I used to have insomnia, and not having a good night’s sleep affected my mental health so much. What plagued me the most during those hours of wakefulness was why couldn’t fall asleep? I just wanted to sleep. I was tired, so why couldn’t I sleep? As you can imagine, this thought process did not help me fall asleep. Yet it’s what you feel and think when it’s one o’clock in the morning and you’ve been lying awake trying to sleep for four hours. You ask yourself, what I can I do to just go to sleep?
If you have ever suffered from insomnia (which is when you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep), you were likely told to do certain things–by a doctor, friend or Dr. Google–to help you get a better night’s sleep. Maybe those suggestions worked for you, and maybe they didn’t. Did you consider taking sleeping pills? Or take something that makes you drowsy just to go to sleep? You wouldn’t be the first person, and you certainly won’t be the last. That’s why I’m here today to tell you about sleep hygiene. I’m going to explain what it is, how it works, and give you some practical tips.
What is Sleep Hygiene?
Let’s take a look at the word hygiene, shall we? Hygiene is defined as “conditions or practices conducive to maintaining health and preventing disease, especially through cleanliness.” This clearly indicates that hygiene is about taking steps to stay healthy. Simple enough. But put the word sleep in front of it, and it becomes a bit more complicated. It forces us to consider our sleeping environment (the conditions) as well as practices around sleep. And this is where some might throw up their hands and say, well I have a bed and I lie it and what else am I supposed to do?
First things first. Let’s look at your bedroom. Are there distractions in the room? A TV? Gaming system? Phone? These are the first things that could be preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep. Studies have shown that screen time can disrupt our brains chemical patterns that help to induce sleep, as the light that screens emit can trigger us to feel more wakeful. Also, whatever is happening on the TV or computer or in your video game is very stimulating to the brain. Best advice I ever took was turning off all screens two hours before bed. Instead, I read or journaled, or did some other little chores like make my lunch or get my outfit ready for the next day. Screens off friends.
And if you are thinking, well I use the TV to fall asleep, I need the noise, I would suggest that you instead use a white noise app as the light from the screen is definitely affecting how well you sleep, and whether you stay asleep.
Also, consider what other lighting is in your room. Light was a huge sleep disrupter for me, so look around. Do you get in a lot of light from outside? If so, consider purchasing black out blinds. Is there a bedside clock? Turn it away from you, or buy one that has red light instead of blue or green, both colours that trigger wakefulness. Keep your room comfortably cool as it’s hard to sleep in an overheated room.
Practices Around Sleep
Now that we have looked at the conditions in which you sleep, let’s look at your sleep practices. Because I can assure you, it’s about more than simply getting into bed. What are the things you do before you go to bed? Do you have a routine? Do you go to bed at the same time or it is different each night? Routines are important to humans. They help maintain a sense of order and predictability to our lives that lessens (in my opinion) anxiety. Ever observed a small child out of routine? They are suddenly cranky, or demanding, or overly excited. That’s because they don’t know what to expect next. Your body appreciates some routines around sleep too.
So what do sleep practices look like? That varies from person to person, but I’ll tell you what I do. And believe me, it doesn’t have to involve herbal tea and hot baths, though it can if you want it to.
My Sleep Practices
My sleep practices are pretty relaxing and practical. I start by washing off my makeup, and brushing my teeth. Once I’m in my jammies, I start planning what I am going to wear for the next day. I even pick out my jewelry. Sometimes I put away any clothes that might have piled up from the previous day or two. Now, I get into bed and read for a bit. Usually about a half hour, sometimes a little longer. My sleep routine can take anywhere from one hour to an hour and a half. My fiancé thinks it is long, but it is what works for me.
Does this bed time routine have to take so long? I don’t think so! In fact, I’ve shortened it since my fiancé moved in. Or I’m moving faster, but the important thing is, you have a ritual and that you are going to bed around the same time every night. Because your body will have a harder time knowing it’s time to sleep if you aren’t consistent in when you go to sleep. Ever stayed out way too late and then couldn’t fall asleep? You were too worked up or overly tired right? Well, your body needs to know when sleep is coming I believe for sleep to come easily and naturally.
Tips for Sleepless Nights
Start practicing sleep hygiene using some (or all) of the suggestions above and I’m sure you’ll be sleeping much better relatively soon. But I do want to give you some tips for what to do on sleepless nights. First, do not get out of bed. Don’t decide that since you can’t sleep you might as well watch TV or get some project finished for work, or clean. Stay in bed. Keep your eyes closed and find a comfortable position. It’s better to rest than to get up and start doing things. Frustrated by your inability to sleep? Try some breathing exercises or counting slowly in your mind.
I also recommend a sleep mask. It’s funny how on some nights when I can’t sleep, even though I practice good sleep hygiene, a sleep mask helps me fall asleep relatively quickly. I especially find this if I am feeling stressed. Having it super dark in my room has made my sleep so much better, and the sleep mask just helps when I’m a bit off in my sleep.
Get the digital clock out of your room. I really mean this one. How can anyone who is having trouble sleeping not look at the time and then panic and think to themselves, My God I have to get up in X amount of hours? That’s hardly any sleep! And that’s if I fall asleep right now! The clock is not your friend if you suffer from insomnia. Banish it from your room. Use the alarm on your phone instead, or get an old school alarm clock that doesn’t light up the time.
Use lavender. Dab some of this essential oil on a tissue or hanky and put a dot behind each ear. It’s very calming and can help you fall asleep. Don’t be anxious. This is a huge one. When you can’t sleep, sometimes the anxiety of not being able to fall asleep makes it worse. A calming tea might help here, or again the lavender oil but most of all, bear in mind that this too shall pass.
Do you have any tips to share on getting to sleep? Share in. the comments below. And don’t forget to subscribe to never miss a post.