“Sleep problems constitute a global epidemic that threatens health and quality of life for up to 45% of the world’s population,” the society says.
You don’t have to go through life sleep-deprived. Just as you learned to frequently wash your hands and wear a mask as part of your pandemic personal hygiene, you can learn to sleep better each night with what experts call “sleep hygiene.”
That’s sleep specialist lingo for the ways you can train your brain to recognize its time to fall asleep — and then stay asleep.
Here are the top eight ways to improve your sleep hygiene and get some zz’s:
1. Create a sleep nest
One of the first tasks is to set up your sleep environment. The REM or dreaming stage of sleep is a lighter level of rest that can more easily be disrupted, so strive to have a comfortable mattress and bedding that’s not too hot.
2. Develop a routine
Set up a bedtime ritual by taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book or listening to soothing music. Or you can try deep breathing, yoga, meditation or light stretches.
You’re teaching your brain to wind down.
3. Cut the lights
Secretion of the sleep hormone melatonin begins at dark. Research has found that the body will slow or stop melatonin production if exposed to light, so get rid of any light, even the blue light from your charging smartphone or laptop. If your room isn’t dark enough, consider using light-blocking shades or eye masks.
What if you like to read yourself to sleep? That’s fine, experts say, just read in a dim light from a real book, not a tablet or an e-reader.
“Digital light will suppress the circadian drive,” Polotsky said, while a “dim reading light will not.”
4. Dampen sound
While you’re dealing with the blue light from your smartphone, go ahead and turn off any work alerts (no Slack or email pings at 2 a.m.).
Better still, just charge the thing outside your bedroom.
If you live in a noisy, urban setting, playing white noise or running a fan in the bedroom might help drown out any sudden noises that may startle you from your slumber.
5. Boycott caffeine later in the day
Stop drinking caffeinated liquids at least six hours before your normal bedtime (some experts say nothing after 3 p.m.). And caffeine is in more than just coffee, so that applies to some teas and sodas, as well as chocolate.
Yes, chocolate. That cup of hot chocolate you think may help you sleep could contain 25 milligrams of caffeine while a cup of green or black tea will provide 50 milligrams of caffeine.
6. Skip the booze
Don’t turn to alcohol to calm your nerves or help you sleep. Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it traps you in the lighter stages of sleep.
Your body needs to experience all three stages of sleep — light sleep, the REM or dream state, and deep sleep — to fully repair and restore itself.
7. Avoid heavy or spicy foods
8. Make the bedroom sacred
And last, but not least, reserve your bed for sleep and sex.
As normal as it seems to work from home or play games with the kids in bed, that doesn’t teach your brain to view the bedroom as a place for slumber.
The need for sleep
Why go through all this trouble? Because sleep deprivation is dangerous for your health.
Remember, the amount of sleep you need each night depends on your age.
Adults need to sleep at least seven hours a night — another goal many fail to reach. But with these sleep hygiene tips, you can teach your brain a few new tricks to gain the quality sleep you crave.
Whatever you do, don’t stay sleep deprived: If you try these tips and can’t seem to relax, or your sleep continues to worsen, be sure to reach out to your doctor or a mental health professional.