Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Huh? Oh, excuse me. Nodding off there. No, really, I wasn’t. I was looking for a more interesting way to start a column. Hope I succeeded.
Here’s a phrase you might or might not have heard: Sleep hygiene.
From Merriam-Webster — Sleep: “The natural periodic suspension of consciousness during which the powers of the body are restored;” and Hygiene: “The things that you do to keep yourself and your surroundings clean in order to maintain good health.”
So, sleep hygiene includes the things you do to get good sleep so you can improve or maintain good health. How’s your hygiene? Mine was awful, but it’s improving.
In recent months I’ve been building a list of topics about which a health-and-wellness coach would coach. Among the obvious inclusions are diet, exercise, avoiding “bad” things, emotional health, relational health and rest, relaxation and restorative SLEEP.
You know you need sleep. We all need it — and probably more than we Americans typically get.
The first important point to get is that sleep is not a feckless event. It is a virile, vital component of growth, health and restoration. Once I saw sleep as more than just resting — saw it as the powerful process that it is — I began to appreciate why we must prioritize it as much as anything else we do.
So I knew I needed a good seven hours to eight hours a night consistently, but I wasn’t sure exactly how to do it. Then I heard about improving my sleep hygiene, and just like I learned to brush my teeth, wash my hair and do whatever else properly or better, I learned ways to improve my sleep hygiene.
So, from me and the National Sleep Foundation, here you go:
• Have a consistent bed time and wake-up time. Depending on what your life is like, I know this can be tricky. I help midwives, remember? Greeting new babies? It’s true that babies seem to prefer 3 a.m. to all other hours. So I know this can be difficult, but I still have my bed time and my wake-up alarm set for the same times every day. If they must shift, they must, but I do my best to stay or get back on track. Be as consistent as you possibly can.
• Avoid stimulants, meaning caffeine for one, too close to bedtime. Everybody reacts a little differently to the after-dinner cup of coffee, but most people will find it too stimulating to either fall asleep or stay that way. Oh, and chocolate has caffeine. (Sorry.) Vigorous exercise too close to bed time can be like a stimulant as well.
• But exercise regularly for sure. Remember the good-health trifecta? Diet-exercise-stress reduction? Yep, helps with sleep, too. Do your vigorous exercising earlier in the day and save some stretching or relaxing exercise for closer to bed.
Let’s move into the bedroom:
• One, have your bedroom be where you SLEEP more than you do anything else. I already know I just lost a bunch of you. And I can’t lie — my own “study corner” is in my bedroom. It’s the small-house-big-family challenge. But I’ve made efforts at not working in my bedroom or watching movies there. When I do study there, I sit in my study chair many times rather than on my bed. We might even copycat some of my Amish friends’ way of life and store underclothes in the bathroom so we dress there rather than in our bedrooms (looking for a bureau to replace the diaper-changing table). The idea, of course, is that when you enter your bedroom, you’re thinking about sleep and not much else.
• Two, make your bedroom comfortable, cozy, relaxing and restful. That means, of course, have a great bed — whatever great is to you. For me, it’s piled with blankets, lots of pillows and sports a decent mattress. Others of you like waterbeds (still?), air mattresses, firm or soft beds or one crisp sheet and a light blanket. Have the room itself be relaxing — soft colors, low lighting, pretty on the eyes — so that when you’re there you’re calm. And here’s the biggee, the one where I lose a bunch more people: Nix the electronics. Again, I work for midwives, and they call and text-message me at very unreasonable hours, so I must leave my phone on. But before I go to sleep, I turn off anything I might have had running including that movie I wasn’t supposed to be watching in bed anyway. Really. I know a lot of people fall asleep with a TV on. I used to. I don’t have TV now, so that’s not an issue, but the electronics are insidious. Sometimes I can hear my phone vibrating, telling me I have a new e-mail message or whatever. I ignore it. I’m in BED, after all.
• Have a tried-and-true bedtime routine. Remember childhood — yours or your children’s? Expert after expert in all child-rearing philosophies tells us children need some kind of routine before bed, preferably a slowing-down one. Go back to that basic truth and find yours. I’ve begun to find mine. It includes a little reading to my children, drinking a small protein shake, teeth brushing, some reflection and prayer and a snuggle with my toddler. Then I turn out the lights and do go to sleep …
… Just like I think I will now.
Goshen News columnist Stephanie Price is a wife, mother, teacher, childbirth educator, midwife’s assistant and nursing student from Elkhart. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, 269-641-7249 or on Facebook at the page “Whole Family Column by Steph Price.”