Our lives are a bustling hive of constant activity. Busy work schedules, juggling household chores, staying fit, going to social engagements coupled with keeping up with the online world is just part of our daily routines. In comparison to two generations ago, our lifestyles consist of so many tasks (both online and offline) that no two days are ever completely the same.
Having a busy lifestyle is certainly exciting, but it may not be the best for your sleep hygiene. We are living through a “zeitgeist” or era that is dominated by sociocultural and technological developments. According to certain studies, these advancements are taking a toll on basic bodily functions such as the sleep-wake cycle.
In order to fully understand sleep, we need to be aware of exactly which lifestyle factors are most harmful to our sleep quality. Below, we’ll discuss how our daily choices impact our ability to sleep well and which lifestyle factors to address if you suffer from poor sleep hygiene.
While most of you will know that things such as stress or being ill can easily disrupt sleep patterns, there are many other daily choices that can have just as big of an impact.
All body functions are connected. For example, if you don’t sleep properly then this will impact your cognitive abilities. Or, if your digestive system isn’t working as well as it should be, it can throw your balance off.
Essentially, our bodies are made up of separate cogs that all need to be working cohesively with each other to function properly. But what does this have to do with lifestyle choices?
Every decision you make during the day can potentially have a negative impact on how you sleep. Whether it’s having that third cup of coffee or staying up late to finish bingeing your new favourite Netflix show. Our sleep-wake cycle is so sensitive that even the smallest of changes can throw it off course.
That’s why it is so important to be mindful of how you are spending your time and how you’re treating your body.
Although every person is different and what affects your sleep hygiene may not be the same for someone else, there are core lifestyle factors that have been linked to poor sleep quality and sleep deprivation.
While the idea of a late-night snack of a greasy cheeseburger with fries may sound heavenly, it’s not going to make it on a ‘Top 5 Food Items to Eat Before Bed’ list anytime soon.
The food and drinks that we consume each day affect both our brain activity and our sleep pattern. The reason why many physicians and nutrition experts recommend a healthy, nutrient-rich diet is not because it’ll make us look great but, because it is the fuel that our bodies need to function well.
The nutrients that we get from food provide the building blocks needed to absorb minerals and proteins that create the amino acids involved in sleep. If our diets aren’t rich enough in these nutrients, then our bodies will struggle to achieve restorative sleep.
Sugar and caffeine, in particular, are two of the most harmful diet components that cause poor sleep hygiene. While in moderation they are fine, consuming too much of these in a day can lead to issues such as the inability to fall asleep or periods of wakefulness.
How we spend our time during the day can also be a leading factor in poor sleep hygiene. There is a strong correlation between physical activity levels and sleep problems.
Not getting enough exercise each week can be detrimental. As a society, our lives often require us to spend many hours sitting in front of a digital screen. Without making the conscious effort to take breaks and do a physical activity such as running, swimming or yoga for 30 minutes, 5 times a week our sedentary habits can lead to sleepless nights.
On the other hand, for those who do exercise regularly, the time at which exercise is carried out can also have a negative impact. If our physical activity levels are too high in the lead up to going to bed, this causes our body temperature to rise and stimulates our mind too much. Therefore, it takes longer for our bodies to wind down and makes it harder for us to fall asleep.
This comes as no surprise.
Digital device usage is a core lifestyle factor that is harmful to sleep quality and hygiene. Device addiction is a prevalent issue among many people right now. The need to scroll through social media or check our emails first thing in the morning and last thing at night has almost replaced other vital body urges.
Using a digital device such as a smartphone, tablet or TV two hours prior to falling asleep has the ability to hamper our sleep quality. Due to the blue light emitted by digital devices, our brains are tricked into believing that it’s still daytime. Therefore, our internal body clock is delayed.
Finally, the kind of lifestyle that we lead due to our work hours can also cause poor sleep quality. This is especially true for those who participate in shift work such as delivery drivers, nurses, protective services and wait staff.
As our natural circadian rhythm regulates itself so that we sleep when it is dark outside, an atypical work shift creates a rift in our sleep schedule. This creates a misalignment between the urges our body has trained itself to have at a certain time and the activity we’re trying to carry out. That’s why many people who start a night shift for the first time experience drowsiness on the job.
While our bodies can retrain itself into a new sleeping pattern, if you don’t keep this pattern consistently, such as those who work rotating shifts, our circadian rhythm is in a continuous state similar to jetlag. That means it can never fully regulate itself and the individual will experience continued symptoms of chronic fatigue and sleep deprivation.
The good news is that we can make simple changes in our everyday lives to promote better sleep quality. While some factors, such as our work schedule, we can’t fully control. Others like what we eat, our bedtime routine and our physical activity levels we can.
Adopting small changes like the ones we mentioned above can go a long way in helping us to achieve restful and restorative sleep. If for some reason your sleep hygiene continues to be poor even after trying these sleep tips, make sure to speak with your physician as soon as possible. It could mean that something more sinister like Sleep Apnea or insomnia is at play.
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