Throughout the articles published on this blog, the importance of sleep has been identified as paramount for recovery and for general wellbeing. Getting adequate sleep is fundamental in preventing physical conditions such as excess weight gain, heart disease, and seasonal illnesses. In the context of recovery, healthy sleep decreases the chance of incurring depression and other mental conditions. It also maintains our brain functions and keeps social skills in good working order.
As we have repeatedly indicated, a good night’s sleep is as important to our health as eating well and exercising. However, research shows that people are now sleeping less than ever, and sleep quality has worsened. This is due to our frenetic modern lifestyle, which presents us with an increasing number of things that interfere with natural sleep patterns. The fall out from Covid-19 has obviously not helped anyone but we can still help ourselves get better sleep. Common sleeping problems are normally caused by bad habits so it is advisable to be more critical about the way we approach our night’s sleep.
The phrase ‘Sleep Hygiene’ means the set of practices we can apply to our lifestyle and attitude to achieve an optimal sleep pattern. We can significantly improve the quality and duration of our sleep by making a few minor adjustments. Here are some of the easiest yet most effective ways to sleep better:
Bedrooms should be used for sleeping and intimacy only. If we use our bed as a desk, for watching television or talking to friends, our mind will associate our bedroom with other activities. Also, if a bedroom looks and feels restful and comfortable it is more likely to induce sleep. Hence, it is important to invest in a good quality mattress, ensure that the room is at the right temperature (ideally between 19 and 21 Degree C), dark enough and, of course, quiet. If you can’t control noise, earplugs might be a solution.
Going to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning is a step in the right direction. It programmes the brain and internal body clock to get used to a set routine. This may be more difficult when home-schooling kids or working from home but we can try. You should aim to get between 6 and 8 hours of sleep every night. When we experience a bad night, we should fight the temptation to catch up on sleep. For example, going for a long nap in the afternoon may disrupt our sleep routine in the long run.
As discussed in previous articles, caffeine is a stimulant that can keep us awake. Caffeine is not only found in coffee but also in tea, chocolate, energy drinks, cola, and some painkillers. For good sleep hygiene, we should avoid caffeine for at least four hours before bedtime as it decreases the quality of our sleep.
The benefits of keeping hydrated have also been illustrated in this blog. When it comes to sleep though it is important to have a balanced approach to drinking fluids. Drink enough to keep from waking up thirsty. However, don’t drink so much close to bedtime that you will wake up in the night needing the toilet.
Winding down is key in good sleep hygiene when preparing for bed. Electronic devices are one of the main causes of disturbed sleep as the light from the screen interrupts the natural tendency of the brains to slow down at night. Ideally, we should avoid using smartphones, tablets or other electronic devices for an hour before bedtime. The NHS advice on winding down before bed includes having a warm bath, reading a book or listening to the radio. You could write ‘to do’ lists for the next day to organise our thoughts and clear your mind of distractions.
Sleep Hygiene is about creating the perfect nighttime routine. Sleep is a major part of a healthy lifestyle and it has demonstrated to be particularly important in aiding early recovery from substance and alcohol misuse. Good sleep leads to healthier living, better preparing us to deal with life’s challenges.
Given the significant role of sleep, if you have insomnia that lasts for more than 4 weeks you should contact your GP. Other professionals in your recovery support system can also help to ensure your sleep concerns are being properly addressed.