5 Healthy Sleeping Habits
A good night’s sleep is one of the most important things we can do for a healthy body and mind. It’s when our body recharges after the day’s activities and is when vital functions such as waste removal and memory consolidation occur. But sometimes getting quality sleep is easier said than done, especially as stress builds in our daily lives.
One way to counter the negative effects of stress is to create healthy sleep habits. These are behaviors that will help the brain transition into a restful state and allow the body to fall into deep, restorative sleep. Here are five ways to build healthy sleep habits in order to achieve restful sleep every night.
1. Set a sleep schedule
Medical experts advise individuals get an average of 7-8 hours of sleep in order to wake refreshed and reenergized. One way to ensure we’re able to achieve that goal is to set a schedule for when we plan on going to sleep and when we need to wake up.
If we’re new to a schedule the important thing to remember is to start small. If we currently fall asleep at midnight, trying to sleep at 9 pm right away is probably unrealistic. Instead, try going to sleep fifteen minutes earlier, moving it up incrementally once we start falling asleep at the new time. On the days when we don’t need to wake up at set times, such as the weekends, do so anyway so that our bodies can adjust to a consistent sleep-wake cycle.
2. Create a sleep-enabling environment
Many times we have trouble sleeping because we aren’t setting ourselves up for sleep success. We go to bed watching television, scrolling through our phones and tablets, or bringing our work to bed. Maybe we have a street light shining in our window or have clutter covering our bed or nightstands. All of this prevents our brain from shifting into relaxation mode and can keep us tossing and turning into the night.
We can create a calm and soothing sleeping environment in several ways. The first is to start with the right bed and bedding. Find a mattress that is soft and supportive with pillows that keep our neck and spine straight. Look for bedding that helps keep our body at the right temperature, and pay attention to the temperature of the room. Use warm lights and avoid the blue lights found in screens at least one hour before we want to sleep. Putting up curtains or finding a good sleep mask can help block external light that can keep us out of deeper sleep cycles, and a good set of earplugs can help block noise.
3. Engage in physical activities daily
Physical activities play vital roles in the overall health of the body, including good sleep hygiene. When we exercise during the day, we improve our blood flow, strengthen our body, and maintain an appropriate body temperature. It reduces cortisol levels in our brain which, if elevated, can prevent melatonin––the sleep hormone––from releasing.
Studies have shown that exercise strengthens heart rates while we’re sleeping, raises the length of slow-wave sleep which then increases our REM sleep, and maintains a steady circadian rhythm. And while we can exercise at any time during the day, be cautious working out too close to when we fall asleep as strenuous exercise can produce a stress response, temporarily spiking our adrenaline and cortisol, which prevents us from falling asleep.
4. Be mindful of food choices
Just as it’s important to maintain a steady sleep schedule, it’s just as vital to stick to an eating schedule. If we eat too late at night, especially if it’s a heavy meal, we risk digestive issues such as indigestion or acid reflux preventing us from falling asleep and staying asleep.
But what we eat and drink doesn’t have to be ingested right before bed to impact our sleep. Things like coffee or soda can have high caffeine or sugar content that keeps our system working in overdrive hours after we ingest it. Drinking that afternoon pick me up could have serious consequences when we try to go to sleep, so monitoring what we eat and drink throughout the day is essential for a healthy night’s sleep. And while alcohol doesn’t have the caffeine, it disrupts the stages of our sleep and prevents the slow-wave sleep we need to reach the restorative REM stage.
5. Use the bed only for sleep
We mentioned taking devices to bed or falling asleep watching television earlier. But right before bed isn’t the only time to keep these things out of the bedroom. As much as possible, avoid using the bed for anything other than sleep––even during the day.
When we use our bed for other things such as working, reading, watching television, it prevents our brain from associating our bed with sleep. That means when we get into bed at night, our brain might still be actively working to try and figure out which mode to transition to. But when we only use our bed for sleeping, the brain knows automatically that we intend on going to sleep and begins transitioning into sleep mode.
Getting enough sleep is half of the healthy sleep equation. We also need to get quality sleep. In order to reach the deep, restorative stages of sleep, it’s important to have healthy sleep habits that help our body and brain maintain steady sleep-wake cycles.