Since infancy we’ve had the importance of ‘good hygiene’ drilled into us. Washing our hair, hands, clothing, bedding, houses…these all become second nature from an early age - a part of our daily routines. Then 2020 came along and even more emphasis was put on the importance of good hygiene practices; scrubbing our hands more regularly, sanitising and coughing in to elbows…. However, despite our vast knowledge of ‘personal hygiene’ one area that is often overlooked is our sleep hygiene. What practices are we implementing to ensure we achieve the kind of sleep we need to function optimally? My guess is there’s room for improvement…
We all know how important sleep is. But, with the change of season comes lighter mornings, rowdier bird song and busier days, all of which contribute to shorter and less satisfying sleep cycles. Now, I’ve always been a morning person, and having Billy J has definitely meant I’ve become accustomed to less than the ideal eight hour a night sleep – but combined with even earlier sunrises, these days I’m finding it near impossible to sleep past 5am.
And if you’re anything like me, it’s not just waking early that’s become an issue – falling to sleep in the first place is becoming increasingly elusive as well. With so much going on with the business and my expanding family, my thoughts tend to race from one thing to the next without a moments pause – and this can make the notion of relaxing in time for bed a pretty far-fetched ideal.
However, these last few weeks have made me stop and recognise the importance of getting a good bedtime routine back in place. And no, the irony is not lost on me that this has been one of my key focusses for Billy J, yet I’ve been neglecting my own sleep hygiene practices (mothers out there, I’m sure I’m not the only one!)!
Sleep is our body’s chance to recoup, regenerate and reset. While getting a good night’s sleep (typically between 7-9 hours depending on your sleep cycles) is consistently linked to improvements in concentration, productivity, immunity to illness and resilience to stress, a poor night’s sleep can result in hormonal balances leading to increased appetite, weight gain, heart disease, strokes and even impairs our ability to register facial and emotional cues during social interactions! Getting a bad night’s sleep does more than put us in a bad mood, it has very real physical and psychological repercussions. There’s a reason why sleep deprivation is used as a torture technique, people!
So, what can we do to try and ensure we’re getting a restful, restorative sleep each night? While there’s plethora of Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to sleep hygiene, there are a few key pointers I’ve found the easiest, and most effective, to incorporate in to my daily life….and remember, it’s all about making these actions, habits!
- No screen time within 30 minutes of bed (Aim for an hour where possible)
Turn off that gripping, adrenaline-filled Netflix show, stopping scrolling through Instagram and close those work emails. The blue light emitted from device screens prevents our brains from releasing melatonin (which we need to fall to asleep), so it’s no surprise we feel wired afterward!
- Set a bedtime and stick to it
Whether you’re crazy busy or spending chunks of time in lockdown and working from home, it’s tempting to adjust our bedtimes based on our daily activities. However, to set yourself up for the best chance at creating a healthy sleep routine, you need exactly that – a routine. Your body clock needs to adjust and recognise when it’s time to wind down for the night. So, if 8 hours sleep is the goal, determine what time you need to wake up to get to work, go for a surf, get the kids to school – and work back 8 hours to determine your ideal bedtime. For example, if you need to be up by 6am, then you want to be asleep by 10pm.
Top tip: Set your bedtime as an alarm on your phone, so that half an hour before you know to switch your phone off and start getting ready for bed!
- Make your bedroom a relaxing space
We spend over half our lives in bed, so why wouldn’t we want to make sure it was as comfy as possible? From a good mattress to comfy linen and supportive pillows, our beds play a significant role in ensuring we achieve a restorative sleep. Something as seemingly small as choosing a bedspread you like will make you more inclined to want to spend time in bed.
- Use your senses
Relaxing scents can help mellow your body and prepare for sleep. I love spraying lavender oil on my pillow to help me wind down. With these brighter mornings it may also be worth investing in heavy weight curtains or an eye mask and, if you don’t have young children, perhaps even earplugs to help block out the beautiful albeit irritating (😉) bird song.
- Mind over matter
This is my key takeaway for any of you out there struggling with sleep: do not panic. The harder we try and force ourselves to sleep, the more anxious we become and the less likely we are to succumb to a natural, relaxing slumber. It’s easy to get worked up and start dreading bedtime for fear of hours tossing and turning with no result. Just as with all aspects of our lives, the mindset with which we approach sleep – and the day after a bad sleep – is crucial. By creating a relaxing routine in the lead up to sleep, we can focus on the enjoyment of those aspects rather than the act we are trying to achieve. Enjoy the comfort of your bedding, the smell of any relaxing candles or fragrances you’ve set up, the book you’ve swapped your phone out for…. And breathe deeply.
In the morning, whether you feel refreshed and revitalised or not, by starting the day with a positive affirmation such as ‘I’ve had enough sleep’ (because let’s face it, you technically have – one way or the other you will get through the day) – is powerful. Rather than starting your day with a negative – with something lacking – you’ve turned it on its head and will feel more empowered for doing so.
It’s these small tweaks to our nightly – and morning rituals – that can have lasting, positive effects, and be key in creating healthy sleep hygiene not only for ourselves but for our families. It may not be perfect every time but celebrate those good night’s sleeps as they occur and remember - ‘you’ve had enough’!