Have you heard of sleep hygiene?


Here’s how to clean up your sleeping habits to ensure you don’t suffer from poor health

From sleep apps and trackers to blue light-blocking glasses for night browsing, the narrative has really shifted on how to get better shut-eye.

The sudden rise in trend over the last few years can be a sign that we are moving towards a more wellness-focused lifestyle or could be a sign that overstimulated minds and hectic lifestyles are getting in the way of our sleep.

“It’s certainly a combination of factors,” says Dr Hassan Al Hariri, Head of Sleep Clinic and Pulmonologist at Rashid Hospital. “For one, more research points to the deep connection that sleep has for on good health, so there is an increase in awareness levels. Secondly, with the onset of social media over the past decade and more so in the last few years, coupled with factors such as overpacking our schedules, sound sleep is becoming an emerging health problem.

However, it does not have to be that complicated, says Dr Al Hariri. “Sleep is not a priority for many and therefore people are either functioning below optimal capacity due to lack of sleep or in chronic cases they suffer from sleep deprivation and conditions such as insomnia. The first step is prioritising sleep and deciding to get at least seven hours of sleep every night. The second most important factor is sleep hygiene.”

Sleep hygiene

So what exactly does that mean? Dr Al Hariri says, “Sleep hygiene includes different practices and habits that are necessary to have quality sleep and daytime alertness. It can feel overwhelming at first but once it turns into a habit, over the course of time, it becomes second nature.”

Dr Al Hariri says that sleep hygiene varies according to age and medical conditions but some general sleep hygiene tips include limiting daytime naps to 30 minutes, avoiding caffeine after 4pm or at least few hours prior to sleep. Also, he recommends avoiding caffeinated foods and beverages such as teas, sodas and chocolates six to eight hours before bedtime. “Nicotine is also avoidable as it is a serious health hazard but in terms of the connection between sleep and nicotine, it is best to avoid it before bedtime,” he says.

The food you eat affects your sleep quality. Avoid fried, heavy or spicy meals at dinner. Dr Al Hariri says he is quite insistent with his patients when it comes to turning off electronic devices at night. “Ideally two hours prior to bedtime it’s best to stay away from all electronic devices such as TV, phones and iPads.” If that is not possible, turn off all devices at least hour prior to bedtime and keep all these devices out of the bedroom at night. Making the bedroom a technology-free zone is not easy but it can really help improve quality of sleep. Those who struggle with sleep can have a warm shower, keep the room lights dim and even try a five- to ten-minute night-time meditation ritual.

It’s not easy to incorporate all these practices but ensuring the room is light-free at night and keeping technology away so that your body clock is not disturbed by the blue lights these devices emit is really important, says Dr Al Hariri. He recommends using an eye mask if necessary.

In terms of how one can assess whether they need to focus on sleep hygiene, he says, “If you struggle with sleeplessness or if you take too long to fall asleep, you should revise your bedtime habits. Even for those who do not struggle with sleep, adding on even a few of these night-time routines will help improve sleep quality.”

The exercise affect

In general, while exercise is excellent for overall good health and helps boost sleep as well as improve sleep quality and induce deep sleep, exercise prior to bedtime can have a stimulant effect, says Dr Al Hariri. “Bear in mind, this differs from person to person. Some people function better with morning workouts, others can work out late in the evenings without affecting sleep quality.”

“Sleep and its benefits are largely underestimated. Often, people say they can function with lesser hours of sleep but sleep is the only mechanism that truly rebooks the body so why should you compromise on that. Prolonged lack of sleep can cause a number of health issues. Lack of sleep directly affects the mood, leads to overeating; it can increase the risk of long-term brain cell damage. It can cause depression, memory loss, anxiety, stress and other psychological issues.

“Ideally, we should get at least four to five sleep cycles consisting of deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM), during which we dream. To get these four to five cycles, you need at least six and eight hours of sleep. I always tell people, if we spend one third of your life sleeping, we should do it right.”