Everyone has a bedtime routine. From taking a bath to brushing teeth to reading a book before bed, each person has their own bedtime ritual that helps them get relaxed before bed and fall asleep more easily. But did you know there is a term for your bedtime routine? It’s called sleep hygiene. Your bedtime routine determines whether or not you practice proper sleep hygiene. With sleep disorders on the rise around the world, there is a greater focus on sleep hygiene right now. Sleep experts believe that proper sleep hygiene determines your quality of rest at night. About 80 million people around the world suffer from some kind of sleep disorder. From feeling to fall asleep at night to disturbed sleep, there is no end to the kind of disorders that plague many people. Unlike other conditions, sleep disorders usually go undiagnosed, and most people in their lives do not know that they had a problem with sleep. Feeling sleepy but not being able to fall asleep, waking up several times during the night, and feeling tired and sleepy during the day are all signs of sleep disorders. Although sleep disorders can often be quite serious and require medical intervention, in most cases, they are a result of improper sleep hygiene. Not many people pay careful attention to their bedtime routine or sleep schedule. In fact, not many considered sleep an important part of their lives. A lot of people spend their nights working and do not get enough time to sleep. Those with a very busy lifestyle considered sleep a waste of time. But without proper sleep, normal functioning of the body is affected, leading to burnout and various other health disorders.

Why Is Sleep Deprivation Dangerous?

Sleep is one of the three vital functions of the body, the other two being breathing and food. Most of us need 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night, although most people get far less than that. Each individual has their own sleep requirements. Some people can get by with only four or five hours of sleep every night while others have trouble with concentration and productivity even after 8 hours of sleep. There is no ideal sleep amount because every person is different and requires varying quantity of sleep. Sleep deprivation or deficiency occurs when a person sleeps far less than the required amount for several weeks or months in a row. Although sleep deprivation is not a disease or medical condition, it can have far-reaching health consequences. Most sleep-deprived people have no idea that they are going weeks and months without their required amount of sleep. Instead, they try unhealthy means like consuming excessive coffee to combat sleepiness. How do these people become sleep deprived? The answer lies in the fact that a large number of people today work till late in the night and do not have enough time for sleep. Going to bed late and waking up early is a vicious cycle that robs an individual of the appropriate amount of sleep that is required. You might think that you are going to sleep every night, but when you do not get the required hours of sleep, there is sleep accumulation that cannot be compensated for over the weekend. Think of sleep, like eating. If you did not eat for a week and then ate everything you could in one day, would that be healthy? Similarly, if you did not get enough sleep through the week, oversleeping during the weekend will not make up for it. Stress is another factor that contributes to sleep deficiency. When people are stressed, they eat unhealthily and neglect things that keep them in shape. They do not follow a bedtime routine and crash into bed. Stress makes it hard for the brain to stop working and relax. The day’s events and the worries of the next day keep the brain awake and alert, hindering the onset of sleep. Lack of sleep causes several health conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiac problems, and obesity. Sleep deficiency has also been found as a contributing factor to Alzheimer’s disease later in life. Sleep keeps your mental faculties healthy, helps your body repair the tissues and cells, and recharge the energy reserves. When a person is awake, the brain is unable to perform these tasks, leaving the person feeling tired during the day.

Signs Of Sleep Deprivation

  • Excessive yawning
  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Lack of productivity
  • Foggy memory and forgetfulness
  • Lack of motivation and clumsiness
  • Increase or decrease in appetite
  • Reduced sex drive

Effects Of Sleep Deprivation

  • Weak immune system
  • Risk of respiratory diseases
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Increase in stress and irritability
  • Unhealthy cravings
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Risk of heart disease
  • Negative impact on professional and social life

What Is Poor Sleep Hygiene?

Recently, the online world is agog with something called sleep hygiene. But most people have no clue what that it. Hygiene is a term that’s always been associated with food and sanitation. What has it got to do with sleep? In the simplest of terms, sleep hygiene refers to your bedtime or sleep routine. What you do in the hours preceding bedtime and what your sleep environment is like count as sleep hygiene. This is important because most people do not have a bedtime routine. They either watch TV during and after dinner or they return home tired and simply go to bed. A large number of people do not even bother making their beds. All this amount to sleep loss, even when we do not notice. We think we are just tired and overworked, but it’s actually poor sleep hygiene that’s causing the problem. The preparation to go to bed is as important as sleep itself. It helps your brain know that it should get ready for sleep. Otherwise, it’s hard for the brain to relax and get into sleep mode. Have you been doing sleep hygiene all wrong? Here is what happens in poor sleep hygiene.

