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Sleep hygiene refers to a set of habits and practices designed to improve sleep quality, and I’ve provided a few general tips below to get started.
Tip #1: Consistency is key
Sleeping late on weekends is often one of the things that make weekends so enticing. It feels like we are catching up on all the sleep we missed out on during the week when we had to get up at 6:00 AM or 5:30 AM or those other horrible times you hope you only have to read about in books. Unfortunately, it can have some consequences. When we sleep late, we tend to stay up late, and when we stay up late, we tend to sleep even later. It doesn’t take long before one late morning can lead us into a cycle that could delay our bedtime by a couple of hours. For good sleep hygiene, it’s important that we keep our wake-up time on weekends as close as possible to our wake-up time during the week. With our sleep time, we have to listen to our bodies to some extent – if you feel tired before your regular bedtime, it’s fine to go to bed, and there’s no point going to bed if you’re wide awake. But if we keep that consistent wake-up time in the morning, we often find that our bedtime falls in line.
Tip #2: Switch off
Just like most of us know that we probably aren’t sleeping enough, most of us also know that we’re probably spending too much time on our phones. The two are often related, with phones affecting our sleep in a number of different ways. Firstly, phones provide access to almost unlimited content. There’s no end to Instagram or TikTok. You can scroll for hours and keep seeing new things that algorithms have specifically tailored to interest you. It’s very easy to lose track of time, particularly when the commitment to keep scrolling is so low. It’s just a 30-second video, after all – what’s the harm in seeing one more? All of this is not to say that social media is bad, just that it’s designed to encourage repetition, and that’s a recipe for sleep delay. The bright light produced by a phone can also affect our brain’s production of melatonin, which is a hormone that makes us feel sleepy. This is particularly strong when it’s primarily white light, such as the backgrounds for Reddit or Twitter. Try to avoid using your phone for 30-60 minutes before bed, and especially try to avoid using it in bed, but if you do have to, it’s advisable to use a night mode to manage the impact of the bright light.
Tip #3: Avoid substances
Most of us have heard that caffeine can delay the onset of sleep if we have it too close to bedtime, and that’s certainly true. However, in addition to delaying sleep, it also reduces the quality of our sleep. We get less deep sleep under the influence of caffeine, and that makes us more vulnerable to night-time awakenings. Caffeine use even six hours prior to bedtime has a significant effect on our total sleep time, and so it’s best to leave around an 8-hour gap between your last coffee and your bedtime. But if caffeine makes it difficult to sleep because it’s a stimulant, then surely alcohol, a depressant, must make it easier, right? Well, while some people report that alcohol makes it easier to fall asleep, it also reduces the presence of deep sleep, leaving us feeling tired and unsatisfied in the morning. How many people wake up after a night on the town and feel incredible? I’d wager it’s a pretty small minority. If alcohol use is consistently used to facilitate sleep, then it also opens us up to withdrawals when we don’t have it, further reducing sleep quality. The same appears true of chronic cannabis use– any substance that we need in order to get to sleep causes significant problems when it’s not available. While substances can be tempting as a solution, ultimately, they’re often a short-term solution with long-term side effects.
These are a couple of general sleep hygiene tips that can be a good first option if you’re experiencing sleep difficulties. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it can be a start! If you find your sleep problem is resistant to change, it can be worth linking in with a qualified health professional who can discuss alternative therapeutic options, of which several exist.