It’s true that when you make the bed with fresh sheets, getting into it without having had a shower first, seems like sacrilege. However, while we're talking ‘sleep hygiene,’ it isn’t about how clean your armpits are at bed time and talking dirty is just fine, as long as you get a good night’s sleep afterwards!
Well what is it then? A ‘buzz phrase’, or is it something meaningful? Many health magazines are citing it as a focus for 2022. According to the Sleep Charity, ‘Sleep hygiene or health, takes into account quality, quantity and timing – including its regularity – of sleep in addition to vulnerability towards poor sleep and the impact of sleep on daytime functioning.’
Those of us who grew up before the invention of portable devices with constant access to the internet, may remember a time when all you could do just before bed was watch a bit of telly on an actual square box (but not all night long), or read a book or magazine.
Was it easier to fall asleep then? Or are we viewing this past world with rose-tinted, reading glasses?
It is true that when more of us used to work physical jobs and when computer games didn’t exist, both adults and children spent a bit more time outside, or being more active.
However, you can’t really say that a pastoral idyll really existed for many after the industrial revolution. Our parents and grandparents may have naturally suppressed their melatonin production with a little bit more work and play in daylight and through less screen time. Perhaps by accident, they were more likely to ensure that this ‘sleepy hormone’ kicked in at the time when we needed it the most.
The increase in office jobs and entertainment options that lead to staying in as a choice, have definitely worsened how much natural light we are getting. It is claimed that Britons now spend 90% of their time inside. Of course, do we even have to mention the dreaded ‘C’?
Forced isolation, quarantines and lockdowns mean that we have just been indoors more over the last two years, whether we want to be, or not.
What’s even worse, is that ‘Blue light’ the light emitted from our devices whenever we use them, has a direct effect in suppressing our melatonin, exactly when we need it the most. So what can we do to ‘clean up’ and restore ‘sleep hygiene?’
First of all, try to keep a regular sleep schedule and be consistent with the times you wake and try to sleep. Consistency keeps your bodyclock in harmony and you’ll find that you start to feel drowsy at the same time every day. You may find recording when you wake and sleep over a couple of weeks alerts you to positive habits you already have and negative ones you hadn’t thought about before.
Get as much natural light as possible in the morning and around the same time every day. Natural light encourages our bodyclock to reset and helps us to get over feeling sleepy and even grumpy in the morning. If you can also get out in the afternoon, even better.
Just as an outside stroll in the afternoon helps suppress melatonin in babies in the day and encourages them to sleep at night, a walk after lunch will keep you feeling alert and then ready to sleep later at the right time.
On shorter winter days, consider getting a Daylight Therapy lamp so that when you are working, or playing indoors, you still get the light you need.
Okay, so you probably are aware of this one- exercise, even if you really don’t like it, it is a tonic. Not only a serotonin and endorphin booster, it promotes deeper and more refreshing sleep. Just remember not to do it too late, as it can prevent sleepiness if done within two hours of your proposed bed time.
Monitor your caffeine habits and make sure that you don’t have it too late in the day. Some of us are more tolerant than others, but you may find that by having your last cup of coffee before 2pm, sleep just comes more easily when your head hits the pillow.
As you’ve set yourself times to wake and sleep, help your body even more by eating at the same times too. Try not to eat heavily before bed (the dreaded night time heart-burn, owch), also too much liquid will lead to night time trips to the loo and of course, being hungry or thirsty will also wake you up! It’s all about balance.
As mentioned before, using devices that emit blue light before bed suppresses our melatonin and prevents us from sleeping. Keeping them out of the bedroom also reduces the temptation to work, or to engage in communications that get your brain into ‘over- thinking mode’.
Consider getting a screen filter which reduces blue light from your screen, or even try a pair of glasses designed to filter the light so if you do need to work late, when you want to sleep, you can!
Don’t be tempted to use alcohol as a sedative. Although it can make you drowsy, it creates a light and unsatisfying sleep. Also a depressive, your mood may be affected negatively the next day and it can be harder to get up in the morning.
If you smoke or vape, avoid it in the evening and before bed if possible, nicotine is a short-acting stimulant- just like caffeine, it can and will suppress sleepiness.
Try and make your bedroom a sanctuary- cool, dark and quiet.
Cooler temperatures lead to deeper sleep and removing light and noise sources reduces the likelihood of waking up. Ideally you won’t work in your bedroom either, keeping your mental distractions physically away from this space. However, if needs must, think about screening off your work space and develop a ritual that transforms the room into somewhere calm and restful. Remember, if you go to bed feeling wide awake and alert, the struggle for sleep will be longer, leave the bedroom if you are finding it hard to sleep and then return later when you see signs of sleepiness.
Of course, we encourage you to use essential oils known for promoting sleep in your bedroom. Cedar and lavender can be highly beneficial- a spray of our Birchwater and Neroli facial mist, which also features many other relaxing essential oils, is such a simple treat. It cools your face and gets you ready for sleep. Using our Frankincense and Lavender Body Salve on your hands just before bed adds a little bit of ‘spa’ into the end of the day, smoothing away dryness and your cares.
It also recommended that you have a warm shower of bath before bed and a few drops of lavender and cedar essential oil into your bathwater, or even added to your regular shower gel is a great addition to the bedtime cleansing ritual.
If you do wake up and your thoughts are racing, try writing the thoughts down in a notebook that you keep next to the bed. ‘Parking’ the thoughts and closing the pages can make you feel back in control and reset your brain for sleep again. Similarly, journaling a couple of hours before bed may mean that what’s on your mind has already been dealt with and you may find that anxious waking happens less, or not at all.
So, sleep hygiene, what do you think? Is it just common sense, or did you learn something new today?
Remember that if you sleep patterns change suddenly, or your ability to sleep is affecting your mental health, to contact a healthcare professional.
References from various guides including Professor Jason Ellis of Northumbria University, sourced from the Sleep Charity.