Sleep Hygiene

Is sleep really that important?

It's hard to make an argument that sleep is not important. Why would we have so many things dedicated to sleep? Things like sleep mattress wars between companies, sleep trackers, sleep coaches, special sheets, different kinds of pillows, books dedicated to sleep, and sleep medications? We all have witnessed a sleep deprived person or experienced it ourselves. It is not pretty! Humans are the only known mammals that willingly delay sleep.

Sleep has many functions differing for each person. There are multiple stages of sleep: N1, N2, N3, and REM (rapid eye movement). Our body requires different amounts of sleep per stage, and adjusts nightly to the various stressors of the day. If you have a day with decision overload or a day full of problem solving, then you will tend to require more REM sleep to refresh the brain. If you have a day full of hiking or yardwork, then you will tend to require more deep sleep to recover and repair the body. All stages of sleep are important. Too little of any stage can disrupt your body's ability to fully recover from daily activities, illness, and mental stress.

What is a sleep routine?

While there are numerous resources available about sleep, the one common tool is having a sleep routine or ritual. Our bodies are highly influenced by habits. The routine usually starts with a time-based (same time each day is helpful) activity to start the process of sleep. It can be something that you enjoy or something that is calming such as taking a shower, soaking in a bath, sauna, reading, journaling, listening to music, stretching, flossing and brushing. After the initial activity, at least one additional calming activity is added either right before entering the bed or while in bed. These activities repeated daily will create a habit. This habit creates a sleep routine to let the body know it is time for sleep. It's ideal to start these habits at the same time to keep your internal body clock (circadian rhythms) regular.
Additional sleep prep ideas:
  • Do you avoid blue light (greater than 3200K) within 1 hour of going to bed?
    • Use nightshift modes on electronic devices
    • Blue light blocking glasses
    • Lighting color temperature in bedroom should be 2700K or lower-- using soft light instead of daylight bulbs
  • Avoid eating and drinking within 3-4 hours of bedtime. This allows for digestion to occur before sleep and not during sleep. Digestion during sleep prevents your body's sleep resources from functioning fully causing sleep disturbances and other sleep troubles. Waking up to use the toilet once in the early morning can be normal. However, more that one run to the toilet could be a sign that you might want to stop drinking anything in the sleep prep window.
  • Is your bedroom between 62-68 degrees at night? A cooler temperature prepares the body for sleep. That's is why a warm shower, bath, or sauna is relaxing before bed. The resulting drop in body temperature prepares the body for sleep.

I can't stay asleep!

Some people can fall asleep normally but cannot stay asleep throughout the night. There are various distractions that can wake you up anytime during the night whether you are consciously aware or not. Addressing the following can help with sleep quality:
  • Is your bedroom completely dark?
    • Light disturbances from anything  can negatively affect sleep quality. Even the smallest amount of blue light can trick the body that it's daytime.
  • Are your personal devices set to silent with the screen off?
    • Our phones are designed for us to respond to them quickly and at any time. Whether it is a sound, ding, light flash, or screen flashing our minds are trained to be on constant alert to our devices. Waking to respond to a quick text message or email reinforces this habit for the brain to awaken and be alert as if it were daytime. This results in poor sleep quality since the brain is alert and awake which makes going back to sleep very difficult before your normal wake time.
  • Sleep Disordered Breathing?
    • This includes upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS), snoring, and sleep apnea
    • Airway issues and/or mouth breathing can interfere with a restful night of sleep by keeping your body in a constant state of stress preventing you from getting enough REM and deep sleep
    • Snoring, waking up tired, sleeping less than 6 hours per night, irritability and not being able to concentrate are some signs you might have sleep disordered breathing
  • Is your sleeping partner waking you up?
    • There is nothing wrong or taboo about having your own bed! Some people need their own space in order to achieve quality sleep.
  • Temperature issues?
    • Hormonal changes can affect your body temperature regulation.
    • Many mattresses can trap heat and cause overheating.
    • Sheets, blankets, comforters can be causes of overheating. Breathable alternatives can help with airflow.
    • Pajamas, socks, and other clothing can cause affect body temperature. Alternatives, like sleeping naked or breathable alternative materials can provide better heat exchange.

Additional Sleep Topics:

  • Does your mattress provide enough support?
    • A firmer sleeping surface may sound uncomfortable, however, the firmer surface provides support to the hips and spine. This resistance is needed for the body to establish a comfortable posture during rest.
  • What position should I sleep in?
    • Side sleeping is preferred!
    • Sleeping on your back relaxes your tongue and throat which can block the airway and make breathing and/or sleep apnea worse.
    • Some people who have sleep disordered breathing find sleeping slightly inclined helps.
  • Caffeine too late in the day?
    • The half-life of caffeine is around 5 hours which means it can take up to 10 hours to completely clear caffeine from your body.
  • Alcohol too late in the evening?
    • Alcohol has a sedative effect that can help you fall asleep quickly. On the other hand, alcohol is shown to decrease sleep quality.
  • Sleep medications?
    • There is no perfect sleeping pill. Each kind has been shown to disrupt different sleep stages and has a overall negative effect on sleep quality.
    • There are some situations where a sleep medication is temporarily needed to assist with insomnia symptoms. Some sleep is better than no sleep.
  • Other potential sleep disturbances that can negatively affect falling asleep and staying asleep:
    • Environmental toxins, such as mold, mercury, pesticides, EMF's
    • Anxiety, depression
    • Nutrient deficiencies, common are low magnesium, low vitamin D, low omega-3 fatty acids
  • Do you track your sleep with a wearable device?
    • Oura Ring
    • Garmin watch
    • Fitbit Versa
  • Mattress coolers!