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Sleep Hygiene: The Hidden Principles Behind Getting a Good Night's Sleep

Evidence-based Reviewed Article

We've all been there - tossing and turning, staring at the ceiling, burying your head in the pillow, changing positions, all in a frustratingly futile search for some quality sleep. While the common, and annoying, immediate effects is grogginess and feeling unrefreshed when you finally do get out of bed, chronically poor sleep quality can have significant health implications. Although many turn to sleeping pills, achieving lasting improved sleep quality means developing good sleep hygiene. Here's how to do this.

Good Sleep Hygiene: What It Is and Why You Need It

An image of a sleeping womanGood sleep hygiene refers to healthy sleep habits and behaviors that can improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. The sole aim of good sleep hygiene is achieving good sleep quality, which is an individual’s self-satisfaction with the entire sleep experience - everything from falling asleep to waking.

When we sleep poorly at night, we almost certainly wake up feeling unrefreshed, irritable, dulled, and fatigued. As you can imagine, this can affect how the rest of the day goes. However, there’s no health risk to having a bad night every once in a while. On the other hand, though, long-term poor sleep quality can have significant adverse health outcomes, increasing the risk of dementia, diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, and even cancer. 1

Therefore, it is understandable why health professionals place a high emphasis on good sleep quality, and this is best achieved by having good sleep hygiene. Like most good health outcomes, achieving good sleep quality is a gradual process that requires patience, commitment, and dedication to maintaining good sleep hygiene.

Principles of Good Sleep Hygiene

According to the CDC, one in three adults report not getting enough sleep daily, and it is definitely not for a lack of trying. In fact, many try out sleep hygiene practices and tips they see online, yet have little to nothing to show for it. The reason for this may be traced to a lack of understanding of the principles of behind good sleep hygiene and how they correlate to good sleep.2

These principles are as follows.

Value Sleep

Sleep is an important part of our lives and needs to be regarded as such. It is not uncommon for people to treat sleep as a luxury and not a crucial part of living. In such instances, the individuals do not respect their sleep and actively look for ways to replace their sleep time with other activities. Taking sleep for granted like this eventually leads to poor sleep quality. Therefore, the first principle of good sleep hygiene is valuing sleep, as you would value breathing or eating.

Prioritize Sleep

The second principle of good sleep hygiene is prioritizing sleep. While this principle may appear to be a component of valuing sleep, prioritizing sleep is more reflected in behaviors than beliefs. Essentially, it is not only important to value sleep but also to actively try to improve it and put it at the forefront of your nightly duties. It needs to come before other needed tasks like working, chores, or hobbies, for example.

Personalize Sleep

Everybody is different, and every body is different, and this is reflected in the way we sleep, too. As important as following sleep hygiene practices is, you need to realize that your body is unique and not take what you see and hear from others as gospel. This does not at all invalidate the universality of sleep hygiene practices; rather, it shows that you need to apply these practices to your own body system. You have to figure out what works for you and stick to it.

Trust Your Body

An image of a man and a smiling woman in bedThe fourth principle of sleep hygiene is trusting your body to deliver the sleep you need and deserve after observing the right sleep habits and behaviors. A distrust of your body’s sleep system often leads to increased anxiety, which increases stress, and ultimately worsens sleep.

Protect Your Sleep

You need to protect your sleep from all factors that may interfere with the quality of your sleep. This principle requires intentionality, discipline, and sacrifice to ensure good sleep hygiene. You need to be proactive when implementing sleep hygiene practices, to remove both potential and existing distractions to good sleep.

Tips to Improve Sleep Hygiene

After understanding the principles on which sleep hygiene lies, the next step is actually implementing the right sleep habits and behaviors. They include the following.

Maintain a Sleep Schedule

Having a sleep schedule is essential to achieving good sleep quality because it conditions the body’s biological clock to feel sleepy and wake at the same time every day, even during weekends and holidays. To implement this, you should try to go to sleep around the same time every day. Your target should be seven or more hours of sleep daily, with teenagers and younger children needing at least eight hours of sleep and often more.