Inconsistency With Sleep Routine

The key to sleep hygiene is routine. The brain loves routine, and so does the body. However, a large number of people do not have a proper sleep routine because of their work and their hectic lifestyles. If one day they go to bed at 10 in the night, then the next day they go to bed at 3 in the night. The same with waking up time in the morning. This confuses the brain to no extent. It never knows when it’s time for bed and when it’s time to wake up. Two things can happen as a result: you either feel sleepy at odd hours or don’t feel sleepy at all.

Depending On Stimulants

It isn’t surprising that so many people depend on caffeine to get through the day. When sleep is insufficient, it is hard to stay awake or get work done. Caffeine is a stimulant, and it helps you stay awake for some time. So people keep consuming coffee every few hours to stay awake and get a shot of energy. Unfortunately, the more caffeine you consume, the more dependent you become on stimulants. Because the effects of caffeine last a long time, it becomes hard to fall asleep at night. That’s the reason why most caffeine-dependent people suffer from insomnia.

Exposure To Blue Light

Our lives are dependent on electronics. We need the phone, the laptop, and various other devices to function. A TV is an addiction for most people, and the bedroom is often where it is placed. However, backlit devices like the phone and TV emit blue light, something that interferes with the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. When you are exposed to blue light close to bedtime, the production of melatonin is hindered and you have trouble falling asleep. That means cutting down the use of electronic devices close to bedtime, but it hardly ever happens. That’s poor sleep hygiene.

Environmental Distractions

The temperature, lighting, and the comfort level of your bedroom determine the kind of sleep you enjoy. If your bedroom is too hot or too cold, it isn’t ideal for sleep. If there is a lot of light in the room, it interferes with sleep. If there are noises keeping you up at night, it’s also an environmental distraction. All of these combine to make the bedroom the wrong place to sleep in.

Spending All Day In The Bedroom

Be it for lack of space or the comfort that you feel there, the bedroom is often used for activities other than sleeping. This is especially true if there is no other room you could spend your time in. However, because the brain associates the bedroom with sleep, when you use the bedroom for other purposes, it can be hard to fall asleep in the same room. Ideally, the bedroom should not be used for working in or watching TV, and when it doesn’t happen, it’s considered poor sleep hygiene.

Food Choices

Your meal before bedtime has a significant impact on your sleep. There are certain things that you consume before bedtime that can ruin your sleep. Alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and oily and fried food that takes a long time to digest all have a negative impact on your sleep. Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to keep a check on what we eat for dinner. We have to work, go out to eat, attend parties and events, and we can’t keep track of what we are eating. This also constitutes poor sleep hygiene because what we eat at night determines our sleep quality.

Working Out Close To Bedtime

Physical activity is good for health but only when it’s restricted before 2 in the afternoon. Regardless of the type of physical exercise you do, if you do it too close to bedtime, the endorphins that are released interfere with the melatonin and make your sleep go away. Even if you do not have much time, exercise must not be done in the evening. Any kind of physical activity after 6 pm is bound to keep you awake at night because the effect of the endorphins lasts a long time.

Keeping The Lights On

We tend to keep the lights on the house even when we don’t need to. People like their homes illuminated, but bright lights have a negative impact on sleep. Bright lights interfere with melatonin production and hinder sleep. If you keep your bedroom brightly lit close to bedtime, it will indeed be hard for you to fall asleep. Instead, you should dim the lights or turn them out as you approach bedtime. You do not want to harm the production of melatonin in any way. It is the only hormone that is responsible for giving you the quality of rest that you need.

Not Having A Sleep Routine

A bedtime routine isn’t just for children; adults need it equally. When you just come home tired and crash and fall asleep, it doesn’t constitute a bedtime ritual. Most people do not have bedtime rituals, and if they do, it involves watching TV in bed. No, watching TV in bed is NOT a healthy bedtime ritual, nor is fiddling with your phone or reading a book. Your brain is supposed to relax during bedtime, not be engaged. Taking a warm bath, listening to some soothing music, or meditating are some alternatives.

Lying Awake

When we cannot fall asleep, we lie in bed and let our minds race. We think about the day, worry about the next day, and think of things that don’t relax the mind. That’s not sleep hygiene. By lying awake in bed with a racing mind, you are actually sending sleep further away.

How To Improve Sleep Hygiene?

Now that you know what constitutes poor sleep hygiene, it’s time to make changes. It’s easy when you know what poor sleep hygiene is because you have to do just the opposite to make it right. Sleep hygiene is crucial to sleep quality. It means you give sleep importance and consider it an essential part of your life. Sleep hygiene involves giving sleep priority and taking steps to help sleep come more naturally. More often than not, most sleep disorders are stress-related and arise out of poor sleep hygiene. Even when we enter our bedroom, we are unable to relax because our bedroom isn’t a sanctuary. It isn’t relaxing. Most people don’t have a relaxing sleep routine. They are too tired to do that. But no matter how tired you are, when you start following a bedtime ritual, your sleep comes more easily. The following are some of the steps to take to improve sleep hygiene:

Stop Consuming Caffeine

Coffee is a short-term energy booster, but when you consume caffeine late into the day, you are left with a racing mind that’s unable to shut off and relax. Therefore, the first step in sleep hygiene is to stop consuming caffeine. Instead, make proper sleep a priority so that you don’t need a caffeine fix to survive the day.

