Make your sleep habits as clean as your sheets

Sleep hygiene - the habits you have when you try to get to sleep and wake up - are key to avoid sleep disorders.

Naturopath Sarah Coleman explains that we need less sleep as we get older, but sleep difficulties are also more likely to arise. She tells Citro the key 'practices' we all need to do to keep our sleep hygiene habits strong.

By Sarah Coleman

As we hit middle age and beyond, our sleep patterns change, and we need a little less sleep to feel rested and refreshed. However, there is a catch. This life stage may bring about unique sleep difficulties that can have a negative impact on your health and wellbeing.  

It is estimated that nearly half of all Australian adults have at least 2 sleep problems that occur a few times a week or more.

These include:  

●      Getting less or too much sleep than recommended (7-9 hours for adults under 65 and 7 - 8 hours for those over 65).

●      Poor sleep quality, including difficulty getting to sleep and waking during the night.

●      Sleep disorders diagnosed by your doctor include insomnia, sleep apnoea and restless leg syndrome.

Poor sleep quality can have long term effects on your health, increasing your risk of developing and aggravating chronic health conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and mental health conditions.

It is essential to be aware of sleep problems as they arise and address them. Understanding and adopting sleep hygiene practices is a great place to start.

A guide to sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene is about the things you do (or don't do) to get more and better quality sleep. It is about making better choices and building better habits. This includes creating a sleep-friendly atmosphere, establishing consistent sleep patterns, and making lifestyle decisions that promote restful sleep.

Now, let’s dig into some tips for improving your sleep hygiene. Create a personalised checklist as you go.

Choose a sleep schedule and stick to it

We are creatures of habit and thrive on routine. Establishing a consistent sleep schedule can help regulate your sleep patterns by resetting your internal body clock, also known as your circadian rhythm.

Prioritising sleep, setting a routine, and sticking to it, even on weekends, is important:

●     Set a fixed time to go to bed and wake up each day.

●     If you wake up during the night, and cannot get back to sleep within ten minutes, get out of bed and choose a relaxing, sleep-promoting activity, avoiding screen time.

●     Avoid daytime naps, and if you do nap, no longer than 30 minutes.

Once you have established a routine, try to maintain it as much as possible. When life events.get in the way, such as travel and socialising, get back into your routine as soon as you can.

Don't use devices before bed - the blue light emitted by your phone can play havoc with your circadian rhythm.

Transform your bedroom into a peaceful retreat  

Create a cosy cocoon where you can unwind and recharge. Your bed should be reserved for sleep, intimacy, and nothing else. Here's how to start:

●     De-clutter and organise your bedroom.

●     Opt for pyjamas that are soft and breathable.

●     Choose bedding that provides you with adequate support and comfort.

●     Maintain a comfortable temperature in your room (a little cooler is ideal).

●     Ensure your bedroom ​​is as dark and noise-free as possible. You can resort to earplugs or a sleeping mask if need be.

●     Remove all devices from your immediate sleeping area, making it a technology-free zone.

Design your bedtime routine

Creating a bedtime routine sends a signal to your body that it is time to rest and unwind in preparation for a good night’s sleep:

●     Choose calming activities in the hour before bed. These could include a warm bath, meditation, gentle stretching, or yoga. Quiet reading can be relaxing, but steer away from heart-stopping page-turners!

●     Banish screen time for at least an hour before bed. The blue light from your TV and devices plays havoc with your body clock (circadian rhythm).

●     Do a wee so your bladder doesn’t wake you up.

●     Try not to go to bed hungry, if you are hungry, have a light healthy snack rather than a heavy meal.

Exercise (at the right time) for sound sleep

If you are physically active throughout the day and into the early evening, you will sleep longer and better than people with a more sedentary lifestyle. Getting moderate-intensity exercise at least 3 times per week is shown to improve sleep quality and duration significantly.

Vigorous exercise in the late evening, just before bed, has the opposite effect and disrupts sleep. It reduces the amount of melatonin, a sleep hormone your body produces.

Steer clear of stimulants and drugs

The 4 big offenders that will mess with your sleep are caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and cannabis. They contribute to a variety of negative effects, such as increasing your chances of waking during the night and decreasing your total sleep time.

●     Caffeine in coffee, energy drinks and other beverages can leave you “tired and wired”. Limit or avoid caffeine, especially in the afternoon or evening.

●      Indulging in alcohol-containing drinks, particularly in the hours leading up to bedtime, can cause snoring, sleep apnoea and other sleep-disturbing symptoms.

●      Nicotine consumed through cigarettes, patches, and pills promotes excitement and alertness. Long-term use is associated with a decline in sleep quality.

●     Short-term or infrequent cannabis use may promote sleep. However, long-term cannabis use, even at low doses, is associated with a deterioration in sleep quality.

Make sleep hygiene work for you

Sleep hygiene is not a one-size-fits-all approach to better sleep. Take the time to develop a specific plan that works for you. Building new routines and habits over time will help you harness the power of sleep to boost your energy levels and overall wellbeing.

Do you have trouble sleeping?

The information on this page is general information and should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Do not use the information found on this page as a substitute for professional health care advice. Any information you find on this page or on external sites which are linked to on this page should be verified with your professional health care provider.

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