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Good sleep hygiene: Tips and tricks to get the zzz’s you need

By Georgie Lavan

The National Sleep Foundation defines sleep hygiene as “a variety of different practices that are necessary to have normal, quality night time sleep and full daytime alertness” (National Sleep Foundation, 2016). With most adults requiring an average of seven to nine hours of sleep a night (Sleep Health Foundation, 2016), here are 15 tips to help ensure you switch off in the evening.

  • Assigning yourself a sleep schedule helps your body adjust to your daily routine and prepares you in the evening for bedtime by making you sleepy. Ideally, try to stick to the same sleep and wake times on weekends and your days off. As much as we enjoy a sleep in, getting up at midday on a weekend when we rise at 6am on a weekday is more likely to create disturbed sleep when you need it most.sleep
  • Go to sleep when you’re sleepy. Whilst we aim to follow a sleep schedule, our body doesn’t always follow the rules. Aim to go to bed when you’re sleepy to avoid lying awake in bed with your thoughts. This may mean going to bed later or earlier in the evening, but not too early as this can create sleep disturbance during the night.
  • Create a sleep sanctuary. Providing yourself with a sanctuary for sleeping means that you’re creating a positive relationship between your room and resting. Treat your bedroom as your happy place – whether your creature comforts are good quality bedding, temperature control or low lighting, it’s about creating your own dreamland. If you require your phone next to you of an evening, switch it to silent or do not disturb mode.
  • Lighting is key, and this does not always apply to the rules of decorating. When your body is exposed to natural lighting, it produces melatonin which aids in falling asleep at night. Bright lights before bedtime stimulate the brain when it’s supposed to be shutting down. A few hours before bedtime, switch your ceiling lights off (or use the dimmer switch) and use lamps with warm white lighting to give you sufficient lighting in the house without falling over the furniture.
  • Bed is for sleeping. With the need for privacy, many adults arrange their bedrooms as an additional lounge room, with televisions, studying and a place to get away to make phone calls. You’re trying to train your brain to associate the bed with sleep. Keep your bedroom for the practice of sleeping and try to find yourself another privacy nook for those life administration routines you need to do away from everyone else.
  • Create bedtime routines. Start shutting down your life at least an hour before your desired bedtime. This means no emails, no social media, and no phones. If you use your phone as an alarm, set this well before bedtime and place on its charger. Some people find stretching and breathing exercises calming before bed. Others enjoy a warm glass of milk or a decaffeinated cup of tea.
  • Get rid of your clock! Ever woken in the middle of the night, rolled over and seen its 3:30am? What do you do? You say to yourself “only three more hours until I have to get up. I’m never going to get back to sleep”. If you have a bedside clock for alarm purposes, face it away from eyesight of an evening to help keep your mind off the time.
  • Naps are a no-no. Sometimes, exhaustion means we need to take a quick nap to re-energise our batteries. However, naps on a regular basis contribute to sleep disturbance during the nights, often delaying bed time and the full process of your sleep cycles. If you need to have a power nap, it is recommended a max of 20-30 minutes will help you get through until bedtime (National Sleep Foundation, 2016).
  • Find the right app for you. There are many phone apps out there to help the worriers out there regulate their mind and assist in sending them into a deep sleep.

Buying a sound machine not only looks clunky on your bedside table, but can’t travel with you when you go on holidays. Sleep Pillow ($4.49, available on iTunes) is the portable answer to this, with compositions suitable for babies through to adults. The variety of mixes range from the soothing sounds of trickling rain, under the sea harmonies of whale noises and even the sounds of vacuuming and washing machines (for those who can sleep through any noise).

Another approach is the act of mindfulness. The Headspace app (Free 10 day trial, additional subscription costs apply, available on iTunes), created by mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe, breaks down the foundations of meditation through 10 minute sessions. With over 50% of participants in the Mindfulness Report finding it difficult to “switch off” (Halliwell, 2010), this app helps apply mindfulness to your health, relationships, and performance (the things that keep us up at night!).

  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. Taking stimulants before bedtime can cause interferences in your sleep cycle. Avoid all caffeine drinks, including soft drinks, up to four hours before your desired sleep time. Nicotine has been found to increase heart rate and blood pressure, resulting in restless sleep and delayed sleep time. Whilst alcohol may assist in initially falling asleep, it can cause night time wakening during the latter half of your sleep.
  • Food can affect your sleep. Having large meals before bedtime can cause disruptions during the night; the same applies for not eating enough before bed. If you need, a light supper can assist in getting through the night. Avoid foods that can cause indigestion.
  • Fluid intake is essential to keep you well rested at night. Drink too much and you’ll be up going to the bathroom all night. Too little, and you’ll be up rehydrating through the night (quite possibly then getting up to use the bathroom).
  • Exercise plays an important role in the sleep cycle by helping you fall asleep faster and engage in a deeper sleep. You should aim to do vigorous exercise at least four hours before bed, the earlier the better. Light exercise such as yoga or tai chi can be done in the evening to help aid in the sleep process.
  • Know what to do when you can’t sleep. Many of us toss and turn, play on our phones and lie there with our thoughts when we can’t get to sleep. If you have trouble getting to sleep, or are awake for more then 20-30 minutes, get out of bed and distract yourself with activities that do not require much brain power until you feel sleepy again. Think of something that can be done subconsciously in low lighting, such as knitting or colouring in.
  • Medications are to be used as a sometimes sleeping aid and are not to be consumed on a regular basis. If you find that you’re taking medication on a regular basis, consult your GP for options on how to improve your sleep.

References:

Halliwell, E. (2010). Mindfulness Report 2010. Mental Health Foundation.

National Sleep Foundation. (2016). Sleep Hygiene: Tips & Techniques. Retrieved 7 June, 2016, from https://sleepfoundation.org/ask-the-expert/sleep-hygiene

National Sleep Foundation. (2016). Napping Benefits & Tips. Retrieved 7 June, 2016, from https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/napping

Sleep Health Foundation. (2011). Good Sleep Habits. Retrieved 7 June, 2016, from http://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/pdfs/Good-Sleep-Habits.pdf

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