Sleep hygiene. Sounds kind of funny, right? That’s what I thought the first time I heard this term. I have attempted to sleep every night for over 25 years and I just recently heard of this!
You have heard about dental hygiene. Or personal hygiene. Right? (‘cause you know most of us with depression are probably lacking in those areas…) Well, sleep hygiene is important too.
We all know that hygiene is a multi-step process which eventually becomes a habit. The more consistently you do it, the less you will actually dread it. So, let’s think of sleep in this manner.
Sleep Hygiene 101 ☾
What is it? It’s the things that you do that help you have a better night sleep and feeling alert and awake during the day.
Why is it important? Because your body needs to sleep. Effectively. Especially if you have a chronic illness or mental illness. Duh.
How can I improve my sleep hygiene?
Follow the steps below…
1. Cut the Crap
You will hear/read me say that a lot. Cut the freaking crap. And by crap, I mean caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and will keep your body from chilling out and just resting. And yes, we all know that alcohol may help you fall asleep better, but it will disrupt your sleep later in the night as your body has to process those toxins. That’s why you can sleep for 14 hours after a rager and still feel like grade-A crapola.
2. Discover your Sleep-Wake Cycle
We all have one, because we are diurnal. Which means that we sleep with the moon and rise with the sun. Some people need more sleep than others, some need much less, but we all need sleep. By limiting electronics and artificial lighting before bed, we allow our bodies to communicate about what time we are actually tired at. It may take a while to find your cycle. So sleep when you are tired and wake up when your body tells you to wake up. Even if this means sleeping from 8pm-5am. Listen to your body and it will reward you ten-fold.
3. Create the Ultimate Sleeping Environment
What does your perfect night of sleep look like? I always sleep best when I am at a decent hotel. I finally had to ask myself “why” and try to recreate it at home.
So what makes a good hotel room for me?
First, the bed is clean(hopefully), the sheets are tight, the blankets are heavy, and the pillows are in abundance. Second, the room is usually at a cooler temperature, especially if the AC is on. Third, it is pitch black and quiet as the grave.
But let’s get real. I can’t sleep in a hotel every night. And I live across the street from an elementary school, whose street lights shine directly in my window all hours of the night. Also, I live right off the busiest street in my town. Oh yeah, and my husband sleeps with the window open all winter and the AC on all summer. So.
Do your best to control your sleep environment. I finally found a pillow that I love after 23 years of searching- thanks husband! Every day we make our bed so that it feels brand new when we hop back in it. I sleep with ear plugs in and a face mask on. We just bought blinds for our huge-ass window, finally! We try to keep the temperature in the room around 60 degrees so my hubby can sleep, but it’s too cold for me, so I always have an electric blanket or a rice bag around to help me stay at a good temperature. We bought new bedding which is heavier but less warm. These things have helped me sleep a lot better. When all else fails, I take my pillow and one blanket and I sleep alone on our comfy couch. Sometimes the change just helps.
Find what works best for you and then just freaking do it.
4. Establish a Bedtime Routine
Choose a low-key and relaxing activity to do most nights before you sleep. This could include taking a bubble bath, doing some light stretching or yoga, meditating, listening to soundscapes or calming music, reading, coloring, or journaling. If you pick something and do it at the same time every night that you can, you will train your body to prepare for sleep before you are actually in bed. This is good for those of us who lay in bed until 5am wondering when we are actually going to sleep.
5. Don’t Sleep Hungry or Full
This is a weird one. Certain foods and substances will keep you up at night. Certain foods and substances will help you sleep better. We already talked about the crappy crap that will keep you up. Try a glass of whole milk, whole wheat toast, or a spoonful of peanut butter- those complex carbs, fiber, and proteins wont spike your blood sugar before bed time. Speaking of blood sugar. ..
If you wake up a lot in the middle of the night and have no idea why, you could have low blood sugar. Our bodies may wake us up if our blood sugar drops below a certain level.
On the other hand, eating too much food before bedtime or even eating spicy foods can be extremely irritating. I don’t know about you, but when I have heartburn or my tummy is full, I can’t sleep. Also, drink a good amount of water so you are not too thirsty, but not waking up every hour to pee.
6. Get on a Sleep Schedule
Yes, I know we talked about the sleep-cycle, but this is a little different. You need to create a sleep schedule that you do not break until you absolutely have to. This means waking up and going to sleep at the same time whether it’s Tuesday, Friday, or Sunday. This will improve your quality and consistency of sleep.
7. Nap Early, Exercise Early
If you need a nap, then take one! But pay attention to your body. If you can’t fall asleep on time after taking a nap, considering taking a shorter nap or pushing it up earlier in the day. As far as exercise goes, make sure that it is at least three hours before bed time. When you exercise, your body produces cortisol- the stress hormone- which is meant to help you exercise, which is really the opposite of sleeping.
When to Seek Treatment
I am not an expert. At all. So if you have questions and concerns, please talk to your doctor. Also, you may refer to this link for information regarding when to seek treatment .
How will this help you?
Research suggests that depression and insomnia or other sleep related issues usually go hand in hand. Those with insomnia or hypersomnia (too much sleep) are 10x more likely to develop depression compared to those who get healthy sleep. Conversely, depression can cause insomnia and hypersomnia, which are usually the first signs of a depressive episode.
Since depression and insomnia or hypersomnia are so deeply linked, doing all that you can to promote healthy sleep will help lighten the load on one end or the other and may even prevent depressive episodes.
Sleep well! 😉