Probably, most everyone reading this has heard the term “sleep hygiene”, but what does it really mean? It obviously has to do with sleep, but it’s a bit nebulous as to how to do it, and if you’re doing it right. Well—rest easy—by the end of this blog, you’ll be crystal clear about what sleep hygiene is and is not.
Let’s first think about the word hygiene. Cleaning your body, brushing your teeth, grooming your hair, cleaning you clothing are all reasonable thoughts that spring to mind. What about cleaning your house? Your car? What about a clean diet? You get my point. Some people are going to differ, but the end result is we know it’s about keeping yourself and at least the garments you have on right now, in good order.
So, let’s apply that to sleep. Sleep hygiene is anything that you can do to ensure that you have the right environment for your body/brain to do what it needs to do to put you to sleep, and having your environment conducive to staying asleep, and getting quality sleep. There are some obvious ones:
1. Darken Your Room:
How dark is dark enough? Think Silence of the Lambs, deep dark creepy hole dark. Literally, you cannot make out the motion of your hand waving inches from your eyes.
HOW to darken your room is not as straight forward.
• First get some duct tape, and put a little piece over any LED in your room (smoke detector, home alarm panel, etc.)
• Next, cover those windows! This can be a big or small investment. I recommend using blue masking tape, and aluminum foil at first—just to convince yourself that you need a really dark room. From there you can go buy fancy items to do the same thing, blackout curtains etc.
• Put that alarm clock in the drawer—you’ll still be able to hear it.
2. Remove Electronics:
Does this REALLY mean ALL electronics? Yes! Yes it does. Televisions, DVD players, iPads, iPhones, stereo systems all produce light for one, are a distraction number two, and produce electromagnetic frequencies that could interfere with sleep.
Alarm clocks: Of course you’ll need an alarm clock, and if that is your smart phone—no big deal. Just make sure it’s in your drawer. One, because they tend to light up, and make noises, but also because you will be tempted to look at it if you can’t sleep, or wake up in the middle of the night.
3. Comfy Bed:
Here’s where you’re going to want to shoot me: your bed MUST be big enough for you to move around. The minimum size bed for one adult is a long twin (sometimes called a King Twin—but I find that to be a confusing name). If you extrapolate that out to two adults sharing one bed that is a King Sized bed. Sorry, I know, you paid a lot of money for that bed. You like your bed. You and your spouse sleep fine in your bed. Right? I’m not telling you that it’s a MUST, but a highly encouraged aspect.
Firm or Soft? Here’s the next problem; I weigh almost 250 lbs. My wife weighs less than 130lbs. How realistic is it that we can both be comfortable on the same surface?
4. Cool to Cold Room:
I have a house in Southern California. Believe me, I KNOW how expensive air conditioning is. However, I also spend my life teaching people about the ill effects of poor quality sleep—life threatening, and disabling diseases are much more expensive than air conditioning, and poor sleep increases your risk for both.
What is ideal? Depending on the research you read, the ideal sleeping temperature is between 64 degrees Fahrenheit and 68 degrees. Either way, that’s nippy.
5. Quiet Room:
I can hear you ladies talking about your husband’s snoring already. Teach him to sleep on his side, decrease alcohol, have him take the sleep supplement—do all three! Whatever it takes. But, this also means stuff outside your room. Your kid’s gaming or TV, your neighbor’s stereo, street noise, etc. Again, start with something cheap and easy, like foam ear plugs. After you’re convinced, look at sound proofing windows, sealing doors, complaining to your neighbor. And your kids need to get to sleep anyways, and so does your spouse. So, don’t let them be a noise problem.
6. Get Your Body Ready for Bed:
If you have kids, or if you’ve ever been a kid, you’re probably pretty familiar with this. Do some coloring, take a bath, put on fresh jammies, lay down and listen to mom or dad read to you, get tucked in, say good night . . .
Somehow we adults don’t think that we still need this!?!?!? Your brain cannot just shut off because you want it to. There must be some slowing down.
• Dim the lights—better yet, dim the light and wear blue blocking glasses
• Cool the house
• Quiet the house
• Quit working
• Get off your computer/smartphone/tablet etc.
• Have a nice, calm conversation with your spouse
• Slow down when your kids start slowing down
It’s important to make these things a scheduled habit, just like you do with kids. I recommend having an alarm clock set for “it’s time to start my bedtime routine” alarm. This is just as non-negotiable as your “it’s time to wake up” alarm. Why control one end of the process and not the other?