Don’t Work Out Close To Bedtime

Many people work out in the evening because they don’t have time in the morning. However, working out releases endorphins that help you stay awake and alert. That’s why starting the day with exercise is better than ending the day with it. If you want to stay awake at night, go ahead, and exercise close to bedtime. But proper sleep hygiene constitutes limiting physical exercise only during the early day.

Get Up If You Can’t Sleep

If you cannot fall asleep, do not stay in bed, and count sheep. Instead, get up and find something relaxing to do. You can go out and lie on the couch while you listen to some soothing music. Or you can also read a boring book, something that doesn’t engage your mind too much. Mundane things like doing the dishes can also help your mind shut down and make way for sleep more easily.

Get Rid Of Clutter

The bedroom is meant for sleep. It isn’t meant for working out or for working or for watching TV. Everything in the bedroom that isn’t associated with sleep can be a potential distraction. Move away from the treadmill, the computer, and the television. If possible, also remove the dresser and wardrobe to another area. This is because when you have things in the bedroom not associated with sleep, your brain fails to associate the bedroom with sleep. Your bedroom is where you come to relax and rest. Anything that doesn’t help in this process should be removed from the bedroom, no matter how hard it seems.

Shun The Electronics

You must keep all electronics – including your alarm clock – away from the bedroom for the same reason why you shouldn’t have a TV there.  Another reason why you shouldn’t have a phone, tablet, laptop, gaming console, or e-reader in the bedroom is that the blue light emitted from these devices disrupt the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. This also applies to the digital alarm clock that stares at you the whole night, reminding you to wake up early the next day. When you constantly look at the time and worry about losing sleep, this anxiety actually makes you lose sleep even more. Preferably, set the alarm and keep the clock away from you, facing the other side.

Dim Or Turn Out The Lights

Bright lights, especially those mounted on the walls or ceiling, are harsh on the eyes and also mimic daylight, disrupting melatonin production. When you go to bed, there must be no light distracting you. This means no light lamps, no bedside lights, no digital alarm clock, no blinking phone, and no ambient light. To block light from outside, shut the bedroom door and use curtains or blinds to prevent light from coming in the windows.

Keep The Room Quiet

Getting rid of environmental distractions is a big part of sleep hygiene. Noise can be a potential distraction, whether it comes from within the house or from outside. It can prevent us from falling asleep and it can also abruptly rouse us from sleep. Noisy neighbors, traffic down the street, and other such ambient noises are big sleep thieves. If you are distracted by ambient noises beyond your control, you may either opt for foam insulation for your walls or sleep with a sound machine.  Sound machines drown out all other noises by playing a soft, soothing sound such as falling rain or ocean waves. You may also play music but make sure to set it to stop after a certain time.

Adjust The Temperature

Different people prefer different temperatures to be able to sleep. Not having the right temperature is also a potential distraction. If it’s too cold outside, make the room warm by setting the temperature at a comfortable degree. If it’s warm, keep the room cool by setting the temperature between 60 and 67 degrees. This will make sure you don’t feel uncomfortable and don’t keep waking up because it isn’t the right temperature.

Evaluate Your Bed

When was the last time you took a look at your bed? When was the last time you changed the mattress or cleaned the pillows? Your bedroom is central to your sleep, and you must make it your sanctuary. The right mattress, sheets, and pillows can make a world of difference to your sleep quality. The mattress should be ergonomic, neither too firm nor too soft, and be able to keep you cool and comfortable. Pillows should be clean, ergonomic, and supportive to the neck and head. The covers and sheets should also be made of skin-friendly materials like cotton or linen. If you have never taken a good hard look at your bed, it’s time you did.

Have A Sleep Ritual

The hours leading to bedtime should be calming and relaxing. Once you are done with all the chores, it’s time for your little bedtime routine. It can be anything, from pampering yourself with a warm bath or a face massage to listening to some soothing jazz and sipping on some almond milk. No matter what you include in your bedtime ritual, make it a habit of doing it every day so that the brain gets accustomed to it. Sleep hygiene cannot be achieved in a single day. For a habit to form, you must keep doing it every day, until you no longer have to remind yourself about it. Sleep hygiene should be a lifestyle rather than a routine. If your sleep issues are related to poor sleep hygiene, making a change will start producing results. You only have to give it time and stick with it for the best results.