Sleep is important for a myriad of reasons. The amount of sleep you get, and the quality of your sleep, has an influence on your mental health, cognitive function, recovery from exercise, and many others. Due to our current situation surrounding COVID-19, and the individual circumstances we are all dealing with, our normal sleep patterns may have been thrown off, I know mine have. I am used to going to sleep fairly early, around 10pm, and waking up around 5am. As the number of days in quarantine grow larger, my days grow longer. Now I am going to sleep, and also waking up, much later. Something that will undoubtedly be a very rude awakening upon my return to those early mornings.
I imagine that what I’ve described is probably similar for most of you. Not the rude awakening part necessarily, but your sleep being thrown off in some way. Maybe you’re not sleeping as much, or the quality of sleep is poor. Maybe it has always been poor. Whatever the case, in order to reap the benefits that a good night’s rest has to offer, we need to create good sleep habits, also known as “sleep hygiene.” I’ve been lucky enough to where I’ve been getting sufficient sleep, although my patterns have been thrown off. Some of you may not be so lucky. Why? Because sleep quality matters just as much a quantity, and if you’re getting disturbed and restless sleep, your sleep hygiene may suffer.
Of course, you don’t want that. I don’t want that, either. So, in order to help you improve your sleep hygiene, I’ll be providing you with some helpful tips on ways to do so.
- Set a sleep schedule. Based on your individual circumstances, and the time you need to wake up in the morning, set a reasonable bedtime that will allow for 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Try to consistently maintain this bedtime and awakening time. The more consistent you are, the more likely your body is to fall into this rhythm.
- Avoid napping. During the day that is. If you must nap, try to limit your naptime to less than 30 minutes. Naps longer than 30-45min can make it much more difficult to fall asleep at night. I know it’s much easier to take naps being stuck at home right now, but do your best to maintain that set sleep schedule.
- Avoid caffeine within 4-6 hours of bedtime. Caffeine is a stimulant, and when taken close to bedtime, can make it difficult to wind down for the day. I’m sure all of us are drinking too much coffee, I know I am. And it has definitely affected my sleep. I’m trying to limit myself to 1 or 2 coffees in the morning, or at least stop drinking any caffeine after 2pm.
- Sleep environment. The environment you sleep in can go a long way as far as the quality of sleep you’re getting. Try maintaining a cool temperature and adequate ventilation. Use blackout curtains to block out unwanted light from coming through windows. Also, using a form of continuous ambient noise can be helpful. Personally, I like to use a fan, but “white noise” machines or apps can be used as well.
While these tips are very practical and can help improve your sleep hygiene, there are a couple of reminders I’d like to add that I think are equally, if not more, important. Sleep has a direct impact on our well being. Lack of sleep can affect things like cognitive function, stress levels, our immune system, and much more. Getting sufficient sleep allows our body to operate more efficiently on many levels. It’s how we recover from stress, both mental and physical. If we subject ourselves to a chronic lack of sleep, it limits our ability to recover, and leaves us operating under suboptimal conditions. This can also compromise the immune system. And during a time when we are susceptible to contracting a virus we know little about, I’d like to implement practices to keep myself running as effectively as possible.
Multiple factors combine to create healthy environments that we can thrive in. Flowers do not bloom without the right combination of sunlight, darkness, water, and food. Give us the appropriate amount of exercise, sleep, nutrition, while taking into account self care of the human element, and it creates the right conditions for us to bloom.