiene, you might be wondering how you’re supposed to wash up while sleeping. But sleep hygiene probably doesn’t mean what you think it does and it’s much less complicated than it sounds.

Sleep hygiene refers to a set of principles you can use to help you sleep better at night by cleaning up your routine. This means you’ll probably have to give up late night television watching and heavy meals, but better sleep is worth the sacrifice. Here’s how to clean up your bad habits and give yourself a better night time routine that improves your sleep.

What is Sleep Hygiene?

When most people hear the word “hygiene,” they think of cleanliness. While sleep hygiene won’t require you to trim your beard, you’ll need to clean up your bedtime routine to include healthy habits that improve your sleep.

Sleep hygiene is a set of guidelines you can use to practice good sleeping habits. They are designed to help you maximize the time you spend sleeping so you can wake up feeling refreshed. Although many sleep hygiene tips may seem like common sense, some people aren’t aware that the habits they have before bed could be keeping them awake at night.

Why is Sleep Hygiene Important?

It might sound unnecessary to develop a set of guidelines for sleep, but insomnia is nothing to joke about. Sleep deprivation has been linked to many health ailments. It increases your risk of certain diseases and makes you about as reliable behind the wheel as a drunk person. Having a good set of guidelines to follow before bed can be the determining factor between sleep deprivation and performing at your best every day.

Research shows that even one night of sleep loss can affect your mental health. It also affects your physical movements. In as little as 24 hours without sleep, you may experience paranoia, hallucinations, and sleep deprivation psychosis (1). In fact, one night of sleep loss makes you so delirious that you’re 4.5 times more likely to confess to a false confession (1). Your brain becomes fatigued, which makes you more irritable, less alert, and more liable to have emotional outbursts. 

Over time, chronic sleep deprivation can lead to an increased risk of many chronic illnesses. After 48 hours without proper sleep, your oxygen intake is reduced, and your anaerobic power becomes impaired, which means that you’re not as strong as you are when you sleep. While this might not seem like a big deal unless you’re a professional athlete, sleep loss can increase your risk of falling. You may also slur your words or have problems with coordination.

At the 72 hour mark of little sleep, your emotional and concentration levels are severely affected. Your heart rate increases and you’re considered a risk to those around you because you’re more likely to fall asleep. Driving during this state is lethal. In 2013 alone, sleepy drivers caused approximately 72,000 car accidents in which 800 Americans were killed (1).

With each night that passes without sufficient sleep, your problem-solving skills decrease, and you become unable to make fundamental decisions. Psychosis and hallucinations take over, and you are no longer in touch with reality. Some research shows that psychosis that mimics the symptoms of schizophrenia can occur in as little as 24 hours without sleep (1).

According to a study published in the journal Sleep, sleep loss has the same effect on your body as physical stress (2). Researchers found that the white blood cells counts of 15 people who were kept awake for 29 hours increased similarly to the same type of response the body goes through when it’s stressed or sick. Being sleep deprived, sick or stressed causes your immune system to rapidly produce white blood cells, which are needed to fight against illness. In other words, your body treats sleep deprivation similar to a disease by preparing itself to defend against foreign invaders.

Deep sleep is of particular importance for strengthening the immune system. One study found that deep sleep helps your immune system remember previously encountered germs and pathogens similar to the way your brain remembers long term memories. When you’re sleep deprived, your immune system is unable to beat the same pathogens as well as it did the first time, making you more susceptible to illness (3).

Several studies show that sleep deprivation puts you at an increased risk of many diseases, especially type two diabetes. One study found that women who slept for less than five hours a night increased their risk of diabetes by 34 percent when compared to women who slept for seven or eight hours each night (4). Another study found that healthy subjects who slept for 4.5 hours each night for four nights in a row dropped their fat cell’s insulin resistance by 30 percent to rival those of patients with diabetes or obesity (5).

According to Doctor Matthew Brady, associate professor of the University of Chicago’s Medicine department, sleep deprivation of just four nights can cause a person to metabolically age by as much as 20 years (1). Doctor Brady stated that fat cells require sleep and become metabolically groggy when they don’t get it.

Even teenage boys who don’t sleep well are at an in increased risk of developing type two diabetes. A 2016 report from Medicine.net stated that slow-wave deep sleep is needed to reduce the stress hormone cortisol and reduce inflammation. Boys who did not have enough slow-wave deep sleep had an increased risk of developing insulin resistance than those whose sleep remained stable throughout the years. They also had more belly fat and attention problems (6).

One of the most important reasons why it’s important to develop healthy sleep hygiene practices is so you don’t mess up what happens to your circadian rhythm or internal sleep drive at a cellular level. During sleep, your brain cells shrink by 60 percent so they can be detoxed or stripped of harmful elements (1).

