We all know that proper sleep is essential for good health, but did you know that what you do before you go to sleep is almost as important as what happens after you shut your eyes?
Think of it this way: If sleep is a competition, then sleep hygiene is the warmup.
Have you ever seen a professional basketball player just jump right into a game without taking any warmup shots?
There’s a reason why we see elite athletes take their warmups very seriously. It allows them to physically and mentally get ready for their game and improves their chances of a better performance. In the same way, incorporating good sleep hygiene habits gets your body and brain ready for the big event–sleep.
Why Is Sleep Hygiene So Important?
In order to understand why what you do before going to bed matters, it’s important to understand why we need to sleep in the first place. The answer to that question sounds simple: we sleep in order to let our body and brain rest. However, there are actually a million different processes that need to occur in order for your body and brain to fully shut off.
For starters, the parasympathetic nervous system needs to activate. This “rest and digest” mode slows down your heart rate and breath rate and sends signals for your body to relax while stimulating your digestive system. Once you’ve successfully activated the parasympathetic nervous system, your stress hormones (like cortisol) decrease and you are better positioned to have a restful sleep.
There are a wide variety of reasons that people struggle with sleeping issues. If your brain is still in the sympathetic (“fight or flight”) mode when you go to bed, you will find that you are more restless, have anxious thoughts, and are more likely to have difficulties falling or staying asleep.
This will result in not feeling rested upon waking, poor energy, worse mood, and decreased ability to focus. There are long term effects of poor sleep quality as well. Chronic conditions like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes are all linked to poor sleep quality (1).
What Should I Do Before I Sleep?
So, what can we do to help get our bodies and brains ready for bed? Start developing a consistent pre-bed routine that tells your mind and body it’s time to R-E-L-A-X!
Use these 3 sleep tips below to increase the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system and help your body and brain relax before you turn in for the night.
1. Establish a consistent bedtime.
In general, our bodies thrive on routine so having a regular sleep (and waking) time is extremely important. Routines also offer our brain a chance to pause our usual hyper-decision making and melt into a predictable behaviour. When certain factors in your daily life are predictable, there is less to think about and you will feel less stressed (think Steve Jobs and the turtleneck). Set a daily alarm 1 hour before your bedtime (ideal bedtime is before 11 pm) and use that as a signal to start your bedtime routine.
Having a regular waking time is equally important. Making a commitment to wake up around the same time each day (yes, even on weekends!) is an important step in proper sleep hygiene. Unfortunately, there is no notable health benefit in “making up for lost sleep” on a weekend. You are better off aiming for 7-9 hours nightly on a consistent basis rather than 6 hours during the workweek and 10 or more hours on the weekend.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, those who sleep too much or too little appear to have a higher risk of developing metabolic health issues like diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and abdominal obesity.
2. Turn off all screens and dim the lights at least 1 hour before bed.
The blue light emitted by TVs, tablets, and smartphones is stimulating (2)… the exact opposite of what you want before trying to shut down! Blue light exposure also appears to decrease melatonin production and reduce the amount of deep sleep (REM) which can result in you feeling more groggy the next day. If you absolutely have to have screen time later in the evening, turn on night-mode to reduce blue-light on your devices or consider using blue-blocking glasses.
3. Avoid sleep disruptors.
Besides blue light and lights in general, there are other things that promote wakefulness or prevent deep sleep.
- Dinner Time: A full stomach can make it more difficult to have a good quality sleep so try to have a lighter dinner at least 3 hours before bed.
- Caffeine: Avoid that after-dinner espresso or nightcap and instead, have a cup of passionflower, peppermint, or chamomile tea.
- Alcohol: We all know that caffeine is a stimulant, but did you know that alcohol actually prevents deep sleep? You may have “passed out” after a night of drinking, but you probably did not wake up feeling refreshed.
- Temperature: Feel too hot or cold at night? Research shows that the ideal temperature is between 15 and 19 degrees Celsius, or 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
We’ve all been there before – laying in bed and desperately wanting to fall asleep, physically exhausted, but mentally wired and unable to shut off our busy minds.
Mindfulness-based activities like meditation in combination with other healthy lifestyle factors can decrease the amount of time it takes for you to fall asleep, decrease the number of times you wake up in the night, and help you get an overall better night’s sleep by helping you to learn how to calm anxious thoughts and wind down a busy mind.
In addition to helping people sleep better, one trial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed that those who engaged in mindful awareness practices demonstrated significant improvement in mental focus, energy, and daytime functioning (3).
You don’t have to meditate for hours a day to get the benefit either—just 5-20 minutes a day appears to provide benefit. In the same study, those who participated in various meditation practices had better outcomes than those who followed just sleep hygiene recommendations.
Muse S is designed to be worn during the day while you are awake, as well as while you are sleeping. Once you are ready for bed, just lay down and listen to the soothing voice of your selected meditation teacher guide you into a restful slumber.
The responsive Go-to-Sleep Journeys within the Muse app allow you to enter into a more relaxed state by focusing on voice guidance rather than using the biofeedback soundscapes to actively control focus and attention. This is different than active meditation with Muse 2 where the goal is to respond to the biofeedback cues and focus your attention in a more alert mental state. Designed to help settle your busy mind and help you fall into a deep sleep, Muse S uses your brain and body activity to deliver a personalized bedtime story, enhancing your state of relaxation.
The above suggestions are things you can do before you even get into bed. For more suggestions on how to sleep better, check out this post.
- National Sleep Foundation: How Excessive Sleep Can Affect Your Metabolism Accessed on: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-excessive-sleep-can-affect-your-metabolism
- National Sleep Foundation: Screen Time and Insomnia: What It Means For Teens https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/screen-time-and-insomnia-what-it-means-teens
- Black, D., O’Reilly, G., Olmstead, R., Breen, E. and Irwin, M. (2015). Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults With Sleep Disturbances. JAMA Internal Medicine, [online] 175(4), p.494. Available at: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2110998 [Accessed 3 April 2020].
- Jayaram, T., Yommer D., Tudor L., Bell T., Dumitrescu C., and Davis R. (2020). Heartfulness meditation improves sleep in chronic insomnia. J Community Hosp Intern Med Perspective, [online] 10(1): p. 10-15. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7034439/ [Accessed 3 April 2020].