Good sleep is key to optimal cognitive and emotional functioning. Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and early morning awakenings can result in increased fatigue, decreased energy, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and/or other mood disturbances. Sleep hygiene includes a variety of practices and strategies to build and improve your quality of sleep.
The following are some healthy sleep strategies, which will be most effective if you establish a routine and consistent practice:
- Say No to Substances. Caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and the like interfere with one’s sleep. Caffeine, found in coffee, tea, and energy drinks is a stimulant that keeps you awake. Avoid coffee 4-6 hours before your bedtime. Similarly, tobacco users should keep away from tobacco products containing nicotine close to bedtime. On the contrary, while alcohol is a depressant and initially makes one more tired, given a few hours, it acts as a stimulant as well, decreasing one’s overall sleep quality. Therefore, it is important to avoid drinking alcohol within 3 hours of bedtime, and to consume no more than 1-2 drinks on days you choose to drink.
- Location, Location, Location. As in real estate, location matters. A quiet, dark and cool space promotes improved sleep. Use equipment such as headphones/ear plugs, sleep masks, and heavy curtains to reduce the level of noise and promote darkness in your environment. Make sure the temperature is comfortable and cool, rather than overly hot or cold. Find a mattress, mattress topper, pillows, or comforter that you find cozy and comfortable to promote good sleep.
Also, it is important to limit your bed and/or bedroom activities to sleep and sex only. Remove homework, computers, or TVs from your room or sleep area to strengthen your brain’s association between your bed and sleep. Refraining from computer, smart phone, or TV use while in bed will also remove the stimuli and light that these devices provide, which keep your brain awake.
- Maintain a Good Routine. Ease the transition from wake time to sleep time by engaging in relaxing activities an hour before bed. This could include taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book (NOT filled with suspense), watching TV (NOT in bed), mindfulness or meditation (scroll below), or deep breathing. Avoid activities that promote stress or stimulate you in any way such as homework or working out. If you experience worry or racing thoughts before bed, write them down to get the thoughts out and then put them aside for the night.
- Only Go to Sleep When You’re Tired. Struggling to fall asleep can be a frustrating experience. If you are unable to fall asleep after 20 minutes, get up, move to another room, and engage in relaxing activity as mentioned above. Return to bed when you feel tired enough to fall asleep.
If you find yourself waking up frequently, avoid looking at your clock, as this can increase your stress and frustration, resulting in more time spent awake. Instead, consider taking some of the steps listed above.
- Use Light. Natural light maintains your internal timer and promotes a healthy sleep-wake cycle. Allow natural light in your room in the morning to promote alertness. Periodically throughout your day, step outside to get a sun and fresh air break.
If you live in an area that has limited sunlight or are experiencing seasonal sunlight limitations (day lights savings time, fall, winter), you may benefit from using SAD lamps. These lamps act to promote melatonin production and help maintain a healthy circadian rhythm.
Also, feel free to set up an appointment in our Relaxation Room and try our SAD lamp.
- Sleep Schedule. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule ensures better sleep quality and consistency. Going to bed and waking up around the same time every day allows your body’s internal clock to be set and expect sleep at a certain time each night. Try to maintain this schedule as closely as possibly every day, even on weekends if you can, to avoid a Monday morning “sleep hangover.”
- To Nap or Not to Nap. Many college students report naps are a regular part of their daily routine. However, if you have difficulty falling or staying asleep at night, naps, particularly late-day ones, can contribute to your sleep struggles. If you absolutely need a nap, do so only briefly (20 minutes) and before the evening.
- Lighten your Diet. Eating heavy meals, particularly late at night, often results in insomnia. Rather, eat dinner several hours before bedtime to allow your body to digest properly. If you get hungry at night, don’t starve yourself, but instead snack on lighter foods that are easier on your stomach.
- Early Exercise. Exercise promote healthy sleep. While exercise is essential to maintain good health and well-being, it is important to finish working out at least 3 hours before bed because exercise also works to stimulate the body and secrete cortisol, the stress hormone, which then activates the brain mechanism responsible for alertness.
- Follow Through. Some of these tips are easier to include in your daily and nightly routine than others. Choosing several to follow regularly will increase your chances of a restful sleep.
Some sleep disturbances are not easily treated because they may be a result of a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy, or other clinical sleep disorders. If your sleep struggles don’t resolve with the regular use of these sleep hygiene skills, consult your physician or a sleep specialist.
Diet and Food Intake
Maintaining a proper diet and nutrition impacts one’s overall well-being, which includes your physical and psychological health. When you don’t eat well or don’t eat at all, you feel bad, lack energy, and can experience mood and cognitive disturbances. The United States Department of Agriculture, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion has outlined the following recommendations to maintain a healthy diet and necessary nutrition:
Additional information can be found at the United States Department of Agriculture website or the Choose My Plate website.
Regular exercise has several benefits for your well-being:
- Weight Management. Exercise can prevent excess weight gain and help weight loss. Engage in regular work-out activities, but if you aren’t one to go to the gym, simply build more physical activity into your day. For instance, go for a daily 10 minute walk or take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Physical health. Regular exercise helps prevent or reduce chances of developing certain health conditions and helps fight off illnesses.
- Mood Lift. Physical activity releases several brain chemicals, like endorphins, that improve your mood and promote a sense of relaxation. You may also feel a sense of accomplishment or feel better regarding your appearance, which can result in additional improvements to your mood and self-esteem.
- Energy Boost. Regular exercise not only boosts your endurance and stamina, but allows your cardiovascular system to work more efficiently, thereby providing you with more energy throughout the day.
- Improved Sleep. As stated before, regular physical activity can help you improve your sleep. Just don’t exercise within 3 hours of bedtime or you might be too alert to go to sleep.
- Better Sex. Not only can regular exercise improve your energy to tackle daily chores and activities, but it can give you more energy to engage in more regular sex. The feeling of improvement in your appearance may also increase your readiness and desire to engage in intimacy. For women, regular physical activity may increase sexual arousal, while men who engage in regular exercise are less likely to struggle with sexual dysfunction.
- Fun with Friends. If you find physical activities you enjoy, it can allow you to unwind and expend excess energy in a healthy and productive way. Additionally, exercise can allow you to connect with friends or family in a different setting. You will also make new social connections by going to the gym, taking different exercise classes, or even encountering new people on a running route.