Sleep Hygiene: What is it and How to Achieve It?

The quality and quantity of sleep directly impact our psychological and physical well-being. Despite its significance, the World Health Organization (WHO, 2020) has determined that at least 40% of the global population suffers from some form of sleep disorder. This statistic is corroborated by the Spanish Society of Neurology, estimating that between 20% and 48% of the adult population experiences difficulties in falling asleep or maintaining sleep.

While sleep disorders are a common manifestation in many diseases, they are not limited to being a symptom but also contribute to their development. This includes conditions such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease, depression, and anxiety disorders.

One way to prevent and treat sleep disorders is through good sleep hygiene. According to the World Sleep Society, sleep hygiene refers to a set of habits, techniques, and circumstances that promote more suitable sleep and maximize its benefits. This technique is characteristic of cognitive-behavioral therapy, as it focuses on identifying and replacing thoughts and behaviors that worsen sleep, with the aim of modifying behavior to eliminate them.

Sleep Hygiene: Importance and Benefits

Optimizing nighttime rest is crucial for maintaining physical, emotional, and mental health, and it is directly related to overall quality of life. Many people focus on determining the number of hours they should sleep every night, when in reality, this varies significantly among individuals and depends on various factors, such as age.

According to Dr. Emma Ribas, a doctor in psychology, the essential factor is not the number of hours but ensuring that sleep is restorative so that the body and brain can regenerate after the demands of the day. Restorative sleep is multifactorial, and a balance must exist between its duration, timing, continuity, quality, and efficiency.

When sleep is restorative and adequate, the benefits can be numerous. Below are some positive findings associated with maintaining good sleep hygiene according to various research studies published in the last five years:

1. Decreases the likelihood of developing chronic degenerative diseases.

2. Enhances cardiovascular, metabolic, immune, and cognitive health.

3. Contributes to better information processing and retention, as well as emotional regulation.

4. Supports attention, learning, academic performance, memory, cognition, self-esteem, and quality of life.

5. Aids in hormonal regulation, digestive processes, and other physiological functions.

6. Improves conflict resolution abilities.

7. Enhances work productivity.

Which Areas Are Affected by Not Having a Sleep Routine?

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2017 was awarded to scientists who discovered the "internal clock," underscoring that "sleep is vital for brain function." Therefore, sleep deprivation affects all aspects of life: physical, mental, professional, emotional, and social.

Lack of sleep makes us more prone to illness and slows down our recovery rate since the immune system is weakened. According to Dr. Shirley Cramer, sleep deprivation leads to poor eating habits due to disrupted metabolic regulation and hormonal imbalance. It diminishes physical performance because sleep is responsible for tissue regeneration, both in the brain and the body, and without it, proper and restorative recovery does not occur. Furthermore, it limits cognitive ability by distorting our capacity for attention, memory retrieval, and learning.

Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a sleep specialist, states that not having a sleep routine increases the likelihood of experiencing daytime fatigue, irritability, and a lack of motivation for daily tasks. It also reduces work productivity and interest in socializing. Another severely affected aspect is the ability to cope with conflicts due to reduced empathy and emotional instability, resulting in poor communication with others.

Nuria Roure, a psychologist specializing in this area, also explains the long-term effects of sleep deprivation, which can contribute to the development of various pathologies such as hypertension, cognitive impairment, or depression. According to Roure, sleep is a repair workshop responsible for recovering and regenerating the body, and prioritizing good sleep hygiene is the only way to prevent its negative consequences.

Sleep Hygiene: How to Achieve It?

Below, we outline six tips for establishing good sleep hygiene and explain how to implement and maintain this routine step by step:

1. Set a Realistic Sleep Schedule:

Establishing a sleep schedule that you can successfully adhere to is essential. Each person has different circumstances and internalizes them differently. The key is not to sleep for eight hours because others do, but to determine the duration of restorative sleep that each individual needs based on their circadian rhythm. To set and adopt sleep hours, you should carefully evaluate your lifestyle. This will allow you to establish your most suitable "biological clock." Your body and mind need to internalize this habit, so it is necessary to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends.

2. Consider Your Daytime Actions:

From the moment we wake up, we make decisions that affect our next rest. We spend a third of our lives sleeping, and sleeping well is one of the three pillars of overall health. The other two pillars to monitor during the day are maintaining a healthy diet and engaging in physical activity, preferably outdoors, as these are crucial aspects of improving sleep quality. In general, many experts recommend minimizing the consumption of coffee and tobacco, avoiding exercising too close to bedtime, and having a light dinner to aid digestion.

3. Keep Spaces Separate:

Everything has its place. The bedroom should be used for sleep and intimacy, not work or activities like watching TV or using your mobile phone. Any other activity should take place outside the bedroom to condition our mind to associate this space with rest. Forcing sleep only worsens frustration when you can't fall asleep. If, for some reason, you can't fall asleep, it's best to get out of bed, leave the bedroom, and engage in a relaxing activity to clear your mind until you feel sleepy again.

4. Disconnect from the Online World:

Digital disconnection a few hours before bedtime is also helpful in reducing fatigue levels and relieving stress. Simply putting your phone away can facilitate sleep. This ensures that the phone's light does not interfere with the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone released when ambient light decreases), and visual and auditory notifications do not keep you alert and awake. Therefore, switching your phone to airplane mode or disabling notifications can help calm your mental activity.

5. Incorporate Relaxation Rituals:

It is advisable to implement a relaxing ritual or a bedtime routine that "prepares" the mind for rest. Taking a warm shower, listening to soothing music, reading a book, or practicing meditation exercises can help our body and brain slow down and prepare for sleep.

6. Create an Adequate Environment:

The bedroom environment is crucial. A cluttered and disorganized space can make it difficult for our mind to feel relaxed and ready for sleep. Similarly, having your phone in bed or in the room does not allow you to fully disconnect. Ideally, leave your phone outside the bedroom and use an alarm clock to wake up, placing it away from your bed to motivate you to get up as soon as the alarm goes off. Ensuring good ventilation and a comfortable temperature, avoiding noise and distractions, and turning off all lights are the most effectiveways to facilitate deep sleep, as they create the perfect setting for rest.

Maintaining these habits will require a significant effort, but it is entirely possible to do so. According to psychologist Mariló Pérez García, if you truly want to turn an "action" into a habit and avoid "relapse" into previous habits, you must set realistic goals, make gradual changes, and choose rewards that help with motivation. Implementing sleep hygiene will not only take care of your health but enrich it.

Sleep disturbances can be extremely detrimental to your well-being. If needed, at Therapyside, you will find professionals who can advise, support, and help you become your best self.

You can count on an online psychologist at Therapyside to continue delving into your emotions, prioritize yourself, and take care of your psychological well-being. If this article has helped you better understand this topic, we hope you feel more empowered to live a life without limitations!

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