Most individuals in modern times are busy. There is work and school. Or, home life and kids to look after. Besides, social media and smart devices vie for our constant attention. In your busy lifestyle, do you prioritise sleep? Do you feel refreshed waking up each morning? I will discuss nine simple ways to improve your sleep hygiene.
A few years ago, I observed a worrying trend. I toss and turn most nights in bed. I wake up each morning feeling unrefreshed and yearning for more rest. So, how do I muster the concentration and energy to power through the many tasks awaiting me every day? Busy work schedule. Tasking home life with the kids. Postgraduate studies. Community leadership? Something had to change. Fast.
I found that I was not alone. Insufficient sleep is a global epidemic affecting people of all ages and races. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also identified poor sleep as public health epidemic in the United States.
I quickly realised that my sleep required fine-tuning for daily peak performance. So I sought for solutions to do that. As a medical practitioner, I have access to cutting-edge research and books. Also, I monitored my sleep to understand it more and make the necessary changes.
- The sleep cycle and stages
- Benefits of good sleep hygiene
- How much sleep does an adult need?
- Causes of poor sleep
- Health consequences of poor sleep
- Strategies to improve sleep hygiene
The sleep cycle
There are various cycles and stages in each individual’s sleep. You can visualise the sleep cycle as a trace on smartwatches or a sleep study graph. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) defines four phases of the sleep cycle.
1. Light sleep
Phase 1 is the “dozing off” stage in which the body hasn’t fully relaxed. It usually lasts one to five minutes before the sleeper moves into phase 2.
2. Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) Sleep
NREM sleep usually lasts 10–25 minutes during the first sleep cycle but becomes prolonged at night. A person usually spends about half their sleep time in this stage.
Therefore, it is tough to rouse individuals during NREM sleep.
3. Deep sleep
It is much harder to rouse someone during deep sleep. This stage is called “delta sleep” due to distinct delta waves in the brain. Deep sleep lasts for 20–40 minutes, and we spend the most time in this stage during the night’s first half.
Deep sleep is crucial for body restoration, recovery, and growth. It also improves the immune system, creativity, and memory function.
4. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep
During REM sleep, brain activity increases to the level seen in the awake state. At the same time, one experiences paralysis of muscle groups, except for the eyes and the muscles that control breathing.
Even though the eyes are closed, they cycle rapidly, giving this stage its name. Vivid dreams occur primarily during REM sleep.
Under normal circumstances, you will only enter REM after sleeping for about 90 minutes. However, as the night progresses, REM stages get more extended. REM sleep makes up approximately 25% of the snooze in adults.
Benefits of good sleep hygiene
Innocent sleep. Sleep that soothes away all our worries. Sleep that puts each day to rest. Sleep that relieves the weary laborer and heals hurt minds. Sleep, the main course in life’s feast, and the most nourishing.William Shakespeare, Macbeth
Neurons shrink by 60% during sleep, and an extra cerebrospinal fluid floods the neurons, cleansing them. Furthermore, human growth hormone is secreted during sleep, contributing to better metabolic functioning. Tiny structures on our chromosomes, called telomeres, are also maintained during sleep, prolonging one’s lifespan. Generally, sound sleep feeds into a great morning routine.
How much sleep does an adult human need?
The Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society recommends
“that 7–9 hours of sleep were appropriate to support optimal health in adults…and that 6 hours of sleep or less was inappropriate to support optimal health in adults.” There were certain health risks associated with sleeping for more than 9 hours.
Causes of poor sleep
- A reduced amount of melatonin gets produced as humans age. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that controls our sleep. The brain releases melatonin in response to darkness as part of our circadian rhythm.
- Certain medications interfere with our sleep, including stimulants such as steroids and caffeine.
- Chronic pain and restless leg syndrome manifest with involuntary rhythmic leg movements. In addition, urinary incontinence causes excessive bathroom breaks. Migraine headaches at night and sleep apnoea also disrupt sleep.
- Depression and anxiety cause difficulty falling asleep or maintaining sleep. Menopause causes hot flashes and night sweats.
