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:
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!
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.
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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