For the past two years, hygiene has been on everyone’s minds more than ever. We wear masks in public, wash our hands with extra care, and at one point were even wiping down groceries! These are all good habits, especially during a pandemic. But hygiene extends beyond that: namely, to sleep. Sleep hygiene – or how our pre-bedtime habits set us up for a quality night’s rest (or don’t) – is important but often forgotten about. This is especially true for college students and young professionals who, based on their schedules, often aren’t getting the sleep they need.
Getting a good night’s rest lets us wake up refreshed, energized, and ready to start the day. But the benefits go deeper than not needing three cups of coffee before noon. While many aspects of sleep are still being studied, science does know that sleep is not, as many people think, a “dormant” period where your body rests and your brain shuts down. Your body is in fact very active while you’re sleeping, especially your brain. Those eight hours of shut-eye are a crucial period of maintenance, repair, and growth for your body and mind.
For example, sleep is extremely important for learning and memory. Enough good-quality sleep is essential to form new memories and keep them long term. Sleep is also when the brain repairs itself. Proper sleep allows us to focus, problem-solve, remember information, make better decisions, and be more creative when we wake up the next day.
Our brains are also the center of our emotions. So, to stay mentally healthy, good sleep is necessary. After a sleepless night, you may start the next day irritable, depressed, anxious, or stressed.
And it’s not only our brains – the rest of our body needs sleep too. Muscle repair and tissue growth all happen while we’re sleeping. Additionally, our sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm) helps regulate our hormones, which in turn control processes like our weight, digestion, and immune system.
Despite how important sleep clearly is, unfortunately, sleep deprivation is extremely common. And even if we’re sleeping the recommended 7-9 hours a night, the quality also matters. Women in particular commonly suffer from sleep-related health problems: they may be up to 40% more likely to have insomnia than men, for example. Furthermore, many professional women have to manage work on top of family and home life, raising stress (which can affect sleep quality) and possibly keeping them from getting enough hours of sleep at night.
So how do we improve our sleep? A good place to start is creating good sleep hygiene habits, which prepare our bodies and minds to get high-quality rest. For example:
- Wake up and go to bed at consistent times, even on the weekend! Sleep is regulated by your sleep-wake cycle, so routine is key.
- Don’t eat 3-4 hours before bed. Late-night snacking means your digestive system is active 24/7, which can lower your sleep quality.
- Don’t drink caffeine past noon. It obviously keeps us awake – so try switching your afternoon Starbucks to decaf.
- Exercise! Any form of exercise you enjoy is good for you and contributes to better sleep (you sleep better when you’re tired!)
- Pay attention to lighting. Light is the main regulator of our sleep-wake cycle. In the evening, avoid bright indoor lights. Opt for warm ambient lighting instead, like a desk lamp or string lights.
- No screens at least an hour before bed. This one may not always be practical, so even just changing the settings on your phone or laptop so the screen is warm-toned after a certain time, like 10PM, can help.
- Get some fresh air. Being outdoors in bright sunlight helps your brain fall asleep later – even sitting by a big, sunny window helps!
Of course, it isn’t possible to have perfect sleep habits like the ones above 100% of the time. And that’s okay! But they should be a priority as much as possible for every young collegiate or professional woman, because good sleep promotes our physical, mental, and emotional health. Plus, consistent, quality sleep now may help prevent sleep disorders later, which adult women disproportionately suffer from. And of course, setting good sleep habits while you’re young means that as life gets more hectic and stressful, you’ll have a healthy routine to fall back on.
It’s fair to say that young women today face a lot of stress, anxiety, and pressure to do well in school, work, relationships, sports, and all other areas of life. Many of these stressors push us towards less sleep. But instead, more sleep will actually make the stressful things – exams, work, etc – easier to handle. It may sound too good to be true, but by simply shutting off the lights a bit earlier and having a cozy, relaxing good night’s rest, you can reap huge benefits in your overall health and well-being.
https://www.sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/insomnia-women#:~:text=Insomnia%20is%20conside rably%20more%20common%20in%20women%20than%20men.&text=For%20example%2C%2 0in%20older%20adults,to%20suffer%20from%20sleeping%20problems.
https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-reasons-why-good-sleep-is-important Satchin, Panda. The Circadian Code. Penguin Random House. 2018.