Unlock the Power of Sleep: Your Guide to Sleep Hygiene
Getting quality sleep is one of the fundamental aspects of health and well-being. Yet, in our fast-paced world, you may find yourself sacrificing a good night’s sleep. Stress, sugar, caffeine, and electronics may all end up interrupting your sleep. Poor sleep on a regular basis may increase chronic inflammation, fatigue, chronic stress, poor cognitive performance, physical health issues, and mental health problems. It’s time to do something about this and improve your sleep hygiene.
Sleep hygiene is not just a buzzword. It is a set of behavioral practices and environmental factors that may optimize your sleep. In this article, I want to talk about the importance of sleep and offer my best sleep hygiene tips.
The Importance of Sleep
Sleep plays a critical role in your physical health, mental health, and overall well-being. Sleep is a time for restoration and rejuvenation.
Sleep supports every part of your body. It affects how well you can think, learn, work, move, or get along socially. It affects your metabolism, circulatory system, immune system, respiratory system, brain function, and mental health. If you are not getting enough quality sleep, it can negatively impact these crucial areas of your health and lead to fatigue, low energy, and chronic health issues (1).
Metabolism and sleep: Not getting enough quality sleep may reduce your body’s ability to respond to insulin, increase the levels of hormones that control your hunger levels (leptin and ghrelin), increase your cravings for sweet, fatty, and salty unhealthy foods, lower physical activity, and increase the risk over being overweight, obesity, and metabolic syndrome (2, 3).
Cardiovascular and circulatory health and sleep: Not getting enough sleep or waking up regularly throughout the night may increase the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and stroke (4, 5).
Immune function, respiratory health, and sleep: Poor sleep may weaken your immune health and increase the risk of getting a cold or other infections. Having asthma may affect your sleep, and poor sleep may also worsen asthma. Poor sleep may also worsen symptoms of COPD (6, 7, 8).
Brain function and sleep: Not getting enough quality sleep may also impact memory, clear thinking, daily activities, job performance, and schoolwork. Poor sleep may increase the risk of chronic stress, brain fog, memory issues, cognitive performance, anxiety, and depression (9, 10, 11).
Chronic inflammation, disease, and sleep: Poor sleep may also increase the risk of chronic inflammation, one of the major underlying issues in chronic health issues. Quality sleep, on the other hand, may help to reduce chronic inflammation and chronic stress. It may support tissue damage repair and cellular rejuvenation (12, 13, 14).
The Role of Melatonin in Sleep
Melatonin is a hormone made by a gland in your brain, called the pineal gland, as a response to darkness. Melatonin supports your sleep and circadian rhythm, which is your body’s 24-hour internal clock. Melatonin may help to improve jetlag, insomnia, and other sleep issues. Besides serving as a natural sleep aid, melatonin also helps to reduce chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, infections, and age-related neurodegeneration (15, 16, 17, 18, 19).
Unfortunately, our modern lifestyle and staying up late at night may interfere with your circadian rhythm and melatonin production. Being exposed to light at night, when it’s dark outside, may reduce the production of melatonin, which may interfere with a good night’s sleep. Developing good sleep hygiene may help to improve melatonin production.
What Is Sleep Hygiene?
Sleep hygiene refers to environmental and behavioral factors that affect your sleep. You can develop healthy habits and adjust environmental factors (= good sleep hygiene!) to support your sleep.
Years or decades of poor sleeping habits can lead to ongoing sleep problems and related health issues. As you know, poor sleep can seriously impact your energy, productivity, mental health, physical health, and overall quality of life. Fortunately, you can transform your old habits and adjust your environment. Developing good sleep hygiene may lead to better quality sleep and improve your overall health.
Tips to Improve Your Sleep
Here are some tips for better sleep hygiene to improve your health:
Aim for 7 - 9 Hours of Sleep
I recommend getting anywhere between 7 to 9 hours a night. Getting less than 7 hours of sleep on a regular basis may negatively impact your health (20). While sleeping more than 9 hours is not harmful, it doesn’t seem to offer extra health benefits, unless you are sick and require more rest.
However, it’s not only the length of your sleep that matters. You need to prioritize quality, restorative sleep. In the next sections, you will learn some tips on how to improve your sleep quality.
Develop a Regular Sleep Schedule
I recommend developing a regular sleep schedule. Going to sleep and waking up around the same time each day, including your weekends, can support your circadian rhythms. In an ideal world, you want to go to bed in the evening, when it’s dark outside, and wake up in the morning with the sun. Of course, this is not always an option, depending on your work schedule. Do your best to stick to nature’s rhythm if you can.
Move Your Body
Exercising regularly may help to reduce chronic inflammation, chronic stress, and the risk of chronic health issues. It may also help to improve daytime energy, reduce daytime sleepiness, and support your sleep at night (21, 22).
Ideally, I recommend moving your body throughout the day and exercising 5 days a week for 20 to 30 minutes each session. You may start your day with a short stretch, a yoga session, a short walk, or jumping on your trampoline. Get up at work regularly to stretch out and move around. Take the stairs instead of the elevator and sneak in other convenient options to move. Go for a walk during lunch or after work. For exercise, choose a mix of cardiovascular workouts and strength and resistance training. If you suffer from a chronic condition and/or experience PEM (post-exertional malaise), please check with your healthcare practitioner before engaging in any exercise program.
