What the Heck is Sleep Hygiene?

Many of us have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. In fact, insomnia affects an estimated 60 million Americans and since we are constantly tethered to our smartphones and reachable 24/7, that number is not likely to decrease anytime soon. Many of us are working more from home now and that tends to increase how available we are to work, increasing stress and decreasing quality sleep.

If you struggle with a chronic health symptoms like pain and fatigue, you know that having a sleepless night makes a major difference in how you are able to navigate the next day’s activities. I personally suffer from aches, pains, irritability and lack of energy when I haven’t slept well, and these effects can linger many days.

No doubt you are busier than ever and faced with having too many tasks and too little energy. There simply isn’t time for an “off” day. So what can you do to shift the odds in your favor?

It’s helpful to practice what specialists call “sleep hygiene.” No, I don’t mean taking a shower before bed, although that could be a tactic you decide to use for relaxation. It’s about having a plan in place for what works best for you to get the highest quality sleep you can on a consistent basis, so that your health is optimal during waking hours. Here are five tips that have helped this formerly poor sleeper get better rest:

1. Set a consistent time to go to sleep each night.
Notice I said EACH night. Not “every night except weekends, or when an interesting program is on TV, or you feel like reading or….” Make sleep a priority.

2. Get a minimum of 8 hours of sleep.
Lots of people convince themselves that they can get by on less than 8 hours. I remember reading with concern that a former U.S. President routinely slept about 4-5 hours nightly, and he was proud of that. That does not earn a badge of honor. That earns you a life of health issues. We are all humans. Studies have shown repeatedly that the human species needs 8 hours of restful sleep per night to function optimally during the day. You are human; you need 8 hours. End of story.

3. Don’t eat or drink too close to bedtime.
If you are waking up to use the bathroom, or if your stomach is working to digest a meal, you are interrupting restful sleep cycles. Ideally, stop eating and drinking 2-3 hours before bed.

4. Gradually wind down.
One hour before bedtime, disconnect from all electronics (phone, TV, computer), dim the lights and do something quiet and relaxing like reading and meditating or a warm bath. It’s a shock to the body to run full throttle all day and then snap off the lights and expect the body to immediately power down. Allow yourself a gentle transition into relaxation and the reward will be peaceful slumber.

5. Practice 4-7-8 breathing.
Noted holistic doctor, Andrew Weil, recommends a breathing exercise he calls 4-7-8 to help relax. You breathe in deeply through your nose to the slow count of 4, hold it for a count of 7 and then exhale slowly through your mouth to a count of 8. Repeat this cycle four or five times to slow your heart rate and calm your nervous system, allowing for better sleep.

Do you have any tips you use to get better sleep? Any sleep challenges you would like to conquer? Please, leave a comment and share!

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