It’s safe to say that we’ve all experienced a sleepless night due to difficulty falling and staying asleep or simply because of our poor sleeping habits. What usually follows such a night is a lousy day that we go through devoid of energy, easily irritated, and unable to focus. There’s no question about it: sleep affects our mental, physical and emotional wellbeing, and vice versa. We all seem to be aware of the importance of sleep in our lives. Yet, we often fail to act on it. Your sleep habits can either foster healthy sleep hygiene or hinder it. Poor sleeping habits contribute to the general decrease in the quality of professional, social and personal functioning. They can also result in developing chronic issues, such as insomnia, prevalent in around 31% of people in the UK alone . If a good night’s sleep is an exception rather than the rule in your life, the good news is there’s so much you can do about it. In this article, you will learn the causes of sleep issues, how poor sleep hygiene can affect your life and how to improve your sleeping habits.
How Poor Sleeping Habits Impact Your Life:
Not so long ago, many of us looked for ways to improve sleep during the covid-19 crisis. Even now, I’m sure you know how unpleasant it is not to get enough sleep at night, wake up early in the morning and start work or school feeling exhausted.
Aside from the immense tiredness, poor sleeping habits can lead to:
- Poor focus and memory
- Inability to control and regulate your emotions
- Stress management issues
- Proneness to irritability and low mood
- Weaker immune system
These issues negatively impact the way you think, feel and behave. Naturally, it can take a toll on your close relationships, performance at work and social life.
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How To Improve My Sleeping Habits: Understanding the Causes of Sleep Issues
Experiencing struggles around sleep, including poor sleep hygiene, can have many causes, such as:
Your Sleeping Environment:
- An uncomfortable bed
- Noisy household or neighbourhood
- Air pollution
- A lot of light
- Irregular sleep routine
- Long naps (more than 30 minutes) during the day
- Intense physical exercise late at night
- Eating big meals before sleep
- Caffeine, alcohol or nicotine intake before bedtime
- Using screens with blue light such as TV or phone before sleep
Mental Health Struggles:
- Anxiety and depression can contribute to sleep issues
- Going through a difficult life event
- Coping with stress-inducing changes such as a new job position, having a newborn, etc.
- Struggling with racing thoughts or ruminations.
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How To Improve My Sleeping Habits: Understanding Bad Sleep Habits
If your issue is staying up too late scrolling or binge-watching Netflix, you’re not alone. Maybe you feel like you’re a night owl. Is that the only way to look at the issue, though?
This 2014 study (Kroese, F. M. Et al.)  focuses on “bedtime procrastination” – a combination of anxiety, lack of self-regulation and technology misuse, resulting in going to sleep later than intended despite having no obstacles. Let’s say you’re experiencing FOMO, or you’re simply not feeling tired enough to sleep yet. In this scenario, you might ease your anxiety or entertain yourself by scrolling through social media until the point of exhaustion.
Alessandra Edwards, a performance expert, shares with Wired that bedtime procrastination is prevalent among people who:
- Struggle with difficult unprocessed emotions
- Feel like they’re not in control of their time
- Work in high-stress environments
It’s likely that if these aspects are common for you, your mind will be presenting you with thoughts and images from the day just passed, perhaps listing any missed opportunities, ruminating about conversations you’ve had or haven’t had, thinking about an endless to-do list for the next day. All of this makes it even more difficult to fall asleep, even if you’re exhausted.
How To Improve My Sleeping Habits: 5 Tips
Here are 5 tips on how to create a routine fostering high-quality sleep which can improve your immune system and metabolism, balance your hormones, and boost your brain’s physical energy and cognitive functioning:
1. Stop Self-Sabotaging Your Sleep
Before introducing good habits, make sure to get rid of the unhelpful ones:
- Avoid eating big meals or working out right before bedtime
- Eliminate your intake of caffeine, alcohol or nicotine in the evenings
- Use your bedroom for sleeping and sexual activity only.
If your bed becomes a daytime hang-out space or a workstation, you can unknowingly develop negative associations with it and hinder your ability to rest at night.
2. Keep it Cool & Dark
If your bedroom is messy, stuffy or too bright, your ability to rest will decrease. Keep your bedroom clean, tidy, cool, and dark to foster high-quality sleep.
As Shawn Stevenson explains in his book “Sleep Smarter”, melatonin is a crucial link between sleep and light as it regulates our circadian rhythm, which informs us when to sleep and when to wake up. Lots of light inhibits melatonin release, keeping us awake. Accordingly, small amounts of light trigger melatonin release, making us sleepy. To sleep well, eliminate the usage of screens with blue light as they also inhibit melatonin production. It’s best to switch off notifications and leave your devices in a far corner of your bedroom overnight.
3. Consistency is Key
Being regular with your sleep schedule means respecting your internal clock rather than confusing it. Did you know that the human body recovers most between 10 PM and 2 AM? Aim to go to bed around 10 or 11 PM to sleep deeply and feel rejuvenated in the morning.
4. Power-Down Hour
Michael Breus, a sleep specialist, developed a “Power-Down Hour” strategy that helps unwind, get ready to sleep, and engage in self-care. Breus proposes to break down the last hour of your day into three 20-minute segments:
The 1st segment focuses on fulfilling any responsibilities before bedtime, which prevents us from being stressed out late. Additionally, it’s good to keep a journal by your bed to quickly free your mind from the anxiety-inducing thoughts by noting them down.
The 2nd segment is for your hygiene. Use this time to take care of your body. Feel free to take a warm shower or a relaxing bath, and let the water wash the day’s worries away.
The 3rd segment focuses on relaxation. We often abruptly move from our day into sleep, yet our bodies and minds don’t work like light switches. All they need is to receive a signal associated with bedtime.
5. Relaxation Techniques
Self-care isn’t just about a bubble bath or putting on a face mask. It’s about checking in with yourself, creating an opportunity to ease your mind, reduce stress and remove any built-up tension through journaling, reading a book or a relaxation technique, such as progressive muscle relaxation, a guided meditation, or a body scan.
Feel free to try diaphragmatic breathing:
- Lie down on your back and make yourself comfortable.
- Place one hand on the top of your chest and another one on your belly, below your ribcage.
- Close your eyes and breathe in and out deeply through your nose.
- Direct each inhale to your belly and observe your diaphragm expanding.
- Then fill your upper chest with more air gently.
- When exhaling, empty your diaphragm first, then your upper chest.
- Carry on for 5 to 10 minutes.
Notice the sensations of your body rising and falling. Feel the soothing rhythm slow your heartbeat and clear your mind.
If you’re struggling with sleep issues or cannot break a bad sleep habit, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Not getting enough good sleep can get in the way of your mental and physical health, thus reducing productivity and ability to gain pleasure from your relationships and leisure time. Get in touch with us, and we will pair you with a trained professional specialising in sleep therapy.