Johannesburg – It has been well researched that getting a good amount of sleep is vital for mental and physical health. Sleep hygiene is all about setting good practices to ensure that you get your well-deserved rest.
Sleep hygiene is not medical. It refers to behavioural and environmental changes to improve one’s sleep. A small change in your environment can have a severe impact on your sleeping schedule. If you are one of the lucky few who don’t need an alarm clock to wake up, you most likely have good sleep hygiene, said Jolandi Becker, Certified Good Night Sleep Consultant.
There are many signs of poor sleep hygiene, mainly having trouble sleeping, experiencing frequent sleep disturbances, and suffering daytime sleepiness. These signs can sometimes be a result of stress or from experiencing a traumatic experience. For Becker, this is the most important time to get sleep as it will help you cope better with your situation.
“Often, we start drinking a lot more or start eating a lot unhealthier. We stop exercising during those stressful times, a lot more screen time, a lot more work and those are all four contributors to bad sleeping. You need to have quiet time to build up towards sleeping. Have a consistent bedtime and bedtime routine. A quiet time free of screens. Don’t read interesting books, rather read the boring books so that you fall asleep afterwards and have that meditative time or quiet time, religious time during that build up to your bedtime and not be working straight before you go to bed.”
Increasing our workout time and decreasing our coffee intake and how late we drink our coffee will also be beneficial to restoring our night’s rest to normal, said Becker.
Sleep restoration influenced by age and other factors
Depending on what condition a person has and if they are an adult or child, the process of restoring sleep can be a long one. For kids it takes around ten to fourteen days and for adults it can take up to a month, said Becker. For those with a medical condition, it can take longer.
Before a patient can be helped by Becker, they have to answer a ten-page questionnaire pertaining to one’s routine and daily schedule, eating habits and nutrition, sleeping environment, and one’s bedtime routine. There is a medical aspect also which looks at snoring amongst other things. This is followed up with a one and a half hour consultation.
We tend to enjoy what the Spanish call a siesta during the afternoons. Contrary to popular belief, these thirty-minute naps may not be very beneficial.
“Generally napping is not suggested with adults. It’s not a good idea unless you’ve got jet lag or something like that. You should rather make your bedtime earlier. Don’t be afraid to go to bed a little bit earlier if need be. But you want to work on regular patterns at night, of sleeping.”
The natural circadian rhythm
Our bodies have a built-in clock which is governed by the circadian rhythm. It is often called the building clock and it knows the rising and setting patterns of the sun. It does not depend on us reacting to it through senses like vision and hearing. However, Becker believes that the invention of the light bulb has caused that internal clock to go a little haywire and thus we often find we sleep less.
“We now have the ability to create light and that has an impact on our circadian rhythm … Having a constant bedtime and bedtime routine is to create that natural circadian rhythm so that your body knows now melatonin is coming so I need to sleep. Melatonin and cortisol also work like a seesaw during the day and the night. The more melatonin you produce during the night, the more cortisol, which gives you energy during the day to perform. But it’s also vice versa. It’s a very delicate kind of balance during the day and night and you want to work with the natural rhythm not only of your body but also within the day.”
Another terrible habit is using your phone before you go to sleep. Screens give off what is called blue light and Becker explained that this inhibits the production of melatonin which is essential for the day. For children she advised that screen time should be stopped two hours before bed and for adults one hour before bed.
A good rest is vital for us to have good mental and physical health. Making a few changes and adapting your night life will be helpful in creating a space and relaxing your mind so you can have a peaceful sleep. Jolandi Becker addressed understanding sleep hygiene with Julie Allie.