As the first quarter of the year comes to a close, it’s time to check back in with yourself regarding your 2023 health goals. Do you feel like you’re off to a good start, or do you feel like you’re already falling behind?
If you’re waking up tired every morning, there could be a variety of factors at play. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommends that the average adult gets at least seven hours of sleep per night for adequate rest. But according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of all U.S. adults average less than that amount each night.
Many factors impacting sleep are out of your control, such as workplace stress or caring for sick children. But building healthy bedtime habits can greatly boost the quality of your rest, even when you can’t get the quantity you deserve.
March is Sleep Awareness Month — and a great time to learn more about this important aspect of your health. Read on to learn about sleep hygiene, and how you can live a healthier, happier life by improving yours.
What is sleep hygiene, and why is it important?
Sleep hygiene is another name for the collective habits that help you rest well. Practicing healthy sleep hygiene is extremely important for your physical and mental health, not to mention that it just feels good to wake up refreshed each morning.
You already know that eating balanced meals and exercising on a regular basis are important for your health. But getting enough restful sleep is the third key component of living your best life, according to medical experts.
In fact, sleep quality is so important that it is the top predictor of depressive symptoms among young adults, and cases have been brought before the Supreme Court condemning sleep deprivation as a "cruel and inhumane" form of psychological torture.
Insufficient or poor-quality sleep has been linked to chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and mental illness, as well as preventable disasters such as roadside and workplace accidents.
4 ways to boost your sleep hygiene
Getting a full eight hours of sleep isn’t always feasible, but you can set yourself up for success by prioritizing quality rest to the best of your ability. Here are a few ways to begin improving your sleep hygiene, starting tonight.
When you’re tired, moving your body might be the last thing you want to do. But it might be exactly what you need, especially if your exhaustion stems from depression or insomnia.
This tip won’t surprise parents of toddlers, who know that the key to a good naptime is an exhausting morning of activity. The same principle applies to adults: When your body is physically tired, it’s easier to fall asleep more quickly and deeply, and stay asleep for longer periods of time.
Getting a sleep-triggering workout doesn’t have to mean 90 minutes of pumping iron in the gym. A brisk walk before or after dinner, a casual jog through the neighborhood or a quick, focused high-intensity interval training (HIIT) session can all help you rest better at night — and boost your overall health while you’re at it. The key is to find an activity that you enjoy, and to make sure you don’t get so energized from evening workouts that you have a hard time falling asleep.
2. Eliminate blue light
Smart phones and computer screens emit blue light, which boosts attention and productivity during the daytime but can continue having the same effect into the night. Our bodies react to blue light by producing less melatonin, which then impacts your ability to fall asleep. Consider putting computers away as soon as you are done working for the day, and cellphones face down or out of the bedroom altogether a couple of hours before bedtime.
And instead of using your phone as your alarm, consider getting an analog alarm clock so you don’t have to stare at the bright light of your phone screen first thing in the morning, or if you wake up to use the restroom in the middle of the night.
3. Keep your bedroom a restful place
It makes sense that sleep will be less elusive in a place that feels restful and relaxing. Heavy curtains that black out the room can help you fall and stay asleep more deeply, especially if you happen to work during times that don’t align with sunrise and sunset hours.
Experts recommend keeping your bedroom off-limits to other activities as a sleep-conducive sanctuary: "for sleep and sex only." This may be harder to accomplish these days with many people working from home, particularly in tight quarters, but you can still maintain some boundaries by working from your bedroom desk instead of in your bed, for instance. And medical experts suggest keeping your bedroom temperature below 67 degrees Fahrenheit for the optimal sleep environment.
4. Maintain consistent sleeptimes
Humans are creatures of habit, and your body will begin adjusting to any new routine if you stick with it for long enough. You can sleep-train yourself into drowsiness by going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time each morning, even on the weekends.
And while naps can be an enjoyable indulgence, experts suggest keeping them short and limited to early afternoons if you need to take them — otherwise, you run the risk of messing up your body’s circadian rhythm.