Deep, quality sleep is important to good health, but a large number of Canadians are not getting enough. One study suggests one in four Canadians aged 65 to 79 and one in three Canadians aged 35 to 64 fail to get enough sleep on a regular basis.1 While a lack of sleep can be detrimental to the health of anybody in any age group, poor quality sleep has been linked to diminishing brain health, from short-term cognitive impairment and longer-term cognitive decline, in older adults.2
With today’s hectic lifestyles, ensuring you get the right amount of uninterrupted sleep can be a challenge. If you’re having trouble sleeping, you may wish to consider “sleep hygiene.” Sleep hygiene refers to a range of different practices and habits that can help you achieve better quality sleep, and many of the most effective sleep tips don’t involve medication or unfamiliar natural remedies. Here are some easy strategies and habits that can improve your sleep and overall health:
Your daily activities
A nap during the day can be a good way of recharging your batteries if needed, but make sure it’s not too long. Avoid taking multiple naps in a day and limit a nap’s duration to 30 minutes or less. This can minimize the disruption to your regular sleep pattern, which is far more important to your health.
Exposure to natural light can help your body establish a natural sleeping-to-waking cycle. Admittedly, natural light may be harder to come by in the winter, but you can make small changes like pulling back the curtains or blinds during the day to take advantage of the available daylight hours. Think about also setting aside time to take a short and safe walk in the morning or early afternoon. Regular exercise is not only an important component of a healthy lifestyle, but it can also help you have a restful sleep. However, it is generally recommended you save your more intense physical exercises to earlier in your day.
Winding down before bed
Maintaining a predictable sleeping and waking schedule is an important part of sleep hygiene, but there are other things to consider before you turn out the lights. Avoid eating two to three hours before you go to sleep, especially heavy and fatty foods. Consuming caffeine or nicotine four to six hours before bedtime can also negatively affect the quality of your sleep. As for alcohol, while it has a reputation as being a relaxant, it can also interfere with your sleep quality, so be very mindful of your alcohol intake.
Also, try to reduce or avoid the use of electronic devices, such as computers or mobile phones, one to two hours before bed. The blue light emitted by such devices can stimulate your brain and disturb your body’s internal clock. If you’re using these devices as sleep aids (e.g., viewing sleep-inducing videos), you might be undoing whatever progress you appear to be making.
Your sleeping environment
Seemingly minor sources of light and sound can disrupt your sleep. Ensure your bedroom is as dark and quiet as possible; something as simple as always closing your bedroom door can eliminate some of these distractions. Similarly, ticking sounds from an analog clock and the light from a digital clock can be disruptive. If you’re already having trouble sleeping, a constant reminder of that can become an additional source of stress. Try turning clocks away from you and consider removing devices that make noise.
Finally, make sure blinds and/or curtains fully block outdoor light from disrupting your sleep. If there is still a significant amount of light entering your bedroom, consider adding a layer of blinds or blackout curtains, if appropriate.
These are just a few simple tips for improving the quality of your sleep. However, what works best varies from one person to another. So, if you’re having trouble sleeping, try different strategies to find out what’s most effective for you, and read up on other developments in the study of sleep and sleep hygiene.
1. Are Canadian Adults Getting Enough Sleep? Public Health Agency of Canada, 2019.
2. Joseph M. Dzierzewski, Natalie D. Dautovich, “Who Cares about Sleep in Older Adults?”, Clinical Gerontologist, January 2018.