Every night when you sleep, your brain undergoes a detoxification process that is important for preventing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Your brain is also needed to regulate hormones such as melatonin, which makes you feel sleepy. Along with helping you drift off to sleep, melatonin is needed to inhibit the growth of many cancer cells. It also helps kill off or promote the self-destruction of cancer cells that are already present (1).

Finally, sleep loss raises the risk of weight gain and obesity by decreasing the levels leptin and increasing ghrelin. Leptin is a hormone needed to regulate your fat cells while ghrelin is the hunger hormone that tells you to eat more.

good sleep hygiene

Sleep Hygiene Worksheet Tips

Sleep loss affects the entire body and makes just about any health condition worse. Developing healthy sleep hygiene can help you get the sleep you need to improve your health and performance levels. Research shows that the following tips can improve your sleep hygiene (7):

  • 1. Avoid stimulants.

  • It’s tempting not to reach for a cup of coffee when you’re tired during the day, but doing so can keep you awake at night. Caffeine can stay in the body for up to ten hours, so be sure to limit your intake to one cup first thing in the morning. Be aware of other sources of caffeine, such as chocolate, tea, soft drinks, and some pain relievers.

    Nicotine also has stimulating effects on the body, so don’t smoke too close to bedtime. Quitting smoking altogether is even better. Alcohol might help you drift off to sleep at first, but after a few hours in the body, it has a stimulating effect. Having a few drinks at bedtime can increase the amount of times you wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and make it harder to fall back asleep. If possible, avoid drinking three hours before bed or all together.

    2. Establish a bedtime routine.

    Most people haven’t had a bedtime routine since they were children, but there’s a reason why pediatricians recommend it for little ones. Developing a bedtime routine helps you mentally and physically prepare for sleep. Try creating an adult version of a childhood classic ritual. Eat a light dinner, take a bath, read a book, and go to bed.

    3. Go to sleep at the same time every night.

    Your body likes to know what’s coming next. Set your circadian cycle by going to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every day. If you stay up late on the weekends, make an effort to wake up at the same time so your sleep cycle doesn’t get thrown off. Avoid sleeping as this can send mixed messages to the parts of your body responsible for regulating your sleep process.

    4. Turn your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary.

    It’s hard to relax in an environment that isn’t conducive to sleep, especially if you already suffer from insomnia. To help improve your sleep, make your bedroom as comfortable as possible. Invest in a comfortable mattress or sheets as well as blinds that block out the light. Leave all electronics and pets in the other room and reserve your bed for sleep and sex only.

    5.Give yourself the 20-minute rule.

    If you’re having trouble falling asleep, give yourself a time limit of 20 to 40 minutes before allowing yourself to get up. Try doing a relaxing activity for a few moments before going back to bed and trying again. Be sure not to engage in anything too stimulating as this will make it even harder to fall asleep. Listening to calm music, taking a warm shower, or journaling can help calm you down.

    6. Write it down.

    If you’re stressed about the next day’s activities, try writing them down before going to bed. Once you’re in bed, make a conscious effort not to think about what you have to do the next day. Tell yourself that you’ll review your to-do list in the morning and leave it at that. Avoid the temptation to look at the clock when you can’t sleep. This won’t do anything except make you feel more stressed.

    7. Exercise.

    Exercising early in the day or at least three hours before bed can be a good way to relax. Try not to exercise too close to bedtime as this may keep you awake. Studies show that people who exercise sleep better and feel more alert the next day than those who don’t (8).

    Ideally, you should aim for 150 minutes of exercise a week, but a little bit is better than nothing at all. If you don’t have time to do it all at once, break up your exercise time into several segments throughout the day. Bike or jog to work if you can or take frequent walk breaks during the day.

    8. Don’t nap.

    Napping too late in the day can keep you awake at night. If you must nap, aim for earlier in the day and keep it short. Closing your eyes for a few minutes in a quiet space can help clear your mind and leave you feeling refreshed for the rest of the day without ruining your nighttime sleep.

    9. Keep your nights dark and your mornings bright.

    Your brain naturally regulates the sleep hormone melatonin based on your exposure to darkness and light. Make sure your room is completely dark when you go to bed to help you feel sleepy. Exposure to a light first thing in the morning can help you wake up. Open up the blinds to expose natural sunlight or turn on the lights if it’s still dark when you wake up. This can help tell your brain when you want it to produce melatonin and when you need it to stop.

    10. Try a natural sleep aid.

    It might help to seek the help of a natural sleep aid to take the edge off going to sleep until your sleep cycle becomes regulated. Look for a formula that will help you wake up feeling refreshed without any side effects.

    Finally, don’t give up. The worst thing you can do is worry over the sleep you’ve lost. Move forward and tell yourself that you will practice good sleep hygiene starting tonight. It might help you to make a worksheet of your own and check off these steps every night before bed. Treat each day as a new opportunity to develop healthy sleep habits that will make a difference in how you feel.