- Certain environmental factors interfere with sleep. Examples are bright rooms, loud noise, and excessive use of blue screens close to bedtime.
Health consequences of poor sleep hygiene
Less than 6 hours of sleep per night worsens with the following health outcomes:
- Poor general health
- Hypertension, obesity, diabetes,
- Low mood
- Reduced immune function and increased susceptibility to infections,
- Increased inflammation, increased pain,
- Reduced cognitive, impaired driving skills, and job performance,
- Increased risk of breast and colorectal cancer
- Increased risk of death.
Strategies to improve your sleep hygiene
Pay attention to how refreshed you feel upon waking up first thing in the morning and your concentration level throughout the day. You can then focus on optimising your sleep quality or quantity as necessary Click To Tweet
1. Start paying more attention to your sleep.
Keep a seven-day diary of how long you are in bed, how soon you nod off and how many times you wake up at night. If you can afford it, buy yourself a smartwatch with sleep cycle tracking, such as Fitbit or Apple Watch.
Also, pay attention to how refreshed you feel upon waking up first thing in the morning and your concentration level throughout the day. You can then focus on optimising your sleep quality or quantity as necessary.
2. Invest in the best mattress you can afford.
The ideal one should have enough support to maintain your spine straight but be as comfortable to the body to lay on for the whole night.
Also, dress well at night by eliminating all tight clothing, such as bras, underpants, and tight socks. Loose dressing improves lymphatic flow and reduces infertility and cancer risk.
3. Improve your lifestyle
Regular daily morning exercises are great. In addition, the traditional practice of relaxation, mindfulness, meditation, massage and acupuncture is helpful. These practices switch off the “fight and flight” responses. Incorporating these habits as part of your morning routines or close to bedtime enhances sleep.
4. Reduce the intake of stimulants
Avoid caffeine and energy drinks close to bedtime. Caffeinated beverages are best taken in the morning to boost performance and concentration.
5. No late or heavy dinners
Dinners should be light and not later than two hours before bedtime because the digestion process causes rumbling of the belly, interfering with sleep.
6. Establish regular sleep and wake times
This habit will regulate the circadian rhythm and promote the release of melatonin at night. The optimal sleep time to achieve the best quality is between 10 pm and 2 am.
7. Improve the ambience of your bedroom.
A darkened room is best for melatonin release. Or, use a low-glow red light as that is the only light spectrum that does not interfere with melatonin release. Also, maintain an optimal room temperature of 16–20C (60–68F) to ease deep sleep.
Ensure adequate room airflow through a reverse-cycle heat pump or fan or by simply opening a window. Live plants in the bedroom, especially snake plants that absorb toxins in the air, can also boost air quality.
8. Total ban on blue screen use
Blue light disrupts melatonin, and electromagnetic waves from Wi-Fi devices cause certain cancers. If you must use a blue-screen device close to bedtime, use “night mode” or ray-blocking screens. Avoid having a television or computer desktop in your bedroom as much as possible.
9. Use herbal relaxants
When necessary, use herbal relaxants to augment sleep. These include Camomile tea, Valerian forte tablet, Magnesium tablets, and sprays or lotions.
Start a total ban on the use of electronics and Wi-Fi emitting devices at night-time. Blue light disrupts melatonin, and electromagnetic waves cause certain cancers. Click To Tweet
The nine clever ways to improve your sleep hygiene include:
- Track your sleep with a SmartWatch or a seven-day Sleep Diary.
- Invest in the best mattress you can afford.
- Establish a healthy lifestyle.
- Reduce nighttime intake of stimulants.
- Consume light dinners at least two hours before bedtime.
- Regulate your circadian rhythm by regular sleep-wake times.
- Improve the ambience of your bedroom.
- Limit the use of electronic devices close to bedtime.
- Augment sleep with herbal relaxants when required.
Do you have issues with your sleep?
Which measures will you put in place today to improve your sleep?
I would love to hear your thoughts.
Suppose any of the points in this post has raised concerns that you may have poor sleep or a health issue. In that case, I urge you to schedule a consultation with your healthcare provider for a complete health assessment, diagnosis, and treatment.
Thanks for your time.