Sleep Hygiene: A Key to Mental Wellness

February 27, 2024

What is sleep hygiene?
Improving your sleep hygiene is one of the easiest and most effective ways to improve your sleep. Essentially, sleep hygiene means building habits and an environment that contribute to improving the sleep quality.
Having a stable routine in the evening can help to mentally prepare for sleep. Doing certain things purposefully before going to sleep can not only help you fall asleep faster, but also get up easier the next morning.
Also the environment has a major influence on sleep. There are ways to design it, so that you can get the best sleep possible. Sometimes, small changes can make a big difference in sleep quality and quantity.

The effect of a good night’s sleep on mental well-being
Sleep hygiene plays a crucial role in maintaining mental wellness. Consistent and high-quality sleep has a positive impact on cognitive function, emotional regulation and overall mental health. It has an impact on our memory, concentration and critical thinking. Over time, chronic sleep deprivation can even contribute to cognitive decline and an increased risk of developing mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression. Poor sleep hygiene manifests in irregular and disrupted sleep patterns. Often, people with bad sleep hygiene have difficulties falling asleep, wake up multiple times during the night and feel tired the next day.
Sleep has a major impact on how we feel, how we behave and how we treat other people. For instance, lack of sleep also impacts emotional regulation. This can heighten emotional reactivity, which means people get more prone to mood swings, are more irritable and emotionally unstable. Good sleep hygiene and sleep quality, in contrast, lead to higher emotional resilience, through which it gets easier to deal with stressors and regulate emotions.
By prioritizing sleep hygiene and adopting healthy sleep habits, you can support your mental wellness, improve cognitive function, and enhance emotional resilience, ultimately leading to a better overall quality of life.

Tips on sleep hygiene
Having good sleep hygiene is certainly important for everyone. However, different tricks can work for different people and lifestyles. So just try it out and see what works best for you!

1. Creating the right environment
Designing your bedroom in a way that promotes good sleep quality is the first step in better sleep hygiene. First and foremost, comfort is key! Having a mattress that caters to your body’s needs can make a significant difference in sleep quality. Particularly for people who suffer from back pain, a mattress that supports the spine is crucial. It is also possible to get a sleep analysis in a sleep lab to determine what mattress would be best for you or to understand your sleeping behavior better. If you have trouble falling asleep, a weighted blanket might work for you. These blankets “press” you softly into the mattress and should weigh no more than 10% of your body weight.
Light also makes it more difficult to fall asleep. So close those curtains and stop looking at screens right before bedtime. Watching TV or being on the phone is mentally stimulating, so opt for a book, stretching, skincare or journaling instead. Especially the latter can also help in “emptying” your mind and have a calming effect.
If you do not enjoy journaling, but the brain chatter is still keeping you up, a white noise machine or some soft tunes could make all the difference. Also listening to the same audio book every night can help your mind to recognize it is time for bed. Another option is to listen to a calming podcast. Our suggestions for podcasts are “Sleepy” by Otis Gray, where he reads classic literature and bedtime stories in a soothing and relaxing tone, making it ideal for winding down at the end of the day. Alternatively, Kathryn Nicolai’s podcast “Nothing Much Happens: Bedtime Stories for Grown-ups”. Each episode of this podcast features a calming bedtime story designed to help listeners relax and drift off to sleep peacefully. You can find both of them on Spotify.
Beyond that, small tweaks like lavender scent, lowering the room temperature and setting a reminder to wash your sheets every Sunday can improve sleep hygiene.

2. Establishing a night routine
The purpose of having a night routine is to get mentally ready for bed by doing the same thing before going to bed every single night. This also means going to bed and getting up everyday at the same time. This lets you control your quantity of sleep. But to actually fall asleep at your desired time, it helps to have a consistent and calming night routine. So instead of scrolling on your phone or watching a series, try spending those 30 minutes before going to bed more purposefully.
Start by changing to some soft lighting and do some stretches to release the remaining tension from the day. To also free your mind of the remainder of the day, plan out your next day and write down anything you are afraid of forgetting.
Then head to the bathroom, change into some comfy pajamas, do your skincare routine, brush your teeth and put your hair in a loose braid. Naturally, the details depend on each person individually, but doing the same things in the same order with no stress every night will surely help the mind to prepare for sleep.
However, if you still find yourself tossing and turning, snap out of it and get up after 20 minutes of it. Try doing some calming exercises like meditation, journaling, yoga, knitting, reading or similar and then lay down again.

3. Make it easier to get up in the morning
Struggling to get up in the morning can have a multitude of reasons. The bed is too comfortable, there is nothing to do, there is too much to do, still feeling tired … The list goes on. But luckily, it can be improved with better sleep hygiene.
To make waking up more pleasant, you can try out a daylight alarm (or use the actual daylight, obviously). It also helps to set your alarm everyday at the same time – after a while, your inner clock adjusts and your body will wake you up at that time without needing an alarm. But if it is difficult for you to wake up earlier, try adjusting your schedule gradually and get up 10-15 minutes earlier every few days. Most importantly: stick with it! That inner clock adjusts much faster than we fear, it’s all about the routine.
But waking up and actually getting up are still two different challenges. Especially if you frequently find yourself stuck in that “freeze” state, when you have so much to do that you don’t even know where to start. By planning out the day the night before, you know exactly what your day holds and it will get easier to tackle one item after the other. Use the “SMART” rule to set goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. Try setting some small tasks along with bigger ones and be honest with yourself about what you can achieve in one day and be strict about priorities.
However, before diving into the seriousness of the day, put on some upbeat, fun music and make it a habit to start your day with a bit of movement and dancing. Dancing can help boost your mood, increase energy levels, and get your body moving right from the start of the day. Plus, it’s a great way to shake off any grogginess from sleep. So, put on some tunes and dance your way into a fantastic day!

4. Daytime behavior that influences sleep quality
Building better habits to improve sleep hygiene is not just about the behavior right before we go to sleep, but also about the actions we take throughout the day.
Exposure to sunlight early in the day is crucial for syncing the body’s internal clock with the circadian rhythm, which is the 24-hour-rhythm of the earth. Sufficient sunlight during the day helps regulate sleep-wake cycles, leading to improved sleep quality.
Equally important for good sleep quality and overall well-being is movement throughout the day. Here, the effect on sleep can vary depending on the personal bio-rhythm, as morning people tend to benefit from exercising early in the day while night owls might find that exercising at night can help them shift their bedtime and fall asleep earlier.
Unsurprisingly, caffeine consumption can significantly interfere with sleep. That is because even after 12 hours, there may still be a quarter of the consumed amount left in the body. So limit your caffeine intake to the morning only! Similarly, sedatives like alcohol, nicotine or THC may initially have a calming effect, but ultimately worsen sleep quality, since the body is still busy processing it.

Conclusion
Having good sleep hygiene means maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, and enjoying a comfortable sleep environment. To mentally prepare for sleep and let the mind and body calm down, it is advisable to limit exposure to screens and stimulating activities before bedtime. Also having a stable routine and doing the same things every night before going to bed aids the mind in making the connection between bed and sleep.
Good sleep hygiene ensures cognitive functions and helps build emotional resilience. Complemented by regular physical activity, exposure to sunlight and good nutrition, sleep is a vital part to a better life and mental wellness.

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