Sleep Hygiene and the Sleep Environmentby Robert Siabanis MS, RDNLifestyle
Sleep plays a critical role in our overall health and well-being. Shocked? Probably not. Sleep impacting our health is not exactly new information. But the monumental impact of sleep on our health is not fully understood by the general public. Because if we knew the full impact, we would all be getting much better (and normally more) sleep. Getting the optimal amount of sleep can significantly improve your cognitive function, as well as your physical health (1-3). Your brain depends on sleep to function optimally. The proper amount of sleep can reduce the risk of stroke (4,5), heart disease (6) and cancer (7,8), while lack of sleep may significantly weaken our immune systems (9,10) and lower our antioxidant levels (11). The point is, getting adequate, restorative sleep every night is imperative!
Getting the optimal amount of sleep each night has become somewhat of a luxury in our busy lifestyle, and to some, the idea of getting a solid night of sleep each night seems unrealistic. Luckily there are many simple ways to naturally improve sleep quality! Here we outline some evidence-based, non dietary methods of enhancing your sleep.
You might be eating the healthiest foods and making the best lifestyle decisions, but an improper sleep environment can wreak havoc on one’s sleep quality. This is where the concept of sleep hygiene comes into play. Researchers have shown that the primary environmental factors that affect sleep are light, temperature, noise and bed quality (12,13).
Melatonin is our sleep hormone and it is produced by the pineal gland at night. Studies have shown that night-time light exposure can disrupt melatonin production and sleep quality (14,15). Blue light is particularly harmful in that regard since it suppresses melatonin production for almost twice as long compared to other kinds of light (16). Blue light is emitted primarily from electronic devices such as smartphones and computers. As part of good sleep hygiene, implement practices to reduce blue light exposure. For example, wearing blue-light-blocking glasses or installing a computer and smartphone application that reduces the blue light emission would prevent exposure to blue light from disrupting your sleep (17-18) . However, the best practice would be to stop using electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed, even with these precautions taken.
Another environmental factor that can impact sleep quality, and that needs to be taken into account when considering sleep hygiene is temperature. Various studies have shown that increased bedroom temperature can disrupt sleep quality and increase overall fatigue (19-21). A temperature of 70 F, seems to be the ideal temperature for most individuals, but can differ from person to person. Noise is also another factor that can significantly impact our sleep quality, with multiple studies noting that exposure to noise can disrupt sleep (22,23). Finally, a comfortable bed, pillow, and mattress are key for a good night’s sleep, with much research showing that quality bedding can improve sleep quality and decrease lower back pain (24-26).
In addition to creating a proper sleep environment, a solid sleep routine, or lack thereof, can make or break sleep quality. Multiple studies indicate that having a set time to go to bed and wake up in addition to implementing a daily sleep routine can improve sleep quality (27-29).
Having a set evening ritual is thought to greatly improve sleep by relaxing and priming the body for sleep. The sleep routine or evening ritual can include 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise in the early evening, taking a relaxing bath, followed by a few minutes of mindfulness and meditation. Studies have shown that a warm bath or foot soak before bed can improve sleep quality and help people fall asleep faster (30-32).
At the Amos Institute, we love helping people establish their own evening ritual. The best way to find a routine is to try out a number of techniques and practices to see what works best for you. Try filling a foot bath with warm water and dried flowers, such as rose petal, lavender, and helichrysum for a relaxing, indulgent foot soak. Soak your feet while writing in a gratitude journal or practicing your evening meditation. Minimize screen time at night and wear your blue light blocking glasses. Listen to relaxing or meditative music before bedtime. Check your thermostat to make sure that your room will be a comfortable temperature, or open windows and add blankets as necessary. Do your best to block out noise or get some ear plugs to minimize noise pollution. You can even try out different bedding and linens to see if a particular feel helps you optimize your sleep. The bottom line is, we need to get adequate and restorative sleep every single night in order to live our healthiest life and prevent chronic disease. Start implementing some of these techniques to reap the benefits of proper sleep!
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