- Wellness Center
- Physical Well-Being
Check out this page called Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to learn information regarding the anatomy of sleep, sleep stages, sleep mechanisms, how much sleep we need, dreaming, the role of genes and neurotransmitters, and more.
The Wellness Center Video Library has many video resources such as TED talks, about the science surrounding sleep.
What is sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness. Signs of having poor sleep hygiene include frequent sleep disturbances, daytime sleepiness, or taking too long to fall asleep.
If you experience any of these signs often, consider evaluating your sleep routine and revising your bedtime habits. Just a few simple changes can make the difference between a good night’s sleep and a night spent tossing and turning.
How can I improve my sleep hygiene?
One of the most important sleep hygiene practices is to spend an appropriate amount of time asleep in bed, not too little or too excessive. Sleep needs vary across ages and are especially impacted by lifestyle and health. However, there are recommendations that can provide guidance on how much sleep you need generally. Other good sleep hygiene practices include:
- Limiting daytime naps to 30 minutes. Napping does not make up for inadequate nighttime sleep. However, a short nap of 20-30 minutes can help to improve mood, alertness, and performance.
- Avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine close to bedtime. Avoid caffeine consumption at least 6 hours before sleep. And when it comes to alcohol, moderation is key. While alcohol is well-known to help you fall asleep faster, too much close to bedtime can disrupt sleep in the second half of the night as the body begins to process the alcohol.
- Exercising to promote good quality sleep. As little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercises, such as walking or cycling, can drastically improve nighttime sleep quality. For the best night’s sleep, most people should avoid strenuous workouts close to bedtime. However, the effect of intense nighttime exercise on sleep differs from person to person, so find out what works best for you.
- Steering clear of food that can be disruptive right before sleep. Heavy or rich foods, fatty or fried meals, spicy dishes, citrus fruits, and carbonated drinks can trigger indigestion for some people. When this occurs close to bedtime, it can lead to painful heartburn that disrupts sleep.
- Ensuring adequate exposure to natural light. This is particularly important for individuals who may not venture outside frequently. Exposure to sunlight during the day, as well as darkness at night, helps to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
- Establishing a regular relaxing bedtime routine. A regular nightly routine helps the body recognize that it is bedtime. This could include taking a warm shower, reading a book, or light stretches. When possible, try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations and activities before attempting to sleep.
- Making sure that your sleep environment is pleasant. Check out our tips on creating an ideal sleep environment.
Source: National Sleep Foundation
Your bedroom environment is an important influencer of your sleep quality. Here are some tips for creating an ideal bedroom environment that’s ideal for sleeping:
- Minimize noise in your bedroom. Noise disturbs sleep. Even if you are sound asleep, your brain is still aware of what is going on around you and can hear noises. This is especially true in the latter half of the night when your sleep is lighter. Ways to minimize noise include wearing earplugs, using a sound machine (like rain or ocean waves), or having a fan or air conditioner on to create white noise.
- Keep your room cool. Your bedroom should be between 60 and 67 degrees for optimal sleep. Having a window open or using a fan or an air conditioner can help with temperature regulation in your room.
- Keep your room dark. Exposure to light might make it more challenging to fall asleep. Dim or turn off all lights before bed and consider using room-darkening shades or eye masks to help with light exposure.
- Use battery-powered clocks near the bed. This helps eliminate phone and electronic usage before bed, which can help reduce exposure to blue light before sleep.
- Make your bed comfortable. A cozy, inviting bed is much more likely to make you look forward to sleep, creating a positive bed/sleep association. It’s important to choose the type of bed, pillow, and bedding that makes you most comfortable, such as the firmness or softness of your mattress, etc. Also, consider making your bed each morning.
- Make your bedroom an oasis for sleep. The more inviting your bedroom is, the more it becomes associated with restfulness and calmness. The more peaceful your place of sleep feels, the more likely you will look forward to sleep and have a restful night.
- Some suggestions
- Put up soothing photographs (a Caribbean beach, a waterfall, a desert) or keep your walls bare
- Keep your room clean and uncluttered
- Remove all work/school-related items (e.g., books, desk)
- Keep electronics out (TV, computer, smartphone)
- Use scents like lavender, roses or jasmine (one study showed that smell can affect your dreams: more positive dreams with good smells, more negative dreams with unpleasant smells)
- Some suggestions
General Tips on Creating a Sleep Schedule:
Pick a bedtime and a wake-up time—and stick to them as much as possible. Life will inevitably interfere, but try not to sleep in for more than an hour or two on Saturdays and Sundays so that you can stay on track. That way, your body’s internal clock—also called a circadian rhythm will get accustomed to a new bedtime, which will help you fall asleep better at night and wake up more easily each morning.
Make Gradual Adjustments.
You won’t be able to change your sleep schedule overnight. The most effective tactic is to make small changes slowly. If you’re trying to go to sleep at 10:00pm, rather than midnight, for example, try this: for the first three or four nights, go to bed at 11:45pm, and then go to bed at 11:30pm for the next few days. Keep adjusting your sleep schedule like this. By working in 15-minute increments, your body will have an easier time adjusting.
See the Morning Light.
Your body’s internal clock is sensitive to light and darkness, so getting a dose of the sun first thing in the morning will help you wake up. Opening the curtains to let natural light in your bedroom or having a cup of coffee on your sun-drenched porch will cue your brain to start the day. During months when it is dark when you wake up, consider using light box therapy.
Dim the Nightlights.
Likewise, too much light in the evenings can signal that you should stay awake. Before bedtime, dim as many lights as possible and turn off bright overhead lights. Avoid computers, tablets, cell phones, and TV an hour before bed, since your eyes are especially sensitive to the blue light from electronic screens. (If there’s something good on TV at night, record it so you can watch it another time.)
Skip the Snooze Button.
Though it’s certainly tempting to hit the snooze button in the morning to get a few extra winks, resist. The first few days of getting up earlier won’t be easy, but post-snooze sleep isn’t high quality. Instead, set your alarm to the time that you actually need to get up and remember that it may take a few minutes for your body to adjust to a daytime rhythm. If you can, skip the alarm altogether. Your body should wake up naturally after a full night’s sleep—usually seven to nine hours—and you’ll feel most alert if you wake up without an electronic aid.
Your daily routines – what you eat and drink, the medications you take, how you schedule your days and how you choose to spend your evenings – can significantly impact your quality of sleep. Even a few slight adjustments can, in some cases, mean the difference between sound sleep and a restless night. Completing a two-week sleep diary can help you understand how your routines affect your sleep.
Sleep is a critical biological process, and when confronting the COVID-19 pandemic, though, sleep becomes even more essential because of its wide-ranging benefits for physical and mental health.
- Sleep empowers an effective immune system. A solid night’s rest strengthens our body’s defenses, and studies have even found that lack of sleep can make some vaccines less effective.
- Sleep heightens brain function. Our mind works better when we get good sleep, contributing to complex thinking, learning, memory, and decision-making. For adults and children adapting to work and school at home, good sleep can help them stay sharp.
- Sleep enhances mood. Lack of sleep can make a person irritable, drag down their energy level, and cause or worsen feelings of depression.
- Sleep improves mental health. Besides depression, studies have found that a lack of sleep is linked with mental health conditions like anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Experts agree that getting consistent, high-quality sleep improves virtually all aspects of health, which is why it is worthy of our attention during the coronavirus pandemic.
Resources on the impact of caffeine, alcohol, and other drugs on sleep: