“Sleep lingers all our lifetime about our eyes, as night hovers all day in the boughs of the fir tree.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Sleep is an unavoidable, natural, and restorative part of our lives. For some, it is the pure bliss at the end of a long day when they get to plunge into a soft cool bed and drift away into a peaceful slumber. For others, it is a dreaded time fraught with anxiety, tossing and turning, and turbulent nightmares. Our individual experiences with sleep vary widely from person to person and even throughout our own lifetime, as events and relationships change. While there are certainly external forces in our lives beyond our control that can negatively (or positively!) impact sleep quality, something that we can control is implementing habits known to contribute to a restful night’s sleep.
According to a recent article on PsyBlog, poor sleep results in a host of problems: impairments in cognitive performance, memory, attention, and alertness. Long-term impacts of sleep dysfunctions include anxiety and depression. As intuition may tell you, prescription and over-the-counter sleep medications are both laden with unwanted side-effects and may be habit-forming over time. While medication may be a very temporary solution (such as for a traveler entering a distant time-zone), medication is clearly not a long-term solution.
Sleep Hygiene Habits
Sleep hygiene provides us with strategies to form healthy long-term habits designed to promote better sleep:
(1) Go to bed and wake up at about the same time every day – even on weekends.
(2) Avoid alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine 4-6 hours before bedtime.
(3) Make your bedroom dark, cool, quiet, and comfortable.
(4) Lie down to go to sleep only when you are actually sleepy.
(5) Begin a relaxing bedtime routine (e.g., reading, taking a warm bath or shower, listening to calm music).
(6) If you don’t fall asleep after about 15-20 minutes, get up and do something else. Come back to bed only when you feel sleepy.
(7) Get physical activity on a regular basis, but not too close to – at least 2 hours before – bedtime.
(8) Have a light snack (nothing too heavy) near bedtime.
(9) Train your body to only associate your bed with sleep – try to avoid watching TV or doing work while in bed.
(10) Avoid taking your worries “with you” to bed. Designate a special “worry time” earlier in the evening to process any lingering thoughts & feelings.
Once we learn how to develop better habits to promote restful sleep, we can begin to derive more of its benefits. A recent study indicated that “sleep seems to reorganize memories, picking out the emotional details and reconfiguring the memories to help you produce new and creative ideas.” Who wouldn’t want that?
When we begin to consider that one of the functions of sleep to help us internalize and make sense of our day’s events, it may become easier to let go of our attachment to worry and anxiety at bedtime. We can “rest easy,” knowing that as we fall into nighttime’s blissful embrace, the unorganized and unprocessed memories from the day will be sorted through by our own dreamlike “post office.” Which of these ten habits designed to cultivate better sleep can you integrate in your routine this evening?
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Payne, J.D., & Kensinger, E.A. (2010). Sleep’s role in the consolidation of emotional episodic memories. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19 (5), 290-295.
Yang, M.C., Lin, S.C., Hsu, S.C., & Cheng, C.P. (2010). Maladaptive sleep hygiene practices in good sleepers and patients with insomnia. Journal of Health Psychology, 15 (1), 147-155.
Featured image: Sleeping by kaibara87 / CC BY 2.0