As any sleep-deprived adult can attest to, there is a clear relationship between one’s sleep and one’s mental health. From memory to appetite to emotional regulation, poor sleep can affect a whole host of physical and mental issues. Ask yourself the following questions to see how good your sleep hygiene is:
1. Is the room nice and cool? Your body temperature drops a few degrees when you sleep, and the body associates warmth with wakefulness. If the air around you is cool, then curling up under a cozy blanket won’t make you so hot that you can’t fall asleep—or wake up in the night.
2. Is it noisy? If good old-fashioned ear-plugs don’t work for you, try white noise machines or sleepcasts to drown out the noise pollution of the city (or of roommates).
3. Is it dark enough? Think about the amount of light pollution that enters your sleep space. You might benefit from blackout curtains or an eye mask, which can be especially helpful for those who have to work and sleep at odd hours.
4. Did I imbibe too much before bed? While alcohol might make you sleepier, you’re actually getting a less restful sleep while intoxicated. This is because alcohol disrupts your ability to hit the deepest levels of the sleep cycle necessary for rejuvenation. And going to bed with a full tummy might keep you up later.
5. What’s my relationship with caffeine like? While we all know that, for the majority of us, caffeine will keep us awake and alert, do you know when to stop drinking caffeine during the day? The half-life of caffeine is about 5-6 hours—meaning that if you have a coffee at 6 pm, by midnight half of it is still affecting your system! Ideally, you should limit caffeine consumption to the morning hours. And yes—green tea and cola are caffeinated.
6. When and how long are my naps? At around 2 or 3 pm, we experience a natural burst of melatonin, which translates to increased sleepiness. Instead of fighting it with caffeine, can you incorporate a brief siesta into your day? The ideal power nap is 15-30 minutes long. Any longer than that—you’ll start dipping into your REM sleep, which can be really hard to wake up from!
7. How much sleep am I getting? For most adults, 7-9 hours per night is the sweet spot. But you know your body best! And you can’t “bank” sleep—like pulling an all-nighter and then sleeping for a whole day on the weekend to make up for it. It’s better to try to get back to routinized sleep and wake times ASAP for the rest of the week.
8. Do I look at screens before bed? The blue light from screens keeps you most awake—but the key word is most. Any bright light can trigger your body into wakefulness, even if you’re in “night mode” on your device. Moreover, the content of what you’re looking at (social media or the news, anybody?) can cause anxiety, which can keep a ruminating-prone brain doing what it does best when you want it to rest.
9. Do I do work in bed? Working in bed forms an association between bed and stress, rather than bed and relaxation. Just like Pavlov’s dogs started associating the sound of a bell with getting hungry for forthcoming food and then salivating, you want to train your brain to pair climbing into bed with getting sleepy and then turning off. If you can, create a work environment entirely separate from your bedroom.
10. What are my pre-bedtime rituals? Not just for little kids, pre-bedtime rituals are powerful because habits are powerful for making neuroplastic connections (see #9). Drinking chamomile tea, reading a book, spraying lavender scent, doing a skincare routine, or meditating are all great practices to calm the mind and body. Find your best nightly routine!
Wrote by Carolyn Cutillo
Mental Health Counselor Intern