By Keira Lee, PSP Ottawa Health Promotion Specialist –
Do you prioritize your sleep hygiene, and effectively, your health? What is sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is a collection of behaviours and practices that are essential to obtain good quality sleep – that includes ease falling asleep and staying asleep. And good sleep is essential for your health because it is needed to: maintain a healthy weight, consolidate memories, repair tissue, develop muscle, produce hormones, strengthen the immune system, and enhance mental health. Poor sleep = poor quality of life. It’s so important that it has been identified as a behavioural target in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Physical Performance Strategy, Balance, to improve physical performance, mental alertness, and resilience to stress, and to reduce obesity rates.
In a 2017 study based on the 2007-2013 Canadian Health Measures Survey of 10,976 Canadian adults, 43% of males and 55% of females reported having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. In the same study, it was found that only 65% of adults sleep the recommended amount of 7 to 9 hours each night. How does your sleep compare?
Here are some good sleep hygiene tips so you can maximize the health benefits of your sleep:
- Create a bedroom that is conducive to sleep. Your room should be quiet, cool (18ºC is ideal), comfortable and dark. Consider blackout curtains or blinds, a white-noise machine or ear plugs, and a comfortable mattress and pillow.
- Practice relaxing activities about an hour before bed. Try reading a book (call me old-fashioned), meditate, take a bath or a shower, or listen to a podcast or soothing music. Avoid stimulating activities that cause stress, like discussing emotional issues. If you have something on your mind, try journaling. The body responds to stressful activities by secreting cortisol, a stress hormone, which causes sleep disturbances.
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day on week nights and weekends. This will synchronize your internal clock by causing your body to expect sleep at a particular time each night, promoting consistent and higher quality sleep.
- Go to sleep before midnight. This practice can be challenging (I’m looking at you night owls!), but it will benefit your health! Later bedtimes and later wake-up times correlate with lower quality diets, reduced levels of physical activity and increased risk of obesity, independent of the duration of sleep. If you’re lying in bed and can’t fall asleep, get out of bed, try a relaxing activity from #2 for 20 minutes, and go back to bed.
- Remove the screens from your bedroom. Yes, that means no cellphones, tablets, televisions, or laptops! The light from these screens suppresses melatonin secretion, which may delay sleep onset. Also, screen exposure before bedtime decreases the quality of your sleep. Skip that re-run of your favourite TV show before bed and read a book instead. And if you use your cellphone to wake up, it’s time to get an alarm clock (pun intended) or use a watch. If you use an alarm clock, turn its face away from you. Staring at the clock while you’re trying to fall asleep can actually increase stress and make it harder to fall asleep.
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and heavy meals close to bedtime. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants, while alcohol acts as a stimulant a few hours after consumption. Heavy meals can trigger indigestion and disturb your sleep.
If your quality of sleep does not improve through good sleep hygiene, you may wish to consult your physician. Contact Ottawa Health Promotion if you have any questions or want to know more. Invite us over for a Lunch and Learn, or register for one of our lifestyle workshops.
Yours in health (and sleep),
Photos courtesy of staff | Title image: Adobe Stock
- Known and Probable Human Carcinogens. (May 2019). Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/general-info/known-and-probable-human-carcinogens.html
- The Department of National Defence. Balance The Canadian Armed Forces Physical Performance Strategy 2018
- Chaput JP et al. Health Reports 2017
- Chaput, JP. (2019). Interactions among sleep, sedentary behaviour, physical activity and overall health [PowerPoint slides].
- How much sleep do we really need? (2019). Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/excessive-sleepiness/support/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need
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