Sleep Hygiene - What It Is and Why It's Important
A lot of kids my age have unhealthy sleep habits. This negatively impacts every aspect of their lives – performance in school, mood, and physical fitness. Today’s adolescents get less sleep than teenagers in previous generations – we stay up later and wake up earlier, and the result is what's known as sleep debt. We try to make up for the lack of sleep during the week by sleeping in on weekend mornings, but these inconsistent sleep patterns just make matters worse. The problem is a lot of kids don’t know how to change their habits in order to get more sleep.
There is something called sleep hygiene which involves making adjustments to your sleep environment and your daily routines in order to improve the quality of your sleep. Healthy habits developed in adolescence can become lifelong habits that will ensure better health and wellbeing for years to come.
Good sleep hygiene involves setting yourself up to sleep well every night. Creating a comfortable, relaxing bedroom environment and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule can make a big difference in your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. There are some basic tips that can help. These are just suggestions, not rigid requirements; each person can adapt them to fit their circumstance and they can be adjusted as needed.
Set your sleep schedule, paying attention to the amount of sleep you need based on your age and other factors. Here is a resource that will help you figure out how much sleep you need. It’s important that you wake up at roughly the same time whether it’s a weekday or weekend since a regular schedule helps you get into a rhythm of consistent sleep.
Prioritize sleeping. It’s very tempting, especially for teenagers and young adults, to stay up late to do schoolwork, socialize, or spend time online, but it’s critical to make sleep a priority. You should come up with a bedtime based on what time you wake up (making sure to hit your target number of hours) and try to get to bed at that time every night, as best you can.
Limit naps, as they can throw off your sleep schedule. If you do feel the need to nap, make sure it’s early in the afternoon and try to keep it to half an hour.
Establish a nightly routine, keeping it consistent and following the same steps every night – your brain will start to recognize this pattern as preparing for sleep. Allow about half an hour to wind down and figure out what activities put you in a calm and relaxed state of mind. This might include a warm bath, soft music, reading, stretching, and of course, meditation. It’s helpful to keep the lights dim during this routine because bright lights hinder the production of melatonin, a hormone that our bodies create to help us fall asleep.
Put away electronics at least 30 minutes before you climb into bed. A lot of people take their phones or tablets into the bed with them, but this stimulates the brain, keeping you awake and alert. In addition, the blue light that these devices give off decreases melatonin production.
Focus on relaxing, rather than falling asleep. People start to get anxious if they don’t fall asleep quickly, so focusing on relaxation techniques can put you in the right frame of mind to drift off to sleep. Here are some techniques to help you relax at night.
Lastly, cultivating healthy habits during the day can help with sleep at night. Make sure to get enough exposure to natural light and to stay physically active. Don’t eat dinner too late so you’re not still digesting your food when you get into bed. And of course, caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol can all prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep.