January 01, 2022 5 min read
If there’s anything we can learn from the past couple of years, it’s that health should never be taken for granted. If you agree with this notion, your New Year’s resolution likely includes health-focused commitments, like exercising more, changing your diet, or taking greater care of your mental health.
And we think you should also add sleep hygiene to the list.
For those not familiar: sleep hygiene refers to habits and practices that promote good sleep. Developing good sleep hygiene can help you consistently get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep youneedto stay healthy. And once you start waking up refreshed and ready to face the day, every single day, your other commitments for 2022 will be smooth sailing.
Here are 10 proven sleep hygiene practices to start 2022 off right.
Going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, weekends included, allows your sleep-wake cycle to align with your lifestyle. Your sleep-wake cycle is part of your body’s circadian rhythm, an internal system regulated by the hypothalamus. Having hectic bedtimes is known to disrupt the circadian rhythm and, in turn, the quality of your sleep. Once you start sticking to your new sleep schedule, your body’s internal clock will follow suit.
If you manage to make exercising regularly a habit throughout 2022, expect good sleep to come your way. Researchers found that moderate exercise reduces insomnia severity and helps people fall asleep faster. How exercise helps people sleep better isn’t fully understood, but it may have to do with the fact that exercise stimulates the release of feel-good endorphins. Such hormones reduce stress levels and improve mood, which can help reduce anxiety before bedtime. Exercise also leads to a dip in core body temperature — a prerequisite for feeling sleepy.
All three substances are stimulants, meaning they excite the brain and central nervous system. Stimulants can make it hard for your brain to get into sleep mode, especially if taken shortly around bedtime. And while it’s true that alcohol before bedtime can make you fall asleep faster, studies show it also disrupts normal sleep architecture in the second half of the night. Try to quit all three if you can or limit your intake to not close to bedtime.
Your circadian rhythm is regulated by cues known as zeitgebers to tell your body when it’s time to sleep. One such cue is food. Some people find that eating an hour before bedtime makes it harder for them to fall asleep, while others wake up during the night after a late-night dinner. A heavy, high-calorie dinner can also disrupt sleep because it makes your digestive tract work harder through the night. Besides that, studies show that late dinners disrupt metabolic functioning and could lead to weight gain.
Another well-known zeitgeber is sunlight. When we’re exposed to sunlight, the pineal gland produces less melatonin, a major sleep-promoting hormone. But more time spent outdoors can improve sleep indirectly by enhancing relaxation and promoting positive feelings. Anxiety and depression are common sleep disruptors in times of stress. Try to give your mental health the attention it needs within an hour or two in open, natural spaces.
Make your sleep environment as comfortable and quiet as can be. Keeping your bedroom cool by setting the thermostat to 60 to 67°F is one way to start. Using heavy-duty blinds helps block both light and noise so your sleep isn’t disrupted. Finally, changing your bedding to something comfortable will make you look forward to bedtime.
This one may seem hard to do considering many of us like to wind down with our gadgets. The problem with this is that most electronic devices emit blue light, and blue light is scientifically proven to suppress melatonin production. This means you’ll feel sleepy later than you should. An alternative to ditching your devices is using blue light filters or setting your devices to “night mode,” which can help block blue light.
If you frequently make up for lost sleep with siestas, you may also have trouble falling asleep when it’s time. To break this vicious cycle, sleep experts advise trying to resist afternoon naps so you can get back into a normal sleep routine. Otherwise, an occasional 10-minute afternoon nap can be recuperative in some groups and some instances. As long as your naps don't last over an hour or cause you to wake up during the night, they’re probably ok.
If you go to bed on time only to find yourself wide awake half an hour in, get up and engage in something that can help you relax and distract you from the fact that you’re still awake. Forcing yourself to fall asleep will only make you feel anxious and unable to doze off. Also, avoid checking the clock and counting down the hours you have left to get enough sleep. This will lead to even more anxiety and is counterproductive.
Not many activities can make you sleep like a baby the way a warm bath before bedtime can. If you’ve been having trouble falling asleep during the pandemic, introducing this nightly routine can help you relax for better sleep. But there’s another reason warm baths work: they lower your core body temperature. When warm water heats the skin, blood flows from the core to the extremities and heat dissipates. This seems to trigger a drop in core body temperature, which signals your internal clock that it’s time to sleep.
Working on your sleep hygiene can help you get the restful sleep you deserve in 2022. But if you believe you may suffer from sleep disorders like insomnia, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, or sleep apnea, treating those problems first is important. If you suffer from primary snoring and believe it may be disrupting your or your bed partner’s sleep, try at-home snore solutions like these tongue-stabilizing devices, sleeping on your side, weight loss, and avoidance of alcohol.
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