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What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene is all about the healthy routines or habits that we practice before bedtime to help ourselves get a good night’s sleep. Sometimes we have to make adjustments to the things we do during the day and just before bedtime in order to attain peaceful, restorative sleep. We know that sleep is an essential part of our lives that affects our overall well-being and quality of life. In this blog, we will explore the importance of sleep hygiene for the entire family–adults, adolescents, children and infants.

Adults:

  • Enhanced Cognitive Functioning (the process of thinking and understanding):Research suggests that adequate sleep improves memory and performance in adults. Good sleep hygiene, such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule throughout the week and avoiding caffeine, exercise, and exposure to blue light from electronic devices prior to bedtime promotes the restorative sleep that adults need.
  • Emotional Well-Being: Practicing relaxation techniques like body scans, progressive muscle relaxation, prayer, and mindfulness activities before bed can promote better sleep hygiene and better mental health. Is your to-do list preventing you from falling asleep or even waking you up in the middle of the night? Try writing it down before bed and keeping it on your nightstand where you are sure to see it when you get up. Are past worries stealing your sleep? Journaling before bed may help by putting your experiences and the corresponding emotional reactions in writing. Visualization is also a powerful tool to combat anxiety. Imagine yourself in detail lying each of your worries at the foot of the cross, surrendering them to our Lord and Savior.
  • Physical Health: Research provided by the American Heart Association (2022) highlights the link between poor sleep and cardiovascular health problems. Adults who prioritize sleep hygiene by limiting (not necessarily eliminating) caffeine and alcohol intake, and creating a comfortable sleep environment (think soft blankets and cloud-like pillows), may reduce their risk of heart disease.

For adults, a healthy sleep routine would begin by being consistent with your sleep/wake schedule: As much as possible, get up everyday at the same time, and go to bed every night at the same time. Get some exercise during the day, but not right before bed–unless you keep your heart rate down and focus more on stretching and breathing. Avoid heavy meals, alcohol, and caffeine before bed. According to the CDC, caffeine can stay in the system for three to four hours after it is consumed. Avoid watching TV or looking at electronic devices an hour or two before bedtime. Taking a warm shower with a sleep-inducing scent like lavender may also be helpful. Make sure your bedroom feels comfortable and cozy to you. It should be dark, quiet, soothing, and relaxing. Set your thermostat at a comfortable temperature. Once your sleep environment is all set up, it’s time to snuggle in, and pray your nighttime prayers.

Got pets? Sleeping with a pet in your room may improve your sleep, but according to research, sleeping with a pet in your bed causes sleep disturbances.

Adolescents:

  • Academic Performance: A study from the Journal of Sleep Research (2023) showed that adolescents with irregular sleep patterns and inadequate sleep tend to perform poorly academically. The reasoning behind this is that, even though students acquire information through classroom instruction during the school day, their brains process that information during deep REM sleep. So, learning really happens in their sleep. Good sleep hygiene, including a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends, can lead to better grades and overall school performance.
  • Mental Health: Poor sleep hygiene is also associated with an increased risk of depression and anxiety among adolescents according to the Journal of Adolescent Health. (2020) Encourage your teens to create a calm and cozy bedtime routine that eliminates screen time at least an hour before bed. This is a great opportunity to enhance their prayer life, read about the lives of the saints, hang out with family, or just listen to worship music.
  • Substance Abuse Prevention: Studies in Pediatrics (2023) show that adolescents with poor sleep hygiene are more likely to engage in substance abuse. ‘Self-medicating’ to wake up and focus or to fall asleep is not uncommon for adolescents with inadequate sleep. It is critical to educate youth about the importance of sleep and to help them establish healthy sleep habits in order to prevent substance abuse.

A healthy sleep routine for teens is very similar to that of adults. Allow your teens to choose cozy pillows and blankets to make their sleep environment as comfortable as possible. Help remind them that consistency with their bedtime is an important part of healthy sleep hygiene. Just like adults, teens should avoid exercise and caffeine later in the day. Blue light emitted by electronics should be avoided at least an hour or so before bedtime. If your teens need to use a computer or tablet to complete their homework then it’s a good idea to buy them some blue light filtering glasses. Encourage your teens to take part in calming activities before bedtime such as reading, listening to calming music, and prayer.

Children:

  • Growth and Development: According to the National Sleep Foundation (2023), to attain optimal growth and development, children need sufficient sleep. Research in Pediatrics has even linked poor sleep hygiene to delayed physical growth and cognitive development in kids. A consistent bedtime routine and age-appropriate bedtimes and sleep schedules are critical for their well-being. Check the following website to see how much sleep kids really need: org/en/parents/sleep.html
  • Behavioral Issues: It’s no news to parents that irregular sleep patterns in children cause irritability, but according to JAMA Pediatrics (2022), children may also experience hyperactivity due to poor sleep hygiene. Setting consistent sleep times and limiting sugar, caffeine, and screen time can help mitigate these issues.
  • Academic Achievement: The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (2021) reports that children with healthy sleep hygiene tend to perform better academically. Establishing a bedtime routine, maintaining a comfortable sleep environment, and limiting electronics before bedtime are vital for academic success.

Healthy sleep hygiene for kids is similar to that of adults and teens. Consistency is key and seems to be especially important for children. To foster good sleep hygiene, encourage children to pick out comfort items for their sleep environment such as fluffy pillows and soft blankets, and perhaps even weighted blankets and white-noise machines. Just as for adults and teens, children should avoid intense exercise, caffeine and screen time later in the day. If your child has homework to complete on a computer or tablet, purchasing blue light glasses is a good idea, but definitely don’t let your child have screen time immediately before slipping into bed. Replacing TV and electronic device use with reading, creating art, or prayer will assist children in maintaining good sleep hygiene. One example of a healthy bedtime routine for a child would be to take a bath, brush teeth, have story time with a parent in bed, turn out the lights, say a prayer while rubbing their back, and then time for zzzzzz’s.

Infants:

  • Physical and Cognitive Development:  Creating a calming bedtime routine, making sure babies have a safe sleeping environment, and responding quickly to babies’ sleep cues are critical for their well-being. Research underscores the importance of sleep hygiene for infants’ cognitive and physical growth and development. AAAP 2022
  • Reduce Risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS):  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, adhering to safe sleep guidelines, such as placing infants on their backs to sleep and keeping their sleep environments free from objects and away from other hazards significantly reduces the risk of SIDS.

Healthy sleep hygiene for infants includes reading their sleep cues: Is your baby rubbing her eyes, blinking, staring, yawning, or pulling at her hair? Those are all sleep cues signaling that she’s ready to snuggle in for the night (or at least part of it). Babies need a safe sleep environment that is free from clutter like blankets and toys. (Think: the crib & the baby…that’s it) Air quality is an especially important component to good sleep hygiene for little ones. Ensure that no one is smoking or spraying chemicals, including room deodorizers, around your baby’s sleep area. Babies, unless directed otherwise by their pediatrician, should sleep on their backs.

Conclusion

Sleep hygiene is a critical component of our overall health and well-being. We here at Rejoice Counseling  hope that the insights in this article emphasize the importance of establishing and maintaining healthy sleep habits. Perhaps it’s creating a calming and soothing bedtime routine, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, or simply ensuring a safe, cozy, and comfortable sleep environment, or maybe it’s all of the above! Taking steps toward good sleep hygiene will lead to improved physical and mental health as well as enhanced cognitive functioning. It’s time to catch some ZZZs!