Sleep hygiene tips from OTs that are so simple you can do them with your eyes closed!
On March 18th, we celebrate World Sleep Day, an annual event intended to celebrate the importance of sleep as well as raise awareness of the issues related to sleep. This year’s slogan is Quality Sleep, Sound Mind, Happy World. As occupational therapists, we recognize that our quality and amount of sleep can not only impact our mental health and well-being, but also our daily functional performance. Sleep and daytime functioning are very closely interrelated, and a disturbance in sleep can impact how we might engage in necessary and meaningful self-care, productivity, and leisure activities throughout the day.
Sleep that is both restful and adequate provides the foundation for us as humans to be able to participate and engage in all aspects of daily life. We sometimes might cut back on sleep to finish binging our favourite show, because of family or work demands, or even because we are having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. But even one night of short sleep can affect our functioning and performance the next day. Sleep insufficiency, which is defined as not obtaining adequate restorative sleep, is linked to many risks including increased risk of motor vehicle collisions, decreased work productivity, reduced quality of life, and reduced productivity (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2020). Sleep insufficiency is also linked to chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression (CDC, 2020). With all this in mind, it’s apparent that sleep is important!
The CDC (2020) recommends that adults over 18 years of age should aim to get 7 hours or more of sleep every night, with infants, toddlers, children, and teens needing even more. As occupational therapists, we work with our clients to encourage and promote optimal sleep in a variety of ways including, modifying the sleep environment, use of assistive devices/equipment, encouraging health management behaviours, and establishing individualized sleep hygiene routines.
Given the importance of sleep in our lives, it should be of no surprise that it has been a topic that has been widely researched. It should also be of no surprise that research has shown the strong link between sleep quality and sleep hygiene behaviours (Duman & Timur Taşhan, 2018; Mastin, Bryson, & Corwyn, 2006). In a 2018 study by Duman & Timur Taşhan, it was found that sleep hygiene education along with progressive relaxation exercises improved quality of sleep in postmenopausal women. And so, we’d like to share some recommendations that might improve your quality of sleep. We’ve compiled a few tips that we as occupational therapists recommend to clients in the community, and listed them below:
Create a personalized sleep routine
Creating a consistent schedule. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day (even on weekends!). This allows your body to get into a consistent schedule of falling asleep and waking up each day.
Turn the lights down low and avoid blue-light in the evenings. Blue-light is the portion of light in the visible light spectrum that has effects on our alertness and sleep cycles. You’ll find blue-light emitted from LED or fluorescent lights, as well as many electronic devices such as your phone or computer. By avoiding or reducing these lights in the evening, you can help mimic the sun setting and this will allow your body to prepare for sleep.
Incorporate relaxation time before sleep. Try to allow yourself to have 10-20 minutes of relaxation before going to sleep. This can involve techniques like progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, or even just listening to calming music.
Snacking and drinking before bed. Some people find that having a cup of herbal tea or warm milk allows them to calm down and help them sleep. You could also try incorporating a small snack before bed if you find yourself waking up hungry during the night. Research shows that your snack should not be caffeinated or high in sugar.
Be mindful of your daily activities
Minimize caffeine and sugar intake. Caffeine and sugar can stimulate your body, making it difficult to fall asleep. Consider avoiding coffee, tea, and soda in the later afternoon or evenings.
Incorporate regular exercise/activity into your routine. Try finding an activity that you enjoy doing to incorporate into your daily routine, such as taking an evening walk around the neighbourhood, or yoga (insert yoga therapy link??). However, avoid doing these activities too close to your bedtime as they might stimulate your body and have the opposite effect of getting you ready for sleep!
Create a restful sleep environment
Keep your bedroom for sleep and intimacy. Your bedroom should be a work-free and stress-free zone. It’s tempting to do some work or watch TV from the comfort of your bed, but when doing this your brain starts to associate your bedroom with that activity. That might make it difficult when trying to get some sleep in the evening. Consider doing other activities in another environment, such as the living room, if possible.
Create a dark sleeping environment. Light is one of the most powerful cues in our biological clock that helps regulate sleep. Light from unwanted sources such as street lamps or electronic devices might keep you awake. Try using black-out curtains or an eye mask to block all unwanted light.
Try to ensure your sleeping environment is noise-free. We may or may not have control over this, whether it’s from outside traffic or pets or children. Using ear plugs or white-noise machines can block out noisy distractions.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Sleep and Sleep Disorders. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/index.html
Duman, M. & Timur Taşhan, S. (2018). The effect of sleep hygiene education and relaxation exercises on insomnia among postmenopausal women: A randomized clinical trial. International Journal of Nursing Practice, 24(4), e12650–n/a. https://doi.org/10.1111/ijn.12650
Mastin, D. F., Bryson, J., & Corwyn, R. (2006). Assessment of Sleep Hygiene Using the Sleep Hygiene Index. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 29(3), 223–227. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-006-9047-6