As one of our fundamental biological processes, sleep is essential to maintain our physical and mental health and wellbeing. Sleep hygiene encompasses a range of behaviours, habits and routines that collectively promote better sleep. Research demonstrates that adhering to good sleep hygiene practices by establishing healthy routines throughout the day improves both the quality and quantity of sleep. While it is normal to experience occasional fluctuations to our daily life including sleeping patterns (e.g. staying up late to celebrate a friend’s birthday), it becomes a concern when poor sleep consistently impacts on our ability to function throughout the day – this often occurs when poor sleep habits creep into our lives. Keep reading to find out the importance of sleep hygiene.
Link between sleep disturbance and mental health
Research has identified a link between sleep disturbance and certain mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. While it is true that sleep disturbance and insomnia are often symptoms of an underlying psychological condition such as depression (i.e. depressive mood leading to poor sleep), the same is true in reverse: poor sleep practice and subsequent lack of sleep can contribute to new and pre–existing mental health problems (i.e. poor sleep resulting in depression, or worsening mental health symptoms and severity). Improving your sleep starts with implementing small changes to your life and adhering to good sleep hygiene principles.
Some basics of sleep hygiene include:
- Establish a consistent sleep schedule – ensuring you regularly go to bed and wake up at the same time each day and receive a consistent minimum of 7 hours each night helps to promote routine and better-quality sleep.
- Follow a nightly routine – engaging in activities before bed that either helps to relax your brain or clear the events of that day can be extremely useful and helps to set you up for a more restful sleep. Whether it is reading a book, drawing a bath, journaling, practicing meditation, undertaking calming pre-bed activities helps to prepare your mind and body to transition from wakefulness to sleepiness.
- Implement a healthy sleep environment – research has identified certain factors that are ideal to promote quality sleep. An optimal sleep environment is free of technological devices (and other sources of stimulation) and is both sufficiently dark and at a comfortable temperature. Turning off all electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime; dimming lights if possible, and ensuring your air-conditioning is set to an appropriately comfortable temperature for sleeping will facilitate a smoother transition between alertness and falling asleep.
- Ensure healthy habits – such as regular exercise, maintain a nutritious and well-balanced diet, and limit caffeine intake in the late afternoons and evening, as the sleep-disrupting effects of caffeine can persevere for between 3-7 hours after consumption.
In essence, sleep hygiene concerns developing and maintaining healthy habits – both during the day and at night – that improve the quality and duration of your sleep. Should inadequate sleep and/or insomnia symptoms continue to severely impact on your daily life and functioning, ensure you follow up with your doctor or relevant health professional.