If sleep is a constant struggle for you, it’s important to carefully examine your habits. What you do each day, and how you prepare for bed, can help or hinder your sleep. Rest assured this module will teach you strategies for promoting and maintaining healthy sleep.
✓ Use a sleep diary to see how your habits affect your sleep. You can use the Sleep Diary Template to track your sleep and see how your daytime behaviour impacts how well you sleep.
✓ Keep your bedroom cool. The best temperature for sleep is somewhere between 15 and 20 degrees Celsius, so turn down the temperature until you’re comfortably cool.
✓ Don’t use your bed for work or eating. Though it’s tempting, don’t use your bed when you’re watching TV, eating, or doing work. Your brain should associate your bed with sleep.
✓ Keep a consistent sleep schedule, even on the weekend. Improve your sleep by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day...even on weekends! If you have trouble remembering to go to bed, set an alarm on your phone to tell you when it’s time to sleep.
✓ Take power naps if needed, but don’t sleep too long. Restrict your naps to 10-30 minutes in length. Anything longer can leave you feeling groggy, and may disrupt your regular sleep schedule.
✓ Exercise regularly to get a good night’s sleep. Just 10-20 minutes of regular, daily aerobic exercise can improve the quality and quantity of your sleep.
✓ Watch your caffeine and alcohol consumption. Caffeine can keep you awake, even if you had it hours earlier. Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it will wake you up a few hours later.
If you’re being kept awake or woken up by unwanted noise, consider using earplugs. Earplugs are generally very inexpensive and can be found at most drugstores. They come in foam, silicone, and wax styles.
White Noise App
If you don’t like to sleep in complete silence, a white noise app might be a good fit for you. While irregular sounds like your TV or a car alarm can startle you awake, white noise provides constant, soothing sounds to lull you into sleep.
We recommend Rain Rain Sleep Sounds. This app is currently free for iOS and Android devices. Rain Rain allows you to:
Listen to sounds ranging from rain to crackling fire to purring cats
Create favourite mixes of different sounds
Adjust the volume level of different sounds in your mixes
If you’re struggling to eliminate pesky, sleep-stealing light from your bedroom, consider a sleep mask. Sleep masks come in different materials, including cotton, satin, and memory foam, so find something that feels comfortable to you.
A sleep diary can help you to track the quality and quantity of your sleep, as well as allow you to make connections between your sleep and your daily habits.
Use the Sleep Diary Template to track your sleep.
Sleep Environment—Where You Sleep
Watch this video (The Learning Portal Ontario, 2019) to understand how your surroundings can affect your sleep.
Light can interfere with your body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin, so try to limit the artificial light in your bedroom. Street lights, digital clocks, or even or the blinking light of a charging laptop can keep you awake, so block them off with curtains or masking tape, or use a sleep mask. Keep a nightlight in the bathroom, so that a late-night bathroom trip doesn’t completely wake you up.
Some of the sneakier sources of sleep-stealing light are our electronics. Ideally, you should set an “electronic curfew” and stop using your devices an hour before bedtime. If you absolutely must use your phone before bed, try changing your display settings so that the screen automatically dims at a set time each night.
Sleeping in a slightly cool room can encourage sleep, so set your thermostat to somewhere between 15 and 20 degrees Celsius. This is a wide range, so tinker with the temperature of your room until you find something that feels comfortable.
Your brain should clearly associate your bed with sleep. When you use your bed for other activities, like watching TV, texting, or studying, your brain starts to associate your bed with being awake. This can lead to more restless nights, so remember: beds are for sleeping!
Food & Drink
What you put into your body affects your sleep. Consider making changes to your food, caffeine, and alcohol consumption.
A small snack in the evening can keep you from waking up hungry in the middle of the night, but don’t eat too much. Sleep causes your digestive system to slow down, and a big meal right before bed may make you feel uncomfortable and disrupt your sleep.
It’s also worth considering what you’re eating. According to the National Sleep Foundation, foods like white pasta and sugary baked goods can impair your sleep. They recommend foods like almonds, tart cherries, and bananas that can help you fall asleep and wake up less often.
You’re probably not drinking coffee right before bed, but did you know that the effects of daytime caffeine consumption can last well into the evening? Coffee has a half-life of about 6 hours, which means that when you consume caffeine, it takes about 6 hours to eliminate just half of that caffeine from your body. For example, if you drink a large coffee with 280mg of caffeine at noon, you will still have 140mg, about the equivalent of a small cup of coffee, in your system at 6 p.m. Depending on your bedtime, try to cap your caffeine intake in the early afternoon.
It’s also important to remember that coffee might not be the only source of caffeine in your diet. Chocolate, tea, and soft drinks may also contain caffeine.
If you’re experiencing disturbed sleep, consider avoiding alcohol in the hours before bed. While alcohol may help you get to sleep, it doesn’t help you stay asleep. Alcohol has a rebound effect: it puts you to sleep but may wake you up 4 or 5 hours later once it leaves your system.
Consistency in Your Sleep Schedule
Watch this video (The Learning Portal Ontario, 2018) to better understand the importance of regular sleep and wake-up times.
A consistent sleep schedule works with your body’s natural clock, training you to feel tired and wake up at roughly the same time each day. Getting onto a sleep schedule can be challenging, so here are a few tips:
As you adjust to and maintain your sleep schedule, you should also be aware of two major consistency culprits: social jet lag and napping! Read more below.
Social Jet Lag
Social jet lag refers to the phenomenon of staying up late and sleeping in on weekends but getting up early during the week. These late nights can seriously affect your sleep and your overall health -- in fact, social jet lag has been linked to fatigue, heart problems and depression.
That being said, schedule-breakers like parties and late-night study sessions are going to happen. If you absolutely must sleep in on weekends, try to limit it to an hour or two of extra Zzz’s.
After a poor night’s sleep, you may feel a strong desire to take a nap. The key here is to nap smart. An ideal nap is:
No more than 10-30 minutes long
Any longer than this, and you may wake up groggy, or disrupt your next night’s sleep.
Taken in the early afternoon
Most people’s energy levels will naturally dip between 1:00 and 3:00 PM, and a quick snooze at this point is unlikely to keep you awake all night.
Yet another reason that exercise is good for you: it can promote healthy sleep. Even a small change can make a difference: just 10-20 minutes of regular, daily aerobic exercise (like walking, running, cycling or dancing) can improve the quality and quantity of your sleep. Try to get outside for your exercise -- this way, you work the dual sleep benefits of both exercise and exposure to sunlight.
Remember: some people find that physical activity wakes them up, so be careful about when you exercise. Consider doing your bigger cardio workouts in the morning and afternoon, and restrict your evening exercise to things like yoga and light stretching.