Sleep hygiene is the official term for your sleep practices, including things like napping, what you do to wind down before bed, setting your bedtime and wake time, and what you eat or drink before bed.
I was not always a good sleeper, but for the past nine years I have been a champion sleeper, getting 7.5 hours of good quality sleep almost every night and waking up feeling refreshed.
I know that getting good quality sleep is not always within your control. My daughter did not sleep through the night until she was six, which means I did not sleep through the night for her first six years (which is why I am able to pinpoint with accuracy exactly how many years it’s been that I’ve been getting good quality sleep). In addition to caring for children or other loved ones, we might have health conditions, work schedules, and other circumstances that make it impossible to get high quality sleep on a regular basis. However, there are quite a few things you can control to help yourself get higher quality sleep.
After getting craptacular sleep for most of my life (the six years that my daughter wasn’t sleeping plus most of the years before that because of stress, depression, difficult work schedules, and frankly, terrible sleep hygiene), waking up feeling well-rested the last few years has been truly profound in improving my quality of life. For example,
- I can think clearly most of the time.
- I handle stress better.
- It is easier to maintain a regular workout schedule.
- I get more high quality work done on a regular basis without stress.
- I procrastinate less.
Faculty tell me all the time that they didn’t get enough sleep because they were up late grading papers or doing research or reading or writing. My thought is that whatever it is they were doing was probably not done nearly as well as it would have been if they had gotten good quality sleep and then did that thing.
If you want to start getting higher quality sleep today, here is what I suggest:
- Use an app or create a spreadsheet to track your bedtime, wake time, and how you feel for a few weeks to figure out how much sleep you actually need. I always thought I needed 8-9 hours a night, but when I tracked it, I found that I actually feel and perform best on 7.5 hours a night. I also learned that going to bed and getting up pretty early (to bed by 9:30 and up by 5) is best for me. (In a perfect world, I would go to bed at 8:30 and get up by 4, but I’ll be damned if I can get to bed by 8:30 most nights).
- Once you figure out the sleep schedule that works best for you, try to stick to it every day of the week. I usually shift things later by about an hour on weekends, but on the weekends when I stick to my weekday sleep schedule, things go better.
- Restrict alcohol and electronics in the hour before you go to bed. Metabolizing alcohol can cause you to wake up in the night and the evil glow of electronics can disrupt sleep cycles.
- If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, take melatonin or get up for a few minutes to read. I find that on the rare occasions that I don’t fall asleep quickly, staying in bed stressing out about not getting enough sleep makes it even harder to fall asleep. The first time I tried this, I was amazed at how well it worked. I thought getting out of bed would “wake me up” more and make it harder to fall asleep, but when I came back to bed 15 minutes later, full of melatonin and having read some poetry, I fell asleep almost immediately.
Finally, it may help to remember that our students practice notoriously horrible sleep hygiene and we do them no favors when we talk about how unrested we are. Instead, we can model good sleep hygiene for them–and maybe even those colleagues who like to brag about how sleep-deprived they are.