The timing of your exercise may matter, too. Moving your body in the morning may help to energize you for the day. While some people do well exercising in the late afternoon or evening, for others, it may interfere with their sleep. If exercising later in the day wakes you up and keeps you from falling asleep, work out in the morning or mid-day instead. An easy yoga or stretching session may still be beneficial as you wind down.
Follow a Healthy Diet
Following an inflammatory diet and eating too much sugary foods may increase chronic inflammation and interfere with sleep. Blood sugar imbalances may contribute to poor sleep as well. Poor sleep may also contribute to high blood sugar, which may be further triggered by a high-sugar diet, leading to a vicious cycle of poor sleep and blood sugar imbalances (23, 24). Thus, I recommend following a nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory diet for better sleep.
I recommend that you remove refined sugar, refined carbs, refined oils, artificial ingredients, additives, junk food, and overly processed packaged foods. Follow an anti-inflammatory, low-carbohydrate diet. Eat lots of healthy animal protein from grass-fed meat, pasture-raised poultry and eggs, wild-caught fish and seafood, and wild game. Eat plenty of healthy fats, that can include pasture-raised butter and ghee, coconut oil, and extra-virgin olive oil. Keep your carbohydrate intake low by choosing antioxidant-rich greens and non-starchy vegetables. Most importantly, aim for an organic diet.
Be Mindful with Caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant that is designed to boost your energy. This means that too much caffeine may keep you up at night. According to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, caffeine 3 or 6 hours before bedtime may interfere with sleep (25).
Being mindful of your caffeine intake is clearly critical. Avoid energy drinks and other caffeinated soft drinks. Choose organic coffee, green tea, or black tea. Keep it to one to two cups in the morning or the first part of the day. Avoid caffeine in the later part of the day and the evening.
Avoid Food, Caffeine, and Alcohol Close to Bedtime
It’s not only caffeine that can keep you up at night, but food and alcohol too. Eating too close to bedtime, especially sugar, carbs, or heavy food. According to 2021 research published in the British Journal of Nutrition, eating, or drinking an hour before bedtime may interrupt sleep quality (26). The longer the time is between sleeping and eating or drinking, the less likely you may experience negative effects.
While alcohol may cause sleepiness, research has shown that it may also increase awakenings during the night or in the early morning and may interfere with sleep quality. It may also cause insomnia (27, 28). I recommend avoiding food, caffeine, and alcohol in the evening, close to bedtime.
Say No to Electronics Before Bedtime
We live our lives on screens. Unfortunately, cell phones, tablets, laptops, and other electronic devices emit blue light, a short-wavelength enriched light that may interfere with melatonin production, reduce sleepiness, and interrupt sleep. Not only electronics but LED and fluorescent lights also emit blue lights and are not ideal before sleep. Moreover, bright lighting in your bedroom may also reduce melatonin production and interfere with sleep (29, 30, 31).
I recommend having dim lights at home in the evening time, including if you are reading. Avoid electronics in the evening as much as possible. If you must use electronics, I recommend using blue light-blocking glasses. If you are using an e-reader, dim the display as much as you can. Opting for a physical book is better.
Stress can keep you up at night and disrupt your sleep (32). I recommend reducing your stress levels throughout the day and avoiding stress in the evening. Journaling is a great activity to release any emotions and thoughts that may keep you up. Meditation, breathwork, and guided relaxation are great for reducing stress and improving relaxation. Avoid working, thinking about work or daily stressors, or arguments in the evening. Choose relaxing activities, such as reading, journaling, listening to calming music, playing board games, and having calm conversations with family.
Develop a Bedtime Routine
I already mentioned that supporting your circadian rhythm with a regular sleep schedule is important. Developing a bedtime routine that winds you down at the end of the day can greatly support this. You don’t need a very elaborate bedtime routine. Keep it practice with things that are doable for you. Taking a bath, listening to music, calm family activities, reading, journaling, and meditation are just some options you may try.
Consider Your Sleeping Environment
Create a supportive sleeping environment. Make sure that you have a supportive, comfortable bed, pillows, and bedding. Calming colors such as light clay brown, earthy green, soft oranges, dusty yellow, or natural pink may offer a calming effect. Avoid synthetic materials and anything you may be allergic to. Keeping your room between 60 and 67 F is ideal for sleep. Blackout curtains and an eye mask can help to create a dark environment, supporting your sleep.
Some people find certain supplements to be helpful. For example:
Always talk to your doctor before taking any supplements to make sure it’s beneficial for your personal needs.
Track Your Sleep
You may also try to track your sleep using a sleep tracker on a smartphone, smart ring, or similar device. It may help to track your sleep duration, sleep quality, sleep quality during each sleep phase, and the duration of each sleep phase. It may also help to track certain health factors that may affect your sleep, such as exercise. While I don’t recommend becoming a slave to your sleep tracker and obsessively checking it, it may help you identify and correct issues that are interfering with your sleep.
Address Any Sleep Disorders and See a Sleep Specialist
Certain specific sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, may also interfere with your ability to sleep well. If these strategies don’t help, you may benefit from seeing a specialist to have a proper sleep study and receive recommendations specific to your potential sleep disorders.
If you are experiencing chronic health issues, working with a health practitioner well-versed in chronic health issues and offering personalized medicine is one of the best ways to find the underlying causes of your symptoms and find the right treatment plan.
At AIM Center for Personalized Medicine, we use a personalized approach to understanding your symptoms, finding the root of your health issues, and creating an individualized treatment plan to regain your health. Find out more about AIM here.