Seven Tips To Optimize Your Sleep Health

Introduction

Good sleep is important in pretty much every area of our daily life and functioning. Unfortunately, not everybody sleeps well. In fact, up to a third of the population experiences at least one symptom of insomnia: difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early (Ohayon, 2002). Therefore, it is helpful to have some information on how to support healthy sleep. Below, I provide seven helpful evidence-based tips that you can use to optimize your sleep.

1. Keep to a regular schedule!

When we go to sleep and get out of bed at random times, we become vulnerable to something called ‘social jet-lag’. This is very similar to the jetlag symptoms we feel when we travel from one time zone to another. You might feel tired at random times, feel hungry at irregular hours, and sleep and wake up at undesirable times.

This is because the clock on the wall is not consistent with your body’s internal clock. For example, if you wake up on weekdays at 6:00am but wake up at 11:00am on weekends, this creates a 5-hour time differential! That is the equivalent of travelling from North America to Europe!

Therefore, keeping to a regular bed/rise time and getting exposure to light in the morning is super helpful in ensuring that our internal clock is consistent with the clock on the wall.

2. Stay active throughout the day.

When we wake up after a long night’s sleep, we begin to build up a drive for deep sleep throughout the day. This drive for sleep is what allows us to get the refreshing, restorative sleep that we need. By staying active, we build up the ‘sleep credits’ we need to get a nice night’s sleep.

By contrast, people with insomnia often feel exhausted throughout the day and end up engaging in behaviours that negatively affect their sleep drive. For example, they might go to bed before they are sleepy, sleep-in in the morning, and cancel plans with friends to rest. Although this makes a lot of sense because they feel so tired, this creates a vicious cycle where they are not able to get the deep sleep they want.

3. Avoid daytime napping to optimize your sleep.

In a similar vein, try to avoid napping if you are interested in building up as much sleep drive as possible at the end of the night. Napping is equivalent to having a ‘sleep snack’ before your ‘sleep dinner’ at the end of the night. That being said, if you enjoy naps, that doesn’t mean you have to stop! This is simply a recommendation if optimizing sleep is your priority.

4. Figure out your sleep needs.

Our sleep needs differ from person to person! Some people are 8- or 9-hour sleepers; others do well with 5 or 6 hours. Striving for a certain number of hours can lead to insomnia! For example, if you are a 6-hour sleeper but you feel like you need 8, you’ll spend an excessive amount of time in bed. This will lead you to have lots of awakenings at night and end up with less refreshing sleep because your sleep is being stretched out so thin.

Here’s a website that might be helpful in determining your number of hours:
https://consensussleepdiary.com/

Besides the number of hours we need, our chronotype (preference for when we sleep and wake up) is also genetically determined. For example, some of us are morning birds and others might be evening larks or night owls.

This is an interesting website that may be helpful in determining your chronotype: https://chronotype-self-test.info/

5. Beat sleep inertia!

Many of us wake up in the morning feeling groggy. This doesn’t mean that we necessarily need more sleep. This can happen because of a phenomenon called sleep inertia. Specifically, our body is still flushing out the sleep chemicals in our body and need some time to feel more active.

There are a few ways to break the sleep inertia a little more quickly. Some examples include: getting out of bed as soon as possible, drinking some water, getting active (e.g., a walk or some light yoga), exposing yourself to sunlight, drinking some coffee if you enjoy it, and taking a quick shower.

6. Practice good sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene are best practices for obtaining optimal sleep. Examples can include limiting caffeine and substances at night; sleeping in comfortable bedrooms in terms of temperature and noise, keeping the bedroom dark when sleeping, avoiding vigorous activity at night, and limiting screen time before bed.

Although people tend to think of poor sleep hygiene as the cause of insomnia, this is actually not the case. In fact, people with and without insomnia do not differ on sleep hygiene at all (Harvey, 2000).

That being said, sleep hygiene is still important to ensuring good sleep health!

7. Keep the bed for sleeping.

When we use the bed primarily for sleep, we create an association between the bed and sleepiness. The bed becomes a place where our body knows we are going to sleep. On the other hand, if we spent a lot of time in bed awake (such as worrying about our next day), we begin to develop an association between the bed and wakefulness. That’s why some people report going to bed feeling sleepy, but then when their head hits the pillow, they’re wide awake! It’s kind of like Pavlov’s dog and the bell ringing – we can also become classically conditioned to think of the bed as a place of distress. Therefore, make sure that the bed is mostly for sleeping!
I hope this post was helpful in learning more about how to improve your sleep health.

Ultimately, what you decide to use (or not use) is completely up to you! Choose the tips that work best with your life.

After all, we sleep to live; we don’t live to sleep!

