If you’re struggling with sleep quality, rest assured that making small changes to your lifestyle can make a big difference to your sleep style.
Haya Al Khatib, Wendy Hall and Alice Creedon – authors of a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition – proved that using simple sleep hygiene strategies could significantly improve sleep duration and quality. The research also highlighted the knock-on benefits of improved sleep on diet, with those who applied sleep strategies reducing their sugar intake by two teaspoons a day.
What exactly is a sleep hygiene protocol? The term sounds highly technical, but it simply means establishing some habits to optimise the length and quality of your sleep.
Here’s an easy sleep hygiene protocol in just four steps.
Step one. Select four habits from the sleep hygiene checklist below, which are relevant to your sleep challenges and realistic to your lifestyle.
Step two. Implement your chosen strategies for at least a month.
Step three. After this period, assess your sleep quality again.
Step four. Adjust your chosen strategies to build on your good habits.
Sleep hygiene checklist
Which four items on this list would help the most with your sleep hygiene?
Often life gets in the way. But setting and maintaining a routine of the same sleep and wake times every day (give or take 30 minutes) supports your body clock to function at its best.
Go to the dark side:
Do what you can to make your bedroom a dark, peaceful sanctuary, kept just for sleeping and connecting with your partner. Keep it dimly lit at night by installing dimmers or low wattage bulbs, and invest in thick curtains that fully close. An eye mask and earplugs may be useful too. Clutter in the room can be distracting, so try to keep the space clean and tidy. If you can, keeping the room’s temperature at around 18°C will match your body's temperature, which starts to drop as you slip into a deep sleep. It’s a chance to savour the feeling of soft, comfy bedlinen too.
Light up your morning:
A light environment (especially morning daylight) tells your body clock it’s time to wake up. Try exposing your face to natural light first thing in the morning helps reset your body clock ready for a new day. Take a 5-minute walk outside or practise some yoga sun salutes or stretches in the garden, and see the difference it makes to your alertness and energy.
Block the blue light
Television, computers, phones and tablets… It’s hard for most of us to imagine life before these devices. But the blue light they emit from their backlit screens disrupts our body’s clock and affects our ability to produce melatonin, a hormone that helps us feel sleepy. Not to mention the clickbait algorithms of social media platforms, which can send stress levels soaring just. The bottom line: it’s best to avoid devices after dinner. And if you must use your phone or tablet, consider switching on its blue light filter.
Nice long naps:
Long or multiple naps during the day mean you may not feel tired enough to fall asleep at night. Try to aim for no more than 20 minutes if you simply must nap.
Swap coffee for herbal tea:
Avoid caffeine and stimulants these oppose your body's attempts to wind down before bedtime and it's best to limit these drinks after three PM.
Not hungry, not full:
Going to bed too full or too hungry can also disrupt sleep. It can be helpful to wait at least two to three hours after your evening meal before you head to bed. Being too hungry, can also make it hard to fall asleep, or cause you to wake in search of a midnight snack.
Unwind with a bedtime routine:
Try a warm bath or shower to relax muscles. Try relaxation exercises like gentle stretching, listen to music or do a guided meditation. Reading a book is a great alternative to being on your devices and draws a clear mental line between day and night that cues your body ‘time to sleep’.
Schedule worry time:
If you’re worrying at night, your sleep is likely to be affected. Scheduling 10 minutes during the day to write down your worries, thoughts and to do lists can create a mental breath of fresh air when it comes to bedtime.
According to research from the University College London, it takes about 66 days of daily practise to make a habit stick. So give a sleep hygiene protocol a chance. And if you have persistent sleeplessness that’s affecting your wellbeing, please speak to your GP or seek advice from a qualified sleep expert.