Sleep is one of the most valuable ways we nourish our bodies and brains. Developing healthy sleep habits can be challenging, even under the best of circumstances. Although it seems as if we would have all the time and control to create the optimal sleep plan, that’s not necessarily the reality.
When our usual routine is disrupted, and many of the outside forces that help us maintain our daily schedule are removed, the outcome can feel disorienting and disorganized. This means putting in some extra work to create a new routine and committing to maintaining it. As humans, consistency is something that helps us thrive — and a regular sleep routine is an important part of that.
Trouble sleeping may include difficulty falling and/or staying asleep, disrupted sleep, or sleeping too much. Sufficient, restful sleep helps support overall physical and mental health, including:
- Improved Brain and Cognitive Function
- Increased Productivity
- Better Focus
- Improved Memory
- Boosts Immune Function
- Helps Balance Mood
Sleep Hygiene is a term used to describe the things we do to help support good sleep on a consistent basis. Below are some things to consider when developing a healthy sleep routine.
Know how much sleep you need
Most adults need somewhere between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night, but everyone is different. Figure out how much sleep your body needs and schedule bedtimes and morning alarms accordingly.
Consistency is key
Create a schedule that works for you and stick to it — even on the weekends! Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule will help you get your body into a natural routine and over time it will require less thought and effort. Starting out, use bedtime reminders and set a morning alarm. You can even consider an accountability buddy to check in with every morning.
Create a realistic schedule
Make sure you consider your lifestyle and responsibilities when developing your schedule. Consider what time you need to be ready for work, think about your morning routine and how much time you would reasonably need to do everything you want before starting your workday. Once you do that, work backward and factor in how much sleep you need- using this formula helps determine what your ideal bedtime would be. If you end up with a bedtime of 8:00 PM, evaluate whether or not this is reasonable. If not, is there a way for you to move other things around in the morning so you can get to bed a bit later? Perhaps take care of some things after work that you would have done earlier.
Turn off your screens (all of them!)
Blue light emitted by screens can impact your ability to fall asleep and the quality of your sleep. Stop looking at your computer, tablet, television, or phone screen one hour before you plan to sleep. If you still want to chat with someone, opt for using the phone instead of FaceTime. Read a hardcopy book instead of reading online. Or listen to audio instead of watching something. This also gives you a chance to begin relaxing your mind and preparing for sleep.
Create a comfortable sleeping environment
Make sure that the space you sleep is comfortable, relaxing, and peaceful. Consider the temperature in the room, noise level, and the amount of light or dark you prefer. If you are unable to modify any of these, invest in a sleep mask, earplugs, or a lighter weight blanket. Some people even like weighted blankets that may help alleviate stress. In short, do whatever you need to create an environment that promotes comfort and ease.
Get active and outside during the day
While practicing social distancing, it can still be important to get fresh air and natural sunlight. Exercising or being active during the daytime can also help support more restful sleep at night. So step away from your workspace and carve out time to go for a walk, exercise, dance, and stretch.
Use meditation or other relaxation techniques
Meditation, progressive muscular relaxation, or simple mindfulness practice can help get you to sleep. A guided meditation app or other recorded sleep sounds can help quiet your mind and make falling to sleep easier.
Give your mind and body some rest before bed
Keep evening activities and reading light and easy. Avoid overloading your system with news or suspenseful reading that can activate your body’s stress response. Be sure to eat large meals and get your exercise in at least a few hours before sleep so your body has time to relax and prepare itself for sleep.
Avoid long naps and caffeine
Napping throughout the day or long naps (longer than 30 minutes) can be disruptive to your body’s natural sleep pattern. Drinking caffeine to fight off fatigue, late in the day can also contribute to sleep disturbances. So be sure to skip the late afternoon or after dinner cup of coffee and opt for some tea instead and stick with one or two 20 minute naps if needed.
Remember, your bed is not your office
If you have access to another space throughout the day, be sure to get your work done outside of your bedroom. When you’re home, it’s easy to lay under the covers all day with your laptop and treat your bed as your home office. But your bed should be used only for sleep and sex. Our brains become accustomed to a routine. If you spend your day working in bed, your body and brain register this place as one that is used for work and productivity, making it harder to get your body ready for sleep when it’s time. If you have no other place to work outside of your bedroom, look into setting up a small desk or table in a corner where you can work — even a comfortable chair with a lap desk will do.
If your sleep difficulties persist, begin to disrupt your day to day functioning, and/or interfere with your ability to perform necessary tasks, you may want to reach out for additional support from a sleep specialist. Talk to your doctor or mental health provider to help decide if this is the right next step for you.