References:

Harvey, A. G. (2000). Sleep hygiene and sleep-onset insomnia. The Journal of Nervous and
Mental Disease, 188(1), 53-55.
Ohayon, M. M. (2002). Epidemiology of insomnia: what we know and what we still need to
learn. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 6(2), 97-111.

Photo credits: Bruce Mars on Unsplash


I hope everyone enjoyed this post by Parky about how to optimize your sleep. I certainly did since I suffer from bouts of insomnia occasionally. I will definitely be putting some of these tips to the test to help optimize my sleep. For more posts related to psychology and mental health, do take a minute to read Parky’s wonderful website by clicking here.


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70 thoughts on “Seven Tips To Optimize Your Sleep Health

      1. Yea, I should try and do that. I am a morning person, but what this year did to my sleep… I need to figure it out ASAP!

  1. Great thoughts here, Pooja. I do keep a mostly regular sleep pattern and also must wear a CPAP mask since 2011. It’s not comfy but you do get used to them in time. Better than letting your heart suffer from snoring…

  2. Interesting read! I’m going to share this with my husband. He always has trouble with his sleep. 😵‍💫

    Also, this: “This is because the clock on the wall is not consistent with your body’s internal clock. For example, if you wake up on weekdays at 6:00am but wake up at 11:00am on weekends, this creates a 5-hour time differential! That is the equivalent of travelling from North America to Europe!”

    That blew my mind as well as sleep inertia. Never heard of that.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. A very informative blog by Parky.
    I’m fortunate enough to get a decent sleep. My body cycle won’t allow me to stay awake after 11 pm and will wake up at 5 am.
    I do workout regularly and eating healthy, so that’s helping me as well. Sleep has a lot to do with mental health. Yoga, workout, walk in nature, book reading can definitely help.
    Also, people need to keep their room/environment in such a manner that it stays ideal for sleeping.
    The thing that help me the most is following the routine. This also helps me getting up energetic in the morning. ☀️

      1. I think routine is really helping me out.
        A good workout, healthy diet and a plan is overall very helpful.
        If I break this pattern, my cycle may get disturb.
        Other helpful things are hot milk with turmeric or saffron (in winters).

  4. 4 out of 7 to improve! I lately started to have insomnia as I have many things going in my mind. I am not respecting my “bed hygiene”. I felt into point 4 and 5 without knowing how much they are affecting my bed time. Now reading the explanation, it makes lots of sense. I use to wake up and spend around 1 to 2 hours in bed half awake. Very useful tips, thanks Parky!

    Thanks also to you Pooja! it is an amazing initiative to include guests as you are introducing us to new interesting bloggers.

    1. That’s tough! Keeping to a consistent time in bed / rise time that is close to how much sleep you are producing along with keeping fairly active throughout the day may help with consolidating your sleep and reduce night time awakenings. If it’s something that is quite troubling for you, I might check out CBT for insomnia self-help books or look to see if there is a specialist around you that provides this treatment. Good luck!

  5. Actually, our bodies are designed for a nap halfway through our waking-cycle. This goes for the opposite at night: first and second sleeps. We should be awake for a short period of time halfway through pur sleeping-cycle.

  6. I agree that awakenings happen in the middle of the night, but disagree with the necessity or function of a nap in the middle of the day. ‘Siestas’, middle of the day napping, is common tradition in warm-weather zones because of temperatures being non-optimal for work in the middle of the day. However, napping during the day can lead to less pressure for deep sleep at the end of the night. If you enjoy naps or you are excessively sleepy, then naps are great!

  7. I wish I knew about the importance of sleep years ago! I certainly pay attention to it now, and I track it as well now – which in itself can be a little stressful, as it really shows how much quality sleep I’m getting. A case of quality over quantity, which can be difficult to achieve.

  8. Thanks for this wonderful post. People underestimate the true value of having a good nights rest and over a long period of time the impact in can have on your body and your mind. I must admit do love to have a long lay in when I get the chance which isn’t that often

  9. Amazing tips! I know I struggle with getting out of bed in the morning even though I am very awake – maybe it’s actually sleep inertia! Apart from that I feel like I am always very “religious” about my sleep schedule and it definitely has the priority over everything else ahahah… Thanks for sharing!

  10. I have a solid wake-up time (7am) and a semi-solid bedtime (12am-1am) but I’m also trying to not nap as much during the day because by 1 or 2 o’clock I feel tired. Thanks for this post.

  11. I haven’t been sleeping very well lately. I used to sleep so good before and I could take a nap for ten minutes while studying for something just on my desk. Everybody was astonished at my ability to sleep. However, that has been gone, probably forever. Now I have problem getting into sleep, waking up early, and dreaming very shallow dreams. LOL. I guess I am a different person now.

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