Sleep is the foundation of wellness. It’s also something many of us get too little of.
In the U.S., as many as 50 to 70 million people struggle regularly with sleep. And during the past year, there’s evidence insomnia has gotten worse. Sleep doesn’t come easily during times of extreme stress. Tack on the overall fatigue and disruption to routines and circadian rhythms brought on by the pandemic, and it’s enough to lead some experts to dub this collective lack of sleep “coronasomnia.”
Whether you’re someone who chronically struggles with sleep or you’re simply interested in proactively caring for this area of your health, improving sleep hygiene can bring a whole host of benefits.
Sleep hygiene is defined by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine as a “series of healthy sleep habits that can improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.” Forming (and sticking to) these habits is a simple, effective way to better the quality of sleep you’re getting — and better your sense of well-being overall.
Why is good sleep hygiene important?
Sleep touches all aspects of our lives, from the mental and the physical to the emotional. Everything from basic cognitive functions to mood, memory, the immune system, and weight depends on how much, and how well, we sleep.
A lack of sleep can be responsible for low energy, a reduced attention span, trouble remembering things, poor decision making, anxiety, and irritability. Not only that, but not getting enough sleep can be dangerous. The National Safety Council reports that, each year, drowsy drivers cause as many as 100,000 car crashes, 71,000 injuries and 1,550 fatalities.
Unfortunately, the number of people going without adequate sleep is growing. As many as 10 to 35% of U.S. adults today deal with chronic insomnia. In our overly plugged-in world, as the lines between work and home have become increasingly blurred — and even, during the past year, indistinguishable — a lot of folks are struggling to shut themselves down at night. And if you’re a new parent or someone who works irregular hours, your relationship to sleep may be an especially strained one.
Sleep is highly personal, and there’s no one right solution for everyone. In addition, for some folks, sleeping better may require things like medication or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to address the root causes of insomnia, and it’s worth consulting a healthcare provider if you’re seriously struggling. But there are also some simple things you can do to better your odds of a good night’s sleep and improve your sleep hygiene holistically.
Tips for winding down before bed
Create a restful sleeping environment.
To maximize your sense of calm before bed, make sure your sleeping space is a quiet, restful one. Keep your bedroom decluttered and set at a cool temperature, and invest in some comfortable bedding.
Use calming lighting.
Bright lights suppress your body’s natural production of melatonin. Instead, hang up some twinkly fairy lights, avoid using blue light-producing LED bulbs in the bedroom, and invest in some lamps. Switching off harsh overhead lighting and turning these on at night will signal to your body that it’s bedtime.
Stay off screens.
Using gadgets before bed keeps your brain in an overly active state, and the exposure to daylight-mimicking blue light can throw off your body’s natural circadian rhythm. Plus, the psychological impact of scrolling — which is essentially your brain receiving irregular dopamine hits — can delay the onset of REM sleep. Because of all that, it’s best to stop tech use an hour before bed.
Use a meditation app.
If an inability to clear your mind of the day’s events and stressors is making it difficult to fall asleep, working a meditation app into your nighttime routine can help. Calm and Headspace both offer sleep-specific guided meditations.
Studies have shown that doing gentle, mindfulness-based stretches, like those taught in yoga and tai chi, before bed can improve sleep quality. Not only that — it’s just plain good for your health and can reduce body pains, lower stress and boost your mood in your waking life, too.
Although that glass of vino may help with sleep onset, alcohol leads to sleep disruptions and reduces your REM sleep. For an equally relaxing alternative, drink a calming tea like chamomile, lavender or lemon balm before bed.
How hot-cold therapy can can help you sleep
As another natural way of boosting sleep hygiene, research has shown that regular sauna use can improve your quality, and quantity, of shut eye.
The way saunas interact with your body’s thermoregulation in particular has been shown to help with sleep. You naturally cool down in the evening as you snooze, and this dip in temperature is one of the things that signals to your body it’s time to produce more melatonin. By raising your body temperature in a sauna and then using cold water therapy to quickly drop it, you can trick yourself into producing melatonin. (You can also try this trick at home with a hot bath before bed!)
Sauna use can also help with sleep by alleviating anxiety — a common culprit behind insomnia. The heat produced by saunas not only relaxes muscles but can help increase serotonin circulation in the bloodstream. This boosts your mood and reduces stress, as does the unplugged and meditative time that saunas help facilitate. Plus, regular sauna use has been shown to lower cortisol levels — and a less-stressed body tends to be a better-sleeping one.
Finally, the light used in infrared saunas — one of the three types of saunas offered at Sauna House — can positively influence your body’s circadian rhythm and improve sleep quality. One study done on female basketball players showed that 30 minutes of nightly red light exposure for two weeks significantly improved their sleep quality and increased the level of melatonin in their blood. Another study done on individuals with traumatic brain injuries showed that red and near-infrared light sessions helped them get on average one more hour of sleep per night.
Ready to Get Started?
Whether at home or at the sauna, developing your own sleep hygiene routine and sticking to those same habits night after night is one of the most effective things you can do to improve the quality of your Z’s.
Curious about making sauna therapy a part of your sleep hygiene routine? Drop by and see us!