What is Sleep Hygiene?
‘Sleep hygiene’ is the term used to describe good sleep habits. Considerable research has gone into developing a set of guidelines and tips which are designed to enhance quality sleeping, and there is much evidence to suggest that these strategies can provide long-term solutions to sleep difficulties.
Sleep Affects Your Performance!
MEMORY: Research shows that people who sleep 7 hours a night do better on memory tasks than those who do not. Individuals will vary but in general most college students need at least 6-8 hours of sleep a night.
RECOVERY TIME: Avoid late weekend nights when you have an important project or exam next week. The effects of missing sleep can last for several days and it takes your body time to recover. When you have a large project due or an important exam, save your brain’s energy by keeping a consistent sleep schedule during the entire week, including the weekend.
DON’T PLAY “CATCH UP”: Catching up on sleep doesn’t really work. Research shows it is more important to get regular sleep than catching up on sleep just before a test.
Sleep Hygiene Tips!
1. Turn your digital devices off.
Using digital devices that emit blue light before bed prolongs the time it takes to fall asleep, so say goodnight to at least 1 hour before bed. If lying in bed and scrolling through social media is part of your current go-to-bed routine, give something else a try.
2. Create a sleep schedule and nightly routine.
One of the best ways to train your body to sleep well is to get up and go to bed at the same time every day, even on the weekends! This regular rhythm will make you feel better and help prepare your body for a good night’s sleep.
Also, creating a nightly routine helps prepare your body. This should include relaxing activities such as reading or listening to mellow music. Some people find it useful to do relaxing stretches or breathing exercises for 15 minutes before bed each night. Your nightly routine should be something you look forward to at the end of each day!
3. The bed is for sleeping.
Try not to use your bed for anything other than sleeping and sex, so that your body comes to associate bed with sleep. When you watch TV in bed, eat, study for classes, pay bills, and other things, you send your body mixed signals. When you only use your bed for sex and sleeping, your body can better learn this association.
4. Create the right environment.
Having the right environment is important for getting good sleep. Keeping the room dark is especially important for letting your brain know that it’s time to go to sleep. Our brains developed well before humans could even control fire, let alone electricity—so it makes sense to keep your sleep environment as similar to a natural setting as possible.
Cooler temperatures may also increase the depth of sleep. Sleep onset is accompanied by a drop in internal body temperature. This can be facilitated by warming your hands and feet but sleeping in a cool environment. Try wearing socks to bed!
5. Use caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol carefully.
Avoid caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol four to six hours before you go to sleep. Be aware that caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and will disrupt your body’s natural sleepiness cues. If you need to stay awake to study, the best method is to manage your time effectively to allow yourself enough sleep to keep you alert rather than relying on stimulants. Also, many people think alcohol will make them sleep better. Although alcohol has an initial sleep-inducing effect, when your body metabolizes it during the night, it may cause you to wake up and have difficulty falling back to sleep.
Regular exercise is a good idea to help with good sleep, however the timing of that exercise is important to ensure the optimal effect on your sleep schedule. Avoid doing strenuous exercise 2-4 hours before bedtime. The best time to engage in exercise that will improve sleep is in the afternoon. If you have to exercise at a different time, it is still effective but be sure to always complete your exercise at least two hours before you go to sleep. Otherwise, strenuous exercise before sleep will decrease your ability to fall asleep. Morning walks are a great way to start the day feeling refreshed!
7. Get up & try again!
If you haven’t been able to get to sleep after about 20 minutes or more, get up and do something calming or boring until you feel sleepy, then return to bed and try again. Sit quietly on the couch with the lights off (bright light will tell your brain that it is time to wake up), or read something boring like the phone book. Avoid doing anything that is too stimulating or interesting, as this will wake you up even more.
8. Eat right.
A healthy, balanced diet will help you to sleep well, but timing is important. Some people find that a very empty stomach at bedtime is distracting, so it can be useful to have a light snack, but a heavy meal soon before bed can also interrupt sleep. Some people recommend a warm glass of milk, which contains tryptophan, which acts as a natural sleep inducer.
What you eat can also affect your sleep. Spicy foods can cause heartburn, which is not a pleasant way to wake up in the middle of the night. You might not even be aware of the negative effect that substances are having on you because you might not fully wake up. However, if you want to reach your deepest sleep cycles, be mindful of what you eat before bedtime.
9. Be careful with napping.
Timing is everything! Naps of about 20 minutes are great for getting a boost. If you’re seeking alertness, clarity of the mind, or pushing the reset button, that can all happen with a 20-minute nap. If you try to rise from a nap after 40 to 60 minutes, you’re more likely to be stuck with a groggy feeling that lingers all afternoon. Also, avoid napping after 3 PM as it will make it more difficult for you to fall asleep at night!
10. Make Sleep a Priority.
Schedule sleep like any other daily activity. Put it on your “to-do” list and cross it off every night. But don’t make it the item you do only after everything else is done – stop doing other activities so you can get the sleep you need.
Centre for Clinical Interventions-http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au
Elrick, L. (2017). “6 Sleep Hygiene Habits Every Student Should Start Tonight” Rasmussen College, 2019, https://www.rasmussen.edu/student-experience/college-life/sleep-hygiene-habits-for-students/.
National Sleep Foundation- www.sleepfoundation.org/
Office of Health Education, University of Pennsylvania- www.vpul.upenn.edu/ohe/library/mental/sleep/index.php
“So You Want to Take a Nap?” Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, 2019, www.apa.org/monitor/2016/07-08/sidebar-nap.
University Health Services, Princeton University-www.princeton.edu/uhs/ih_Q_A_sleep_hygiene.html