If you’re having problems sleeping, you’re not alone. According to a psychiatrist at the University of British Columbia’s Sleep Disorders Program, approximately 30 percent of Canadians struggle with falling or staying asleep at any given time.
To better understand why you may have difficulty falling asleep, you must first understand your sleep habits and how they may affect your rest. Sleep habits — sometimes referred to as “sleep hygiene” — are the behaviours you perform around bedtime, and they have a considerable impact on how much and how well you sleep.
What are good sleep habits?
Adopting good sleep habits can help improve the quality of your sleep, and many of them can be easily incorporated into your bedtime routine. Good sleep habits include:
- Maintaining a regular sleep schedule
- Avoiding stimulants like caffeine and nicotine before bedtime
- Avoiding alcohol (which can lead to reduced amounts of REM sleep) before bedtime
- Establishing — and sticking to — a relaxing bedtime routine
- Creating a comfortable sleep environment in your bedroom
- Exercising regularly
The key to cultivating good sleep habits is consistency. Sleep experts understand that it’s difficult for most people to follow all of these recommendations — the good news is, you don’t necessarily have to in order to achieve better sleep quality.
Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine suggests that “individuals identify the factors that are most disruptive to their own sleep and then focus on altering particular behaviors and patterns to overcome these factors.”
You need not make drastic changes to your sleep habits all at once: take manageable steps and give yourself time to adjust to your new bedtime routine.
What are bad sleep habits?
If you can’t sleep, it’s worth considering whether your bedtime behaviours may be affecting your ability to fall asleep. Bad sleep habits include:
- Taking naps, eating heavy meals, or exercising near bedtime
- Consuming caffeinated drink or smoking near bedtime — caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and may prevent you from falling asleep
- Staying in bed tossing and turning when you can’t sleep
- Using blue light emitting devices such as smartphones or laptops while you’re in bed
- Watching the clock at night
If you consider yourself to have good sleep habits and you still regularly struggle to fall asleep, an undiagnosed sleep disorder or underlying medical condition may be the cause of the problem.
How can you improve your sleep?
There are many steps you can take to improve your sleep. It’s important to remember that it may take some time to see results as your body adjusts to these changes — be patient and be consistent in maintaining your new healthy sleep habits.
Expose yourself to bright light during the day
Your circadian rhythm — or “body clock” — helps you stay awake and tells your body when it’s time to go to sleep. To keep it functioning to the best of its ability, expose yourself to bright light or natural sunlight during the day. Not only does this improve your sleep at nighttime: it also improves your energy levels throughout the day.
If it’s not practical for you to be out and about in the sunshine during the day, consider purchasing an artificial light device for daytime use. There are many affordable options, such as the TheraLite Mood and Energy Enhancing Light.
In addition to exposing yourself to bright light during the day, you should also limit your exposure to blue light at night as it can trick your body into believing it is daytime.
Make your sleeping environment more comfortable
A good mattress and high quality can improve the quality of your sleep and reduce stiffness and soreness in your back. When it comes to choosing a mattress, be prepared to shop around to determine what’s best for you — sleeping preferences are very personal and will differ from person to person.
The same applies to pillows. Some people prefer down pillows, while others enjoy the benefits of memory foam pillows that adapt to the shape of your head and neck. The ObusForme Comfort Sleep Contoured Pillow may be a good option for you if you feel your down pillow is not providing enough support.
The temperature of your sleeping environment can also affect the quality of your sleep, particularly if it’s too warm. Figure out what temperature feels comfortable to you — around 70°F (20°C) works for most people.
Adjust your bedtime routine
In addition to avoiding certain things near bedtime — like exercise, napping, heavy meals, stimulants, and alcohol — there are steps you can add into your routine to help you sleep better.
Enjoying a calming shower or bath can help you sleep: one study showed that taking a hot bath an hour and a half before bed led to more deep sleep and an overall improvement in quality of sleep. You may also find it beneficial to practise techniques such as meditation, listening to relaxing music, or reading a book. Try different strategies to find the bedtime routine that works best for you.
Other tips for good sleep
You may also find it beneficial to:
- Take a melatonin supplement — start with a low dose to assess your tolerance and always follow the directions on the label
- Consider other natural sleep aids, such as magnesium
- Avoid drinking lots of liquids before bed as this can interrupt your sleep
Why are good sleep habits important?
Good sleep habits are important because they help us to sleep well, and sleeping well helps our bodies function properly. Good sleep allows you to awaken refreshed and ready for the day ahead, while not sleeping enough can have unpleasant effects on your body (both short and long term).
Consult with your doctor if ongoing issues with your sleep are affecting your day-to-day life.