Understanding Sleep Hygiene and its Effects on Mental Health
Sleep is critical and essential when it comes to physical and mental health. It impacts your immunity, ability to fight diseases, metabolism, and mental functioning. When you miss out on sleep, you will likely feel the effects the next day in symptoms like inability to focus, lethargy, body aches, and more. However, you may not realize the emotional toll sleep deprivation is taking on you. Good sleep hygiene is the best way to combat these effects and improve mental wellness.
What is Sleep Hygiene?
Sleep hygiene refers to a variety of practices and habits that are part of achieving quality sleep and comprehensive daytime alertness. Good sleep hygiene is characterized by a number of factors, from bedroom environment to a consistent sleep schedule to pre-bed routine. 50 to 70 million adults in the U.S. are affected by a sleep disorder. Better sleep hygiene can help combat mental health issues associated with lack of sleep, including:
- Suicidal ideation
- Chronic sleep problems
- Erratic behavior
- Poor cognitive functioning
Why Does Sleep Hygiene Matter?
Sleep is an essential biological human need. Much like breathing, drinking water, and eating, sleep is something we need to do to stay healthy and alive. Sleep affects your entire body and determines how well you can function the next day.
Additionally, sleep is a major element of human growth. People of all ages need sleep to recover from illness or injury and to prevent sickness. For young people, like infants, children, ad teens, sleep is crucial for physical growth.
Sleep hygiene matters because consistent poor sleep quality can lead to a number of serious physical and mental consequences. It can make it extremely difficult to function and have normal, healthy interactions with others. It can even impact your safety and the safety of those around you, as sleep deprivation is an impairment that can confuse your judgement and lead to an accident or injury.
Factors That Affect Sleep Quality
There are many different things that can influence the quality of the sleep you are getting. Examples include:
- Food – Some studies suggest that certain foods interrupt the circadian rhythm. These foods cause inflammation, such as dairy, sugar, and gluten. Stimulants and caffeine, especially consumed later in the day, can impact the digestive system, confusing it and making it harder to fall asleep.
- Sleep Schedule – If your sleep schedule is irregular, it can make it hard for your body and mind to know when it’s time to relax and shut down for the night.
- Behavior – The amount of physical and mental exertion you make during the day can affect how much sleep you get. Stress can also impact your sleep quality, as can napping during the daytime.
- Drugs/medications – Various prescription and over-the-counter medications can impact sleep. Diuretics, for example, cause people to need to use the bathroom more, thus need to get up more frequently during the night.
- Environment – If your bedroom environment is not suitable for sleeping, it can create a problem. Your bedroom should be dark and quiet for ideal sleep conditions.
Tips for Improved Sleep Hygiene
Good sleep hygiene comes from making some adjustments to your routine to prioritize healthy sleep. There are plenty of ways you can do this according to your individual lifestyle. Things like work, school, family, and other time commitments should be considered before making a plan for better sleep. Work around your obligations and develop a routine that works best for you. Consider the following for better sleep hygiene:
Create a Routine
Developing a routine for the hour or two before bed is a great way to prioritize winding down and relaxing your body and mind. Performing this routine every day will enable you to fall asleep when you need to for a good night’s rest. Your routine might consist of:
- Brushing your teeth
- Taking a bath/shower
- Doing skincare
- Combing out your hair
- Putting on pajamas
- Listening to music
Try to put the electronics away as early as you can, as too much mental stimulation can make it difficult to relax your mind. The blue light generated by these devices can also decrease the production of melatonin.
Use a Sleep Journal
Sleep journaling is a great way to track your sleep habits. Record your dreams, sleep quality, interruptions to your routine, and any other important information each morning when you wake up. Over time, you will start to see patterns and figure out the exact factors that are preventing you from getting a good sleep.
Set a Sleep Schedule
It may sound difficult, especially if you have a lot going on during your day, but establishing a regular sleep schedule is a great way to regulate your bod and sleep better. Set a fixed wake-up time each day to get yourself into a rhythm. Try not to skip sleep too often to stay up working or socializing. Avoid naps as much as possible, as they can throw off your sleep schedule at night. If you are going to nap, try to keep them short.
Develop Healthy Daytime Habits
Healthy daytime habits can make it easier for you to get quality sleep at night. Avoid nicotine and caffeine, especially close to bedtime. Make sure you are getting plenty of sunlight and exercises. Try to eat earlier in the evening, as digestion can keep you awake. Try to limit the things you do while in bed to relaxing activities.
Create a Calming Environment
Your bedroom should be a relaxing space specially tailored to what calms and relaxes you. Good sleep hygiene requires comfortable bedding, so if you can, invest in a good mattress, mattress pad, pillows, sheets, blankets, and other bedding. Some people prefer heavier, warmer bedding, and some people prefer breathable sheets and blankets. Figure out what works for you and makes you feel most at ease. Set your thermostat to a comfortable sleeping temperature each night, and use eye masks or curtains to block out any lights.
Work with a Psychiatrist
If you have made adjustments to your sleep routine and are still struggling, reach out to a psychiatrist in your area. They can help diagnose the problem, create a plan, and connect you with the resources you need to achieve better sleep. Sleep conditions, such as insomnia, are very common and treatable. You may need medication or some specific practices to treat the mental health condition that is affecting your ability to sleep. Be sure to let your doctor know your symptoms, and don’t be afraid to reach out to them for help if you are dealing with sleep deprivation.