Need More Zzzz’s? Focus on Sleep Hygiene

sleep hygiene Photo by Sander Sammy on Unsplash

At any given time, the information cycle features a story about how Americans are sleep-deprived and what can be done about it. Are you one of these people? If you’re in recovery, this isn’t a surprise, as insomnia is often a common problem. The good news is there are ways to improve your sleep hygiene and feel better every day.

Why Aren’t We Sleeping?
Oh, there are many reasons! According to Harvard Medical School, here are the primary contributing factors:

  • Sleep apnea. This condition, Harvard explains, causes “repeated pauses in breathing,” and is often caused by obesity, changes in hormones, muscular changes of the soft palate, and narrow respiratory passages.
  • Diet. Heavy meals prior to bedtime, caffeine late in the day, and even one more bite of that spicy burrito can impact how well you sleep. 
  • Lack of exercise. Johns Hopkins notes that since regular exercise helps calm the mind and improve the level of slow-wave sleep, a lack of movement might compromise your shuteye.
  • Pain. People who frequently struggle with chronic pain are trapped in a vicious cycle, because the less rest they get, the stronger the pain grows.
  • Restless leg syndrome. According to the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, approximately 10 percent of people in the U.S. have this condition, which seems to affect women more than men. 
  • Depression. The National Sleep Foundation reports “almost 7 in 10 Americans (approximately 65 percent) who are dissatisfied with their sleep also experience mild or greater levels of depressive symptoms.” Additionally, of the adults who get less than the recommended average of 7–9 hours of rest nightly, “over half experience mild or greater levels of depressive symptoms.” 
  • Stress. This condition is at the forefront of many health issues, including sleep loss. 
  • Poor sleep habits. Aspects of our lifestyle, such as staying up too late, watching TV or online videos before bed, and not maintaining a consistent sleep schedule are frequent sleep stealers.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a comprehensive list of the benefits of sleep, so how can you improve sleep hygiene? 

Establishing a Sleep Hygiene Routine
You wash your face and brush your teeth twice a day as part of a personal hygiene routine. Sleep hygiene is a similar concept: a series of daily lifestyle habits you follow to ensure good rest. As a helpful checklist, Sleepopolis offers the following suggestions:

  • Establish consistent sleep and wake times around your normal daily schedule—even on weekends. This conditions your body and mind as to when to fall asleep. This also helps determine how much sleep you really need.
  • Don’t nap unless you’re sick. If you must get a little rest, limit naptime to no more than 20 minutes.
  • As mentioned above, avoid caffeine—this includes coffee, tea, sodas, and even chocolate—approximately 8 hours before your usual bedtime. So if you usually turn in at 10:30 p.m., finish your last cup of coffee at 2 p.m. Even lightly-caffeinated green tea can be stimulating in the afternoon. 
  • Create a dark, quiet, and cool sleeping environment. Most people sleep more comfortably when their bedrooms are between 60–70 degrees. Also, reserve the bed for sleeping or sex only, instead of working or eating in that space. 
  • Although there are varying reports on the effects of blue light on sleep, what you’re watching can still be energizing, so plan to power down electronics such as TVs, smartphones, tablets, and computers about an hour before bed. Choose a more relaxing activity such as prayer, meditation, gentle stretching, and deep breathing exercises to cue your mind and body that it’s time to rest. 
  • Regular exercise in the morning or afternoon not only reinforces your sober choices, but also creates a path for better sleep. Johns Hopkins indicates that “people who engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise may see a difference in sleep quality that same night.” And preliminary research shows that “exercise decreases sleep complaints and insomnia in patients. The effects of aerobic exercise on sleep appear to be similar to those of sleeping pills.”
  • Avoid heavy meals before bed. Your digestive system functions quietly while you’re asleep doing necessary repairs. A big dinner or late-night snacking disrupts this process, causing acid reflux, heartburn, indigestion, and other unpleasant issues. 
  • If you’re unable to sleep after 10 minutes, get up, go to another room, and do some sort of quiet activity such as reading, praying, meditation, or a craft until you get sleepy. 

Another vital component of sleep hygiene is making sure you manage daily stressors in healthy ways. Diet, exercise, and support groups are just a few methods to put your mind at ease for a good night’s sleep.

More Recovery Tools From Willingway
Deciding on essential inpatient rehabilitation treatment was a critical first step in your recovery process. Now that you have the ability to make even more choices that benefit your well-being, it always helps to surround yourself with people who understand your journey. To learn more about healthy lifestyle habits, visit one of Willingway’s continuing care community groups throughout the Southeast.