A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything. ~ Irish Proverb
What comes to mind when you hear the term “sleep hygiene?” Teeth brushed? Clean sheets? Bathing?
While these are important, sleep hygiene refers to behaviors that can be adjusted to help one get a restful night’s sleep. Some sleeping problems are often caused by bad sleep habits reinforced over years or even decades. Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that affects nearly 70 million Americans, ranging from short-term to chronic sleeplessness.
Due to the physiological role that female hormones play, women suffer from insomnia at nearly twice the rate of men. Low estrogen levels typically cause insomnia, because estrogen helps move magnesium into tissues, which in turn is part of the production of the natural sleep hormone, melatonin. Insomnia is also more common among shift workers; people who have a history of depression; and, individuals who do not get much physical activity.
A recent study indicated that nearly a third of 18–24-year-olds also experience insomnia every night, making them the most susceptible age group in the United States. Much of this is related to the use of phones and computer screens. Light from electronic screens come in all colors, but the blues are the worst. Blue light fools the brain into thinking it is daytime and the body stops releasing melatonin.
Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night, but what the average adult gets is far short of what is needed for optimum health. Only one-third of adults actually sleep at least seven hours. The best sleeping time is from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., because it is during this time that the body receives its deepest and most restorative sleep.
In order to get those valued 7-9 hours of rest, prioritize a consistent bedtime, between 10-11 p.m. The bedroom temperature ideally should be between 60-67 degrees to accommodate the body’s natural dip in temperature during the night. Wearing socks to bed may help one fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
Consider using a white noise machine to block out sounds. Keep the room pitch-black to allow release of natural melatonin. Keep work and food out of the bedroom. Avoid large meals and alcohol late in the evening, and avoid watching television or blue screens at least 30 minutes before retiring.
Long naps during the day can interfere with bedtime as well, so limit them to 20–30-minute cat naps. Regular, moderate exercise can extend sleep duration, improve sleep quality, and decrease the time it takes to fall asleep.
Caffeine is another consideration. The average half-life of a caffeinated beverage is five hours, but can be as long as nine hours. Personally, I do not drink coffee after noon because I like to sleep.
Over-the-counter sleep aids are available in stores, ranging from lab-made melatonin to natural herbal teas that contain valerian. Many of these are meant for short-term use and may not be compatible with other medications. Do research before using them.
Becoming accustomed to your own sleep routine will take patience, especially if you have endured years of challenging habits. Over time, you will notice a better quality of sleep, your immune system will be stronger, and tissue repair and hormones will align with a natural circadian rhythm. Healthier relationships and longevity are also linked to good sleep patterns.
Now that the holidays are behind us, value yourself and make it your 2024 habit to prioritize a restorative slumber.