For an effective sleep schedule, you need to limit napping, especially for extended periods or close to your bedtime. Napping, for all the benefits it brings during the day, disrupts the sleep-wake cycle, and makes it difficult to fall asleep at night. Then, since you end up sleeping fewer hours at night, you need to make up for it with more naps the next day, setting off a vicious cycle that can lead to chronic sleep deprivation. If you must nap, keep it to around 20 minutes before 3 pm.

Have a Regular Sleep Routine

Drawing up a bedtime routine and, more importantly, following it, is essential to good sleep hygiene. Personalization comes into play here, as your routine should be something that relaxes you, but excludes blue light-emitting electronics.

Some great options to consider are mindful breathing, yoga, warm showers, meditation, reading, podcasts, and even a light snack. This routine can start around 30 minutes before you go to bed, and if diligent with it, your body eventually associates the activities at night with sleep.

There are times when it may be difficult to fall asleep, and you find yourself tossing and turning. If this happens, don’t force sleep. You can get up and repeat your sleep routine, only returning to bed when you feel sleepier.

Optimize Your Sleep Environment

The environment in which you sleep plays a key role in the quality of your sleep. For the best sleep, you should limit the stimulation your senses are exposed to. This means your sleep environment should have minimal sources of disturbance to the seeing, hearing, and smelling senses.

Practically, this means sleeping in a cool, dim, and quiet room. However, depending on your body’s sensitivity to heat, you may need to wear socks to keep your feet warm. You can also try white noise to prevent noises from waking you. Also, ensure your bed, bedding, and pillows are comfortable.

Avoid Alcohol, Caffeine, and Nicotine Before Sleep

An image of a woman with crossed finger in front of an alcoholic drinkAlcohol is a depressant. By definition, depressants are chemicals that reduce arousal and stimulation. The implication of this is that alcohol should theoretically be good for stimulating sleep, and that’s true in reality, too. However, the sleep initiated by alcohol is of poor quality, as the depressant effect wears off in the middle of the night, and results in the individual waking frequently, disrupting their sleep, and a consequent unrefreshed feeling in the morning.

On the other hand, caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and keep the brain active and alert. It goes without saying that this makes it difficult to fall asleep. With caffeine, the effects can last for up to 10 hours, meaning even drinking a cup of coffee late in the afternoon can affect sleep quality. As a rule of thumb, limit alcohol or stimulant intake entirely after 4 pm.

Keep Your Bed for Sleeping, Sex, and Sickness

Dubbed the three S’s of sleep hygiene, ensure you reserve your bed only for sleep, sex, and sickness. This helps the brain build and maintain a strong association between your bed and sleep. If you “abuse” your bed with routine activities like eating, gaming, and even reading, you may find it more difficult to easily fall asleep when you need to. So, as much as you can, use your bed only when you need to sleep, with sex and occasional sickness being the only exceptions.

Relieve Stress

There is a strong relationship between poor sleep quality and elevated levels of stress.3 This is because a lack of sleep triggers the body’s natural stress response system, known as the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response. The NEM system comprises six circuits, spanning different organs and systems in the body.

The body’s Hormone circuit, one of the NEM circuits, responds to stress by increasing cortisol production. An increase in cortisol then disrupts sleep, which can make the body even more stressed. If this persists, the NEM becomes dysregulated and may result in a condition called Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). This condition is the non-Addison’s form of adrenal dysfunction, where the body’s stress response cannot cope with chronic life stressors.

Therefore, relieving stress is key before sleep, not only to improve your night’s rest but to reduce the risk of more serious conditions. Common ways to relieve stress include exercise, mindfulness practices, yoga, tai chi, etc. Also, sleep hygiene practices like reducing the use of electronics and exposure to blue lights from phones and other screens are important in reducing stress levels before sleep.

Do Sleep Supplements Improve Sleep Hygiene?

The supplement industry has grown massively over the last few years, and there seems to be a supplement for just about any condition nowadays. Sleep supplements, though, have been in existence for thousands of years and are not just an innovation of modern times. However, even this rich history does not dispel the safety and efficacy concerns around sleep supplements.

The truth is, as with any other supplement, whether or not a sleep supplement will be safe and effective depends on the ingredients of the supplement and its manufacturers. Before making any buying decision regarding supplements, the most important detail to consider is what the supplement actually contains and how those ingredients affect your condition.

