People know that sleep is important. Yet, it is one of the most oft-neglected parts of our lives. Considering how much time we spend without being meaningfully productive, we would think that we would spend more time sleeping. Of course, that is easier said than done for many among us who find it difficult to sleep well, no matter how cool or quiet the room is.
But what is sleep anyway? No one knows exactly what happens during sleep or why it is so necessary, but sleep can be defined as a form of rest the body needs for optimal functioning. During sleep, there is very little conscious motion involved, although not to the point where it is totally absent. There seem to be two independent systems that regulate sleep in our bodies:
- Homeostasis: The body aims to balance rest and activity. The body also tries to address something like a sleep deficit by increasing the duration or intensity of sleep.
- Circadian rhythm: The biological clock of all living organisms, it tells us when it is time to go to sleep by responding to light or darkness.
Clearly, messing with both of them is not new to those among us who have had to work for longer than they wanted to. A proper circadian rhythm is especially important for a person to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up on time. So what can we do to sleep well? Just as personal hygiene is necessary to keep ourselves free from illness (as we are now painfully aware), sleep hygiene is important so that we can keep homeostasis and circadian rhythms performing at their best. Sleep hygiene describes positive practices and habits that help you fall asleep quickly and have a deep sleep. It is important to remember that practicing these habits are essential throughout the day and not just before bed time. Starting and improving on these practices will ensure a deep sleep and make you feel less lethargic during the day.
Here are some of the ways you can practise sleep hygiene techniques:
- Avoid caffeine (chocolates, soft drinks, coffee, etc.) and nicotine (including patches, vapourisers, and gum) at least an hour before bed time.
- Avoid alcohol around bed time. Although alcohol may appear to help us sleep, it can make our sleep less restful, and disrupt the deeper stages of sleep.
- Avoid eating large amounts of food before bed time. Do not go to bed too hungry or too full as this creates a discomfort in your body which might hinder good quality sleep.
- Engage in regular physical exercise, since it is important to tire our muscles in order for us to feel sleepy. However, any kind of vigorous exercise should be done at least 3 hours prior to bed time. You may indulge in light strolling before bedtime to calm you.
- Maintain a calm and tidy bedroom, and choose bedding that is comfortable and to your liking. Also, making your bed every morning after waking up might help you fall asleep quicker later in the day.
- Keep the bedroom at a comfortable temperature, avoiding extreme hot or cold.
- During the night keep the bedroom quiet and dark. Try to get some sunlight during the day.
- Keep the work area separate from the sleep area. If possible, the relaxation area (where you paint, read, use your phone, engage in conversations, etc.) should also be separate from your bed.
- Set regular times to go to bed and to get up each day.
If after 20 minutes of going to bed you do not fall asleep, avoid staying in bed and tossing and turning. Get up, go to a different space and try a calming activity like reading, painting, listening to music and then go back to bed. This helps in creating a distinction in your mind between sleep and other activities.
These few basic steps are applicable to everyone. However, what we require from sleep is different for every individual. You should, thus, try out different methods and practices and see what works best for you. We hope that you can sleep well after trying some of these out. After all, everyone deserves some rest, and what way to rest better than to let your mind relax with your body?
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