Insomnia affects around a quarter of New Zealanders. Image via Adobe Stock.
Common sleep issues such as insomnia are usually caused by bad habits such as late bedtimes, drinking alcohol, eating late at night or excessive use of screen time, as well as other big contributing factors like stress or medication. Insomnia affects around a quarter of New Zealanders and can lead to performance issues at work, increased risk or accidents both at work and while driving, difficulty remembering things, concentrating, making decisions and problem-solving. Although insomnia and other sleep conditions are prevalent within today’s society, there are things we can do to create better sleep habits that in turn, may lead to a better nights sleep.
What is sleep hygiene?
Having good sleep hygiene means developing healthy habits that will enable you to have a good night’s sleep. Obtaining a healthy sleep cycle is vital to both your physical and mental health for children, teens and adults – so creating healthy sleep habits will enable a process of positive reinforcement. On the flip side to that is when you develop unhealthy sleep habits, they can become ingrained in you and produce negative consequences, such as on-going insomnia. Signs of poor sleep hygiene can be difficulty falling asleep, frequent sleep disturbances – such as waking often during the night, waking very early in the morning and suffering from daytime sleepiness. There are optimum sleep hygiene practices that will benefit most people and optimise a good night sleep but can vary from person to person, depending on their needs. It is also important to understand that improving your sleep hygiene may not fix more serious sleep conditions or sleep apnea – so it is always best for your first port of call to be your GP.
How do we practice good sleep hygiene?
There are changes you can make to your daily and nighttime routine that have been proven to contribute to good sleep hygiene and thus contributing to a better night’s sleep. Some of those changes include:
Setting a sleep schedule
Setting a regular sleep schedule normalises sleep and gets your body prepared and accustomed to getting a full night’s sleep. You can do this by going to bed at the same time every night and waking at the same time in the morning – this can help your body adjust to your natural Circadian Rhythm, which is your body’s natural sleep cycle over a 24 hour period. If you need or want to adjust your sleep times, try to alter them little by little, focusing on hour by hour adjustments, rather than any big jumps in time – which might throw your body and schedule out of whack too much.
Avoid or limit naps
The more your nap during the day, the harder you may find it to get to sleep at night, however, sometimes napping during the day might be the only way you can combat daytime sleepiness. So if you must nap, try to limit to one nap per day, keeping it short and in the early afternoon.
Follow a night time routine
Having a pre-sleep routine can allow you to drift off to sleep faster. Creating little rituals such as putting your phone away 60 to 30 minutes before you go to bed, switching off any other electronics such as your TV, dimming your lights and adding in relaxation techniques such as guided meditations or reading in the time before you go to bed can help your body and brain understand that it is time to go to sleep.
Creating healthy daily habits for yourself
Creating healthy daily habits can also help to support your Circadian Rhythm and support a restful night’s sleep. Things such as getting enough exercise and sunlight during the day, reducing alcohol consumption later in the evening, reducing your caffeine intake and avoiding caffeine in the late afternoon, avoiding eating too late at night, so your food isn’t still digesting when it’s time to go to bed and restricting activity from your bed – meaning, your bed should only be used for sleep and sex (as the only exception to the rule), this way your brain only associates bed with sleep.
Finally, another couple of useful tips if you are still struggling to sleep are if you find yourself tossing and turning and unable to fall asleep after about 20 minutes, it is recommended that you get out of bed and perform a calming activity in a dimly lit room, such as reading or meditating, then going back to bed and trying again. Another useful tip is if stress is the main contributor to your insomnia, sometimes writing a list before you go to bed of what is bothering you or what you need to accomplish, remember or achieve can help your brain to switch off out of planning mode and into sleep.