There’s been a massive focus on personal hygiene during the COVID-19 pandemic – because it’s our personal hygiene that can make a big difference to public health. But there’s another kind of hygiene we need to attend to for our own personal health – sleep hygiene. Don’t lose sleep during lockdown! Poor sleep has wide-ranging effects on our wellbeing, including worsening pain, stress and fatigue.
What is sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is about adopting helpful behaviours and environmental practices to ensure we get the quantity and quality of sleep that we need to stay healthy. Not everyone needs 7-8 hours sleep; some need more and others less.
Am I getting enough sleep?
How do you know if you’re getting the amount of sleep you need? 2 questions can help you figure this out:
How quickly do you fall asleep? If it’s within 5 minutes of shutting your eyes, you’re overtired and need more sleep. If it’s taking longer than 15-20 minutes – you’re not tired enough i.e. you need less sleep. Falling asleep after about 10-15 minutes – you’re probably getting about the right amount.
How do you function during the day based on the hours of sleep you’ve had? Some people are razor-sharp and witty on just 4 hours! But this is not something to aim for! There are no prizes for staying awake – you need to get the sleep you need.
So, the first thing to get back on track is your sleep routine. Life does look different now and the normal work/home routine has been thrown out of whack. It’s important to restore those routines and to reinstate your typical bedtimes and wake-ups. Your brain and bodily systems work on a steady circadian rhythm and the sleep routine keeps this going. Don’t be tempted to sleep in longer – your whole day will shift forward.
But it’s not just about sleep quantity, it’s about quality too…
The sleep summary
It’s easiest to summarize sleep hygiene in a list of some “Dos” and “Don’ts”:
- Consume caffeine or alcohol at least 4 hours before bedtime.
- Have a heavy evening meal.
- Participate in intense exercise at least 4 hours before bedtime.
- Overheat or get too cold. (Try to regulate the temperature in your bedroom to about 23 degrees using open windows, an aircon or fan.)
- Display visible screens of electronic devices and visible clock faces.
- Enter arguments close to bedtime.
- Scroll through social media in bed.
- Lie in bed awake. (Get up after 20 minutes and do something else until you are tired enough to sleep. Your brain must associate bed with sleep not wake!)
- Get enough sunlight in the daytime (this regulates your melatonin levels for the sleep-wake cycle)
- Use comfortable, lightweight, cotton bedding
- Invest in a good bed and pillow.
- Block out all light sources.
- Drink some milk. (Milk contains Tryptophan that promotes sleep)
- Have a hot bath or shower close to bedtime. (This helps because the cooling of your core temperature induces sleep.)
- Check your diary, make your lists and write out your worries in a journal at least an hour before bedtime.
So, don’t lose sleep during lockdown – sleep well and stay well!
Specific sleep problems can be clues to serious underlying conditions. Please seek help from your health practitioner if you are concerned about sleep apnea, night-time pain, insomnia or other sleep difficulties.