In the same vein, a sleep supplement that contains the right minerals, vitamins, chemicals, neurotransmitters, or hormones to improve sleep is a good supplement. These right ingredients include:

Also, it is essential to get supplements from the right manufacturers. Because the FDA does not have stringent regulations on supplements as compared to medications, substandard supplements are quite common. However, if you purchase from trusted manufacturers, you will significantly reduce safety risks and concerns. Still, even if you see the right supplements from trusted sources, ensure to speak to your healthcare provider before commencing supplement use. These supplements should also not replace good sleep hygiene practices but only support them.

Here are some of the best sleep supplements from a trusted source on the market.

Adrenal Sleep by Dr. Lam®

Adrenal Sleep by Dr. Lam® contains vitamin B3, vitamin B6, magnesium, GABA, passionflower, tryptophan, melatonin, valerian root, and theanine, which are all beneficial for sleep. The different components have multiple mechanisms of affecting sleep quality, and supporting refreshing sleep, especially among individuals managing Adrenal Fatigue.

Adrenal Stay Asleep by Dr. Lam®

Containing common and important sleep-supporting substances like melatonin, GABA, tryptophan, L-theanine, magnesium, vitamin B6, and vitamin B3, Adrenal Stay Alseep can significantly improve sleep quality. This supplement also contains ingredients like chromium and taurine that can revitalize the body, and ensure that insulin doesn't spike and cause cortisol to wake you up in the middle of the night.

Sleep Hygiene: What Is the 10-3-2-1-0 Rule?

This sleep rule draws inspiration from some of the healthy sleep habits and behaviors. Essentially, 10 hours before sleep should mark the end of caffeine intake. The 3 hours before sleep should be without alcohol and minimal food, limiting yourself to light snacks if you have to eat. 2 hours before sleep, you should stop working. The 1 hour before you sleep should be free from electronics and blue light. Finally, you should hit your alarm snooze button a grand total of 0 times, as frequent snoozing disrupts good REM sleep.

Sleep Hygiene: Conclusion

Sleep hygiene is a series of habits and behaviors that make it easier to fall and stay asleep. This is the most fundamental step to achieving good sleep quality. Common sleep hygiene practices include having a sleep schedule, following a bedtime routine, reserving the bed only for sleep, monitoring diet, and optimizing the bedtime environment.

However, for these practices to yield a positive result, you must first learn to value, prioritize, personalize, trust, and protect your sleep. Sleep supplements can also support these good sleep habits, as long as they contain the right ingredients. Nonetheless, as with all supplements, ensure you speak to your healthcare provider before using any sleep supplement.

Additionally, if you're struggling with Adrenal Fatigue, consider exploring Dr. Lam's Adrenal Fatigue Recovery Program. This comprehensive course offers a natural approach to overcoming Adrenal Fatigue through dietary adjustments, meditation, exercise, and strategic supplementation.

Significantly Improve Sleep Quality Now!

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Nelson, Kathryn L., Jennifer E. Davis, and Corbett F. Corbett. "Sleep Quality: An Evolutionary Concept Analysis." Nursing Forum, vol. 57, no. 1, Jan. 2022, pp. 144-151. Wiley Online Library, doi:10.1111/nuf.12659. Accessed 5 Oct. 2021.

Espie, Colin A. "The '5 Principles' of Good Sleep Health." Journal of Sleep Research, vol. 31, no. 3, June 2022, e13502. Wiley Online Library, doi:10.1111/jsr.13502. Accessed 21 Oct. 2021.

Alotaibi, Abdullah D., Fahad M. Alosaimi, Ahmed A. Alajlan, and Khalid A. Bin Abdulrahman. "The Relationship Between Sleep Quality, Stress, and Academic Performance Among Medical Students." Journal of Family & Community Medicine, vol. 27, no. 1, Jan.-Apr. 2020, pp. 23-28. PubMed Central, doi:10.4103/jfcm.JFCM_132_19. Accessed 13 Jan. 2020.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Sleep hygiene practices are the most fundamental step to achieving good sleep quality. However, some people may need external assistance in addition to sleep hygiene practices, and this is what supplements are for. Sleep supplements should not replace good sleep habits and behaviors or a medical practitioner’s advice.

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