WhiteFlag Social Media Manager
Most of us do our best to satisfy our physiological needs: we eat when we feel hungry, we drink when we feel thirsty, and we seek warmth when we feel cold because that is what our bodies need to survive.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a third of adults in the United States report that they get less than the recommended amount of sleep each night.
So why do so many of us neglect to prioritize rest when we feel tired?
I have struggled with sleep my entire life; both falling asleep and staying asleep. On my journey to manage my insomnia and sleep issues, I discovered how important sleep hygiene is and how my habits can often be what's keeping me from getting the quality sleep I need.
I know, you're probably wondering, what in the world is sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is a catchall term for habits and behaviors that influence sleep. Practicing healthy sleep hygiene can help us fall asleep more quickly, remain asleep throughout the night, and feel refreshed in the morning. Likewise, poor sleep hygiene can have an adverse effect on sleep quality and duration.
When it comes to sleep hygiene, the first — and what I personally believe to be the most important — step is maintaining a regular sleep schedule. I do my best to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Even on the weekends! This helps regulate my body's sleep cycle, which makes it easier to fall asleep and wake up every day. I fought this one for a long time, but soon realized that just like in day-to-day life, a routine is incredibly important and keeps me on track.
Speaking of routines, a relaxing bedtime routine helps us unwind and prepare for sleep. It helps our bodies recognize that it's bedtime and therefore time to start winding down. Studies have shown that the best time to start our routine is about 30 to 60 minutes before going to bed. Our bedtime routines can include whatever makes us feel most relaxed, unless it involves a device that emits blue light. For me, I take a warm shower every night about 40 minutes before I'm ready to get in bed.
Another part of my bedtime routine is a 10-minute session of meditation and grounding. That often entails listening to a guided meditation, but sometimes I'm not in the mood for that and I just put on some relaxing music and focus on feeling the music throughout my body. Something about this act really gets my mind and body into sleep mode.
This next step is really, really difficult: turn off your electronic devices! They emit blue light, which can reduce the melatonin levels in our bodies — it controls our sleep/wake cycle — and when levels tip, it can cause difficulty falling asleep. Devices are also very distracting and end up keeping our brains alert, even if we aren't aware of it.
My other biggest piece of advice for my fellow sleep strugglers is to make your sleep environment comfortable for you. I like my bedroom cool, dark, and quiet. I always have the pillows I love around me, comfortable blankets of varying weights, what I lovingly refer to as my "cuddle pillow," and most importantly, earplugs. Even though I don't really think of myself as a light sleeper, I do notice that I get much more solid sleep when I sleep with my earplugs. Whether it's my husband coughing, the dog snoring, or one of the kids banging around in the kitchen for a late night snack, those little sounds can bring me right out of a deep sleep.
If you're struggling with sleep, there are things you can do. Take some time to reflect on your sleep hygiene, be realistic and honest with yourself about your patterns and routines, and take some time to come up with a few new tactics you can implement. I also recommend tracking your sleep, paying attention to what seems to affect your quality of sleep and what helps you get a better night's sleep. Tracking can help you if and when you decide to go to your doctor for support.
Talking to others who struggle with sleep can help you feel less alone. I've connected with a number of other night owls/insomnia sufferers on the WhiteFlag App and not only have we been great sounding boards for each other, we've gotten to share and learn unique sleep tips and tricks. If you're up late and struggling, remember that you are not alone — the WhiteFlag App and others struggling with sleep are just a message away.
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