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How to Boost Your Sleep Hygiene for Better Rest

It's fascinating to consider that humans spend approximately one-third of their lives sleeping!

For this reason, optimizing our sleep quality becomes imperative to harness the benefits of this vital restorative process, ensuring we make the most of the portion of our lives dedicated to sleep.

According to a 2015 study, sleep disturbances are one of the most common health complaints, affecting 10-15% of the general population! In turn, poor sleep can significantly affect your daytime health, influencing your energy levels, cognitive function, mood regulation, immune system efficiency, and overall quality of life.

That’s where the practice of sleep hygiene comes in.

Sleep hygiene encompasses various practices, sleep rituals, and relaxation techniques that help contribute to a more restful sleep.

Read on as we uncover the most important components that contribute to effective sleep hygiene, and how they can impact your sleep quality.

Creating an Ideal Sleep Environment

Before it’s time to lay your head to rest on your pillow, it’s essential to curate an environment conducive to a blissful night's sleep.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the setting you sleep in can influence how well you sleep. Lighting, temperature, noise levels, and even scents can all be optimized to create a blissful sleep sanctuary.

Here’s how to create an ideal sleep environment:

  • Consider your bedding: The bedding you use directly impacts how deep you sleep and how often it becomes disrupted. Consider investing in a comfortable mattress (or mattress topper), pillows, and cozy blankets.
  • Manage the lighting: Keeping light to a minimum before you fall asleep is important. Use blackout curtains or an eye mask to block out external lighting that may interfere with your sleep. Use dim and warm bedside lamps rather than bright overhead lights while you read, journal, or stretch.
  • Control outside noises: Limit disruptive noises from outside your bedroom by using earplugs, white noise machines, or gentle music.
  • Maintain optimal sleep-time temperature: The body prefers to be cool and comfortable for optimal sleep. Adjust your room temperature using fans, open a window, or adjust your air conditioner to 15-19°C (60-67°F).
  • Declutter and organize: A messy space can be quite stress-inducing. Spend time before you get into bed to tidy up your room.
  • Limit screen time: The blue light emitted from screens can interfere with our natural sleep-wake cycle and disrupt our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Consider turning off your screens at least one hour before sleeping.

Priming the Mind and Body for Sleep

Cultivating a relaxing sanctuary for the mind and body can be an art form. Fortunately, several techniques and sleep-time rituals promote total mind and body relaxation.

Setting the stage for a peaceful slumber starts the moment you enter your bedroom.

Here are some tips to get you in the mood for sleep:

  • Gentle stretches: Performing light and gentle stretches before bedtime can help ease muscle tightness that has built up over the day, helping to release stress for a more comfortable sleep.
  • Soothing music or natural sounds: Listening to calm music, nature sounds, or white noise can create a peaceful space conducive to quality sleep.
  • Calming activities: Reading a book, taking a warm bath, drinking herbal tea, or journaling are all helpful practices that can signal to the body it’s time to unwind and relax, facilitating a casual transition into a more restful state of mind.

Therapist-Recommended Techniques to Promote Deep Relaxation

Now that you’ve primed your system to begin to unwind, it’s time to jump into more advanced tips and techniques that help induce deeper levels of relaxation.

1. Mindfulness Meditation

Before bedtime, our minds often become inundated with thoughts and emotions accumulated throughout the day. Whether it's pondering over an awkward conversation you had with a friend or facing criticism at work, dwelling on the day's mistakes or setbacks can lead to rumination, hindering sleep and impacting overall sleep quality.

Mindfulness is a practice of cultivating present-moment awareness. It involves bringing our attention to the here and now, without allowing our thoughts to focus on criticism or judgment.

Taking this practice one step further, mindfulness meditation becomes more intentional, carving out a space for cultivating awareness and acceptance while simultaneously fostering a sense of tranquility and mental clarity.

Research has shown that mindfulness meditations can significantly improve sleep quality, helping you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. It’s found to minimize ruminative thoughts, lower emotional reactivity, and allow us to look at important experiences without taking sides – all of which facilitate healthy sleep patterns.

