Sleep disturbances have become a significant issue in the United States. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 3 adults gets less than seven hours of sleep per night, which is the recommended minimum for those 18-60. This lack of sleep leaves us reaching for caffeinated beverages and struggling to stay awake throughout the day.
Sleep disturbances not only cause us to feel drowsy, though. Over time, sleep deprivation can lead to a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, weight gain, and a higher risk for diabetes and other health complications. However, you can avoid all of these health problems and foster better rest. You just need to establish a consistent nightly routine that involves good sleep hygiene.
What Is Sleep Hygiene?
Good sleep habits, often referred to as “sleep hygiene,” can help you get a good night’s rest. What most people don’t realize, though, is that sleep hygiene involves more than what you do right before you climb into bed at night. In fact, sleep hygiene includes what you eat and drink throughout the day, the medications you take, your daily schedule, and evening activities.
If you want to improve your sleep, then it’s important to follow sleep hygiene guidelines. After all, healthy sleep habits can improve both your ability to fall asleep and your body’s ability to stay asleep throughout the night.
Sleep Hygiene Basics
On the most basic level, sleep hygiene practices should help set you up for a successful night of rest. These guidelines can be divided into two main categories: daily habits and nighttime routines.
Believe it or not, a lot of your everyday habits will ultimately impact your sleep. For starters, you should establish a consistent time to wake each morning. Once you wake up, you should follow a routine that helps your body start the day off right. You should also find a time for at least 10 minutes of aerobic exercise each day and expose yourself to natural sunlight at least a few times per day. Finally, limit naps to 30 minutes or less and avoid napping less than 3 hours before your bedtime.
As you may already know, a regular nightly routine helps cue your body that it’s time to sleep. This, in turn, helps you fall asleep faster. However, there are several key points that people don’t realize impact their ability to actually stay asleep.
You should always avoid stimulants like caffeine and nicotine before bedtime as they can disrupt your body’s circadian rhythm. Also, exercise moderation with alcohol consumption near bedtime. It can impact your body’s ability to remain asleep as the night goes on. When it comes to food, anything that’s rich, fatty, and fried if you struggle to get your z’s.
In addition to your actual nighttime routine, your bedroom conditions matter as well. You should keep the room’s temperature between 60 and 67 degrees, and your mattress and pillows should feel comfortable. Light can also negatively impact sleep, so consider using blackout curtains. What’s more, keep all television, computer, and cell phone screens off when it’s time to sleep. Finally, make sure your bedroom feels relaxing and add touches that help you feel safe and comfortable.
When to Seek Professional Help
Sometimes even solid sleep hygiene isn’t enough to tackle the sleep disturbances you experience. These disorders include insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and narcolepsy.
The most common sleep disorder is sleep apnea — a serious condition that can cause oxygen deprivation and potentially fatal medical conditions. In fact, the experts at CPAP.com estimate that nearly one third of people who snore in their sleep actually suffer from sleep apnea. However, conditions like sleep apnea can easily be treated, and once you have the proper equipment or medications, you will rest better.
Additionally, underlying mental health conditions like bipolar disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder can complicate sleep for many. If your doctor determines that you don’t suffer from sleep apnea or another common sleep disorder, you may want to visit a psychiatrist or mental health counselor to determine if mental illness is causing you to lose sleep at night.
While a lack of sleep may not seem like a big deal, medical experts say it’s actually a serious problem that you should address as soon as possible. Luckily, most of us can easily get better rest by understanding sleep hygiene and following recommended routines that encourage healthy rest. Sweet dreams!