Graduate students and early-career professionals know how challenging, nay, grueling our work can be without a good night’s sleep. With all the demands of practice, coursework, family matters, research, and so forth, how can we hope to squeeze in a solid 8-hour sleep session?
Furthermore, how can we fall asleep when our minds are racing through that seemingly endless list of responsibilities and deadlines? We toss and turn and check our phones, remembering that each waking moment is wasted rest time.
All of us (well, hopefully all of us) try to practice good hygiene by bathing regularly, brushing/flossing teeth, and so forth. Yet, few of us try to practice good sleep hygiene.
What is Sleep Hygiene?
“Sleep hygiene” is a term many health care providers use to describe the pattern of behaviors people engage in before bed (see Brown, Buboltz Jr, & Soper, 2002).
People with good sleep hygiene are often able to fall asleep quickly and easily and feel rejuvenated upon waking. People with poor sleep hygiene often struggle to fall asleep and wake up feeling groggy or lethargic. As someone who has been on both ends of the spectrum, I can say that improved sleep quality and quantity have helped me survive some of the most stressful parts of my career thus far.
Sleep hygiene is all about getting your body into a rhythm for quality rest.
Why is sleep important?
Anyone who has pulled an all-nighter knows that sleep can be vital for cognitive function and emotional regulation.
Sleep deprivation can dramatically affect our thoughts, our feelings, and even our motor skills (see Pilcher & Huffcutt, 1996). Sleep allows your brain time to recover from the wear-and-tear of your day and be ready for a new day of clients and coworkers.
How can I practice good sleep hygiene?
Here are 6 simple rules you can follow to improve your sleep hygiene…
1. Only use your bed for sleep and sex.
One of my psych professors from Duke University once said in lecture that good sleep hygiene can be achieved by following one rule: only use your bed for sleep or sex. Your bed’s cozy embrace often can be a tempting place to play on your phone or work on some paperwork.
By limiting your bed-related activities, you can train your mind to associate lying in bed with rest or sleep, rather than with reading or eating food.
2. Turn off or silence your phone before bed.
How often have you found yourself on the verge of sleep only to be awoken by the buzz of your cell phone? Many smartphones provide a “Do Not Disturb” function that silences your device for a specific block of time.
Alternatively, some people choose to leave their device outside the bedroom, such as on a kitchen counter or dresser.
Of course, many of us may need to respond to emergency calls. If possible, use your smartphone to set different ringtones to your contacts. You could then assign critical contacts a ringtone that is easy to hear.
3. Establish a consistent, relaxing pre-bed ritual.
Use the last 30-45 minutes of your day as a pre-bed preparation ritual. I say ritual because not only is it a pattern of behavior, but also because it should be treated as sacred. Try to stick to this as much as you can, and eventually your body will learn to recognize cues related to sleep. A simple example of this might be:
- 9:00pm: Turn off any lights that are not needed for moving around your abode, play some relaxing music
- 9:10pm: Brush teeth / Wash face / Physical hygiene
- 9:20pm: Write a brief entry in your personal journal
- 9:30pm: Turn off or silence your cell phone, turn off all lights
- 9:45pm: In bed
4. Do not drink any caffeine within 8 hours of bedtime.
The half-life for caffeine is approximately 6 hours (Statland & Demas, 1980), meaning that your fizzy/hot drink may still be active in your bloodstream long after consumption. Even a small amount of caffeine may keep you from falling asleep on schedule.
If you want to fall asleep by 10pm, you may want to pass on any afternoon coffee or soda.
5. Do NOT work out before bed.
Many believe that working out right before bed can exhaust you and help you sleep better. Although this may work for some, exercise tends to arouse the mind and body, rather than relax it.
If you want to squeeze in an afternoon workout, try to do so at least 3-4 hours before bedtime. This will allow your body enough time to cool down from that endorphin high.
6. Wake up at the same time every day.
Sleeping in has got to be one of the best parts about the weekend.
However, even on your days off, I recommend always waking up at the same time. This can help to keep your body on a consistent schedule. If you really need to get some extra shuteye, give yourself no more than 1-1.5 hours.
Remember, sleep hygiene isn’t just about getting more sleep for one day, it’s about getting your mind and body into a long-term rest rhythm.
Do you have other rules that have helped you achieve good sleep hygiene? Post a comment and share it with the Time2Track community!
Brown, F. C., Buboltz Jr, W. C., & Soper, B. (2002). Relationship of sleep hygiene awareness, sleep hygiene practices, and sleep quality in university students. Behavioral medicine, 28(1), 33-38.
Pilcher, J. J., & Huffcutt, A. J. (1996). Effects of sleep deprivation on performance: a meta-analysis. Sleep: Journal of Sleep Research & Sleep Medicine.
Statland, B. E., & Demas, T. J. (1980). Serum caffeine half-lives. Healthy subjects vs. patients having alcoholic hepatic disease. American journal of clinical pathology, 73(3), 390-393.
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