Our bodies are genetically programmed to sleep for at least a third of our lives. This is where healthy living starts, and it’s also the foundation of a wise lifestyle. The factors that determine the quality of a person’s sleep are called sleep hygiene. These factors collectively play an essential role in treating insomnia and other sleep disorders.
An excellent book on this topic is Say Good Night to Insomnia (2009), by Gregg D. Jacobs and Herbert Benson. They set out a program that was developed and tested at Harvard Medical School and is based on cognitive behavioral therapy. There are many other programs, and on YouTube you can find plenty of videos of music and guided meditations designed to help you fall asleep.
Good sleep hygiene is critical in maintaining balanced physical, emotional, and mental health. It helps us stay focused during the day, regulate our mood, and feel more functional and productive. Bad sleep hygiene leaves us feeling unrested when we wake up – and that’s just the beginning of its nasty consequences.
It makes us feel we are dragging ourselves through our waking moments. It leads us to fall asleep during the day or have difficulty falling asleep at night. And it makes us forgetful. A book that explains the functional importance of sleep very persuasively is Why We Sleep (2017), by neuroscientist Matthew Walker.
So, where do we start if we want to establish a regime of good sleep hygiene? We first need to experiment and find out how much sleep we actually need. The average is between six and eight hours.
To work out the average for our own sleeping time, we need to set aside several days in which we go to bed at the same time every night and sleep until we wake up naturally. It might turn out that we need more or less than the average we worked out using this process. That is all right.
The time when we need to get out of bed in the morning ought to determine our bedtime. We should allow enough time for sleeping – and then a little more, to give our bodies time to wake up slowly and naturally.
Before getting out of bed, a good idea is to stretch like a cat, perhaps rubbing our hands together and then over our bodies. Doing this gives our bodies a wakeup call and helps us get out of bed feeling ready for the day. We can also adjust our mood so that we feel happy. (That, of course, is itself something that takes practice. If you need help with this, my previous posts offer some suggestions.)
The next step on the path to good sleep hygiene is to examine our sleep environment, starting with our bed. Is it the best we can afford? Is it comfortable? Does it give support for the spine?
Our bedding and nightwear also need to be assessed. Are the covers the weight we like? Do they keep us warm enough? Do they breathe with the fluctuations in our body temperature during the night? Are our sleep garments comfortable? Do we prefer, perhaps, to sleep au naturel? This is all of vital importance.
And so is our bedroom. Is it dark? Is it quiet? Is it a comfortably cool temperature? Is it uncluttered? Is it used only for sleeping and sex? Is there no television, computer, or work papers around? Is our alarm clock out of our direct sight? Our bedroom needs to be a safe and peaceful haven.
The last hour before sleep is vitally important. We need that time to be peaceful and relaxing. Any concerns can be set aside so the time is ours alone. We can make a brief note of any problems or challenges, with possible solutions, then leave them on the written page. They will be there in the morning. Computers, smartphones, and the television should be turned off.
We need to follow the same routine every night: perhaps reflect on the activities of the day; perhaps feel gratitude for all our many blessings; perhaps write in a journal; perhaps read a good book; perhaps do all four.
Once comfortably in bed, we can consciously relax, tuning into the Infinite should we want to do this. In an earlier post on guided meditation, I described how we can construct imaginary relaxation spaces in our minds. These are an ideal place to visit once we shut our eyes. Alternatively, taking three deep breaths, holding each for a while, before letting them out slowly, we affirm to ourselves that we will sleep after the third breath.
Habits take three weeks to establish, and with this in mind, we know what we must do.
We eat early in the evening so as not to go to bed on a full stomach. If we have to have a snack before bed, we choose something light like a warm milk drink.
Knowing that using drugs (caffeine, alcohol, etc.) in the evening will disrupt good sleep, we don’t reach for them. Having exercised during the day, we do not exercise three hours before bed. We waken and rise at the same time every morning. We never nap during the day, though we may meditate, because that is not sleep.
We choose the same bedtime every night, picking the time that we know will give us the hours of sleep we need. Immediately before going to bed, we go to the bathroom. If we have to get up during the night, we don’t put on a bright light. We go straight back to bed, expecting to fall asleep again. We take an extra 15 minutes to let us come awake slowly to consider our dreams and ask if our subconscious has a message for us.
If in spite of following all the correct procedures, we have a chronic sleep problem such as insomnia or sleep apnea, we consult our doctor, and maybe a sleep specialist. We remember that the first question the specialist will probably ask is about our sleep habits. If they are good, that will help speed up the diagnosis.
With all this information, honestly ask yourself how you measure up!
How well do you sleep? What is your sleep hygiene? Do you follow a strict routine to maintain good sleep hygiene?
Tags How to Sleep Better