Using Sleep Hygiene Techniques to Improve Quality of Sleep

Note: This article does not constitute medical advice. Please consult with your doctor before making any decisions regarding your health

A good night's sleep is essential for optimal health, but many people have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Here are some of the tips that can possibly help you.

If you're having trouble falling into a deep enough sleep to feel rested in the mornings, take heart—you aren't alone! 

Many people find themselves waking up earlier than they'd like (or even earlier than their body needs) because something has thrown them off track. Whether it's a busy workweek, family-related obligations, or just plain old jet lag from travelling across multiple time zones, many of us have experienced interrupted sleep patterns at least once in our lives. 

Fortunately, there are some practical steps we can take to improve the quality of sleep and make sure we actually rest well throughout the night. It might seem impossible to achieve optimal sleep given how often life gets in the way, but practising healthy habits consistently will pay dividends over time. 

Here are eight ways to keep yourself more relaxed and productive while also making sure you're able to catch some sleep each night.

1. Mindful practice before going to bed

Just as we need things like water and food to survive, we also require relaxation and downtime to give ourselves the opportunity to recharge overnight. If you've been feeling stressed lately, try taking five minutes before bedtime to relax by doing any one of several simple activities. 

For example, you could read a book, listen to music, meditate, stretch, write in a journal, or sip a cup of tea. The point is simply to take care of yourself mentally and emotionally without worrying about what else might come along to stress you out later. This step helps prepare your mind and body for sleep and reduces anxiety, which makes relaxing easier. 

2. How long should I lie there before getting out of bed?

Research shows that the length of time spent in bed varies based on age, gender, race/ethnicity, education level, employment status, relationship status, income, general physical activity levels, alcohol consumption, smoking history, etc., among other factors. 

While it's true that everyone isn't meant to sleep seven straight hours every single night, aiming for 7 to 9 hours per night seems ideal for adults. 

More importantly, though, try to avoid staying in bed longer than 30 minutes past your normal bedtime if at all possible. That said, it doesn't hurt to experiment with different lengths of sleep here and there to see what works best for you.

3. What about caffeine? 

For starters, cutting back on caffeinated beverages after dinner has proven effective for helping people drift off into sleep. Caffeine can disrupt natural circadian rhythms, causing difficulty initiating and maintaining sleep. 

Aside from limiting intake closer to bedtime, experts recommend avoiding drinking anything containing caffeine two hours prior to hitting the sack. Also, if you choose to consume coffee or energy drinks late at night, opt for low-cafee versions instead of super-strong ones. 

Lastly, consider trying herbal teas such as chamomile or valerian root, which contain calming constituents. 

4. When do I go to bed? 

It's typically recommended that one should hit the hay around nine p.m. to allow adequate time for proper digestion and bodily functions to occur. Additionally, studies show that setting an internal clock that corresponds roughly to sunrise can optimize the production of hormones and neurotransmitters associated with alertness and mood regulation, including cortisol, growth hormone, prolactin, oxytocin, vasopressin, serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). 

In terms of actual times, however, it depends largely upon personal preference, lifestyle, work schedules, travel destinations, seasonal changes, and so forth. Some individuals prefer to stay up later at night, whereas others claim they function more effectively in the morning. 

Whatever suits you best, remember that going to bed when it's dark outside and waking up prematurely by sunlight streaming through your bedroom window is preferable. 

5. When does "enough" become "too much"?

Experts say that consuming moderate amounts of caffeine daily is fine and won’t cause problems. Still, there are limits to everything, especially when talking about certain types of stimulants like nicotine, sugar, salt, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, etc. These substances can lead to excessive daytime tiredness and poor quality nighttime sleep. 

On average, women tend to have a lower blood pressure than men, yet they still experience greater fatigue and chronic pain symptoms. Similarly, older adults may have stronger bone density than younger counterparts but still report poorer sleep quality and quantity. 

A lack of sufficient nutrients, particularly protein, calcium, vitamin D, iron, folate, B12, zinc, magnesium, potassium, sodium, copper, and iodine, can contribute to feelings of exhaustion, irritability, depression, weakness, dizziness, confusion, impaired memory, constipation, dry mouth, headaches, muscle cramps, nausea, and frequent urination. 

6. What about napping during the day?

As previously mentioned, afternoon naps are generally beneficial when taken under appropriate circumstances. To determine whether this strategy would benefit you, ask yourself questions like “Do I nap regularly throughout the week?" “Am I usually sleepy during the day?” and “Does my job require me to sit at a computer all day?” 

Napping mid-day for short periods of 15 to 20 minutes in order to combat boredom and fatigue should be OK provided you stick to these guidelines. 

Lastly, note that napping too close to bedtime tends to delay the onset of REM sleep, resulting in fragmented sleep cycles and potentially leading to groggier mornings. 

7. Should I use melatonin supplements?

Melatonin is a neurohormone produced by the pineal gland located atop the brain stem. Research suggests that melatonin plays a role in regulating human circadian rhythmicity and promoting healthy physiological processes. Melatonin secretion peaks between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. depending on the season, thus theoretically aiding in shifting biological clocks toward earlier bedtimes. 

However, because melatonin was discovered decades ago, scientists haven't fully determined its exact mechanism(s) within the central nervous system. As such, numerous clinical trials involving large numbers of subjects continue today to investigate the potential benefits of supplementing melatonin therapy for various conditions ranging from cancer treatment side effects to Alzheimer's disease. 

In addition, although no conclusive evidence supports claims suggesting that using melatonin products leads to improved sleep, there are anecdotes online claiming success stories. 

Further study is needed to confirm the effectiveness of melatonin supplementation for improving the quality of sleep. Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding safety, dosage, and duration, then proceed accordingly. 

8. Is exercise helpful for sleeping better?

According to researchers from Oxford University in England, performing resistance exercises shortly before bedtime can induce feelings of calmness and drowsiness. They suggest incorporating light stretching routines after working out in order to promote relaxation and decelerate the release of stress hormones. 

Exercising moderately on days off from work provides additional mental relief, allowing people to enjoy the extra uninterrupted snoozing time. 

Sleeping soundly requires dedication and self-control. By implementing small lifestyle modifications gradually over time, you can start seeing positive results for increased quality of sleep almost immediately. 

Happy dreaming!

CaffeineCircadian rhythmsExerciseHabitsHygieneMeditateMelatoninNightRelaxationSleep

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