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June 03, 2022
The traditional Michaelis dictionary defines hygiene as ‘care for body grooming’, but also highlights its medical explanation: ‘area that studies diverse means for conserving and promoting health.’ When we talk about sleep hygiene, both meanings fit together well.
Sleep hygiene is a group of techniques to apply before sleeping, or even during the day, that aim at having a healthier sleep.
In short, it is a process that ‘shows’ the body when it is time to sleep, a series of conscious actions that help the body achieve a healthier rest.
The human body has superpowers fit for the strongest comic heroes. But in order to ‘save the world’ (or yourself, in this case), it needs to recharge energies, and that happens when we sleep.
At night, and among other activities, our metabolisms process learnings and emotions lived throughout the day, and it calms our sympathetic nervous system, which grants providing adequate responses to emergency or stressful situations. Out of all the alert systems in our bodies, this is the one that uses more energy.
Hygiene also has an essential function in accompanying and treating diseases whose symptoms or consequences include low sleep quality. Such is the case of fibromyalgia, a rheumatological chronic disease that causes pain sensitivity and diffuse pain in several areas of the body. People suffering from these diseases do not have a good rest, so taking care of their sleep also has positive impacts on these other symptoms.
But sleep hygiene is for everybody, and this explains why it has been a target of the corporate world. In his book ‘Why we sleep’ (Simon & Schuster), Matthew Walker, neuroscience and psychology teacher at the University of California, tells us how companies have increasingly been worrying about their employers’ good rest. Companies such as Procter & Gamble and the Goldman Sachs Group even offer free courses on sleep hygiene for their teams.
In theory, the basic concept of sleep hygiene works for everybody. After all, it is about creating a healthy environment to sleep and habits to enhance that process.
But as sleep is personal, so is the ideal hygiene. Consequently, it is important to test and learn the techniques that work best for you. Maybe some of them are not included in this post, since sleeping is such a peculiar thing. Each of us should create our own routine according to what makes us feel more comfortable.
1. Have a set time to sleep and wake up. To create a habit, you must be disciplined. So, you must aim at sleeping and waking up at the same time, even on holidays and weekends. In the short term, your body will get used with the routine.
2. Create a relaxing sleep routine. Its objective is to help your body relax and send it the signal that sleep time is coming. This moment may include anything that may help you disconnect from the day: a warm bath, a calming tea or reading a book.
3. Unplug from electronic devices. The blue light emitted by electronic devices hinders the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. If, for whatever reason, you need to keep the mobile around, activate the blue light filter some hours before going to sleep.
4. Do physical activity regularly. Exercising improves sleep quality, especially when performed outside, since natural light helps regulating the circadian cycle.
5. Limit caffeine intake. Caffeine effects may last for more than six hours in your body, even if you don’t feel it so actively. You should avoid taking caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, black tea and energy drinks, after lunchtime.
6. Have a bedroom that works for you. A dark, silent room with moderate temperature helps falling asleep and improves rest quality.
7. The bed is for sleeping and sex, not for working. It’s important to ‘teach’ the brain to associate bed with rest, and not with other activities such as studying. Dr. Raj Dasgupta, certified sleep doctor and member of the University of South California, says that sex is not included in those “other prohibited” activities.
8. Go to sleep only when you are sleepy, for the same reasons stated on the previous point. Rolling in bed from one side to the other will only cause frustration and anxiety associated with the bed. If you cannot fall asleep within 20 minutes, get up, go to a different room and return only when it’s the right moment.
9. Limit nap time to 30 minutes most. Sleeping a lot during the day hinders the normal rhythm of nighttime sleep.
10. Free yourself from the daily stress before going to bed. Of all the sleep hygiene tips, this may be among the most important ones. To get rid of the anguish that turns sleeping into a tense experience, you could keep a sleeping diary to write your worries, which helps you getting them out of your head. Other options are making a list of things to do on the next day, and meditation and relaxation exercises.
Important: incorporate sleep hygiene changes to your routine little by little. Find out what works for you, which is not necessarily what works for your partner or friends. Be patient: it takes time to create habits.
Diminishing sleep latency – the time it takes between lying in bed and falling asleep – is the best way to know if your sleep hygiene is working for you. To measure that effectiveness, you can keep a sleep diary or invest in a sleep tracker – a device that monitor your sleep quality.
Our pillow with Persono technology does exactly that: it monitors your sleep and, on the next day, offers a report on how your night was. Besides sleep latency, it also tells you about sleep consistency, how many times you woke up during the night, what time you woke up and more.
One last tip: promote changes to your sleep hygiene little by little in your routine. Find out what works for you, which is not necessarily what works for your partner or friends.
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