Here’s how it works:

  • Find a quiet and comfortable space
  • Sit or lie down in a relaxed position
  • Close your eyes and focus on your breath
  • Notice your thoughts without judgment
  • Bring your attention back to your breath whenever your mind wanders
  • Allow yourself to relax your muscles, letting go of each passing thought as you drift into a deep and relaxing state

2. Breathwork

Breathwork is a fundamental practice rooted in conscious breathing techniques. These exercises are shown to significantly improve sleep quality. The thought behind this is that breathwork can effectively regulate the nervous system by activating the parasympathetic “rest and digest” system, promoting relaxation, reducing stress and anxiety levels, and facilitating a smoother transition into a restful state conducive to better sleep.

Three methods you can try include:

  1. 4-7-8 Breathing

Begin this exercise by inhaling deeply through your nose for 4 seconds. At the climax of your breath, hold for 7 seconds before exhaling through your mouth slowly for 8 seconds. Repeat this cycle for 1-2 minutes, gradually extending the count as you feel comfortable.

  1. Box Breathing

This exercise involves a steady 4 count of breaths. Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds, then hold once again for 4 seconds. Repeat this pattern for 1-2 minutes, creating a box-like pattern with each cycle of breath.

  1. Deep Belly Breathing

Start by laying down comfortably on your bed, resting your head on your pillow. Place your right hand on your chest and your left hand on your abdomen near your belly button. Inhale deeply through your nose, feeling your abdomen rise as the air fills your lungs. Exhale slowly through your mouth, feeling your abdomen fall. While you breathe make sure your chest remains still, and focus on engaging your diaphragm throughout the exercise.

3. Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a relaxation technique that involves slow and progressive tensing and relaxing of major muscle groups in the body to promote physical and mental relaxation.

PMR is shown to help alleviate stress, reduce anxiety, and prepare your mind for a night of restful sleep. A 2022 study found PMR fosters extended intervals of slow-wave sleep, which is crucial for the revitalizing phases of our sleep cycle.

Here’s how it works:

  • Starting at your feet, curl your toes tightly for 5 seconds, then release and let the tension go.
  • Move to your calves and thighs, tensing the muscles in your lower legs by flexing, holding for a few seconds, and then releasing the tension allowing your muscles to fully relax.
  • Continue moving up the body from your feet to your face, tensing and relaxing each major muscle group for 5 seconds at a time.

Establishing a Consistent Sleep Schedule: Do’s and Don’ts

Creating and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is central to our health and well-being.

Here, we explore the essential do's and don'ts that contribute to establishing a healthy and effective sleep routine.

What To Do

  • Set a regular bedtime schedule: Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (even on weekends).
  • Keep your bedroom calm, cool, and comfortable: Create a peaceful space for you to relax by dimming the lights, dropping the temperature, and investing in cozy sleepwear.
  • Get regular exercise: Engaging in daily physical activity can help improve sleep patterns at night, but make sure not to overdo it before bedtime.
  • Be mindful about your diet: Avoid eating heavy meals and instead, opt for lighter snacks in the hours leading to bed.
  • Isolate your bedroom as your sleep sanctuary: Avoid working or studying in your bedroom as your brain may associate your room as a place of work, rather than sleep.

What To Avoid

  • Napping late in the day: Long or late naps can interfere with your levels of sleepiness at night, contributing to poor sleep quality.
  • Excessive caffeine or stimulants: Avoid caffeine intake 8 hours before going to bed.
  • Stressful activities before bed: Avoid engaging in any stressful or mentally stimulating activities before bedtime as these can keep you up.
  • Alcohol before bed: Although alcohol is a form of depressant that can make you drowsy initially, it has a way of disrupting your sleep throughout the night.
  • Electronics in the bedroom: Using devices before bed can delay the onset and duration of your sleep.

When To Seek Professional Guidance

When navigating the myriad of challenges life presents, seeking professional guidance can be instrumental in addressing various issues, including sleep-related concerns!

Through relaxation techniques, sleep hygiene education, stress reduction strategies, and exploring underlying psychological factors contributing to sleep disturbances, therapy aims to improve sleep quality, establish healthy sleep patterns, and alleviate the root causes of sleep-related issues.

Making therapy a part of your wellness routine can be life-changing. Connect with a professional today by booking a free 30-minute consultation.

Written By Sally Polus LAPS, BSW, MSW, RSW

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