Good Night... Creating & Implementing A Sleep Hygiene Routine
By Ashley Fleury, MSW - Social Worker at Intentional Living Academy, Las Vegas, NV
What is sleep? Why is it so important? Surely we can do a few hours less here or there depending on the day... Or can we?
I'll be the first to admit that I am terrible at sleeping. Studying for finals and writing papers were more important than sleep throughout my educational career. I would sleep no more than 5 hours per night while being a full-time employee and student. In my opinion, there was no way that sleep deprivation could be that bad.
At Intentional Living Academy, we ask every client about their quality and quantity of sleep every session. That must mean that sleep is important - but how important? To find out, I decided to conduct a sleep experiment. My goal was to shoot for at least 8 hours of sleep, meaning I would have to sleep earlier or wake up later... but where does one start?
First, I began outlining my whole day since I needed to squeeze in 3 hours of sleep somewhere in my hectic schedule. My day consisted of working, going to the gym during my lunch break, working some more, driving to my internship, interning, driving home, studying, and going to bed. And that doesn't even include maintaining a family and social life full of responsibilities, such as buying groceries. Where on Earth was I going to find 3 hours in my day? Why can't each day have 27 hours instead of 24? Naturally, I panicked.
What I needed to do was create a sleep hygiene routine. Sleep hygiene takes into account all of the activities that are done prior to bedtime to promote restful sleep. Before I started my experiment I laid out exactly what my routine included.
Pre-Experiment Sleep Routine:
8:30 pm: take the dog outside
8:45 pm: personal hygiene
9:00 pm: scroll through the phone
9:30-10:00 pm: go to sleep
Going to bed between 9:30 and 10:00 pm may seem like I had things under control, but I start work at 3:30 am. Every morning I would wake up completely exhausted with no motivation. I did not drink coffee or rely on caffeine for energy so it is beyond me how I had been able to survive like that for so long.
I needed to change. I wanted to change. I wanted to be able to wake up not miserable.
I began to outline how I wanted my new experimental routine to look:
6:00 pm: take the dog outside
6:15 pm: personal hygiene
6:30 pm: meditation and light stretching
6:45 pm: reflection
7:00 pm: go to sleep
Ideally, most people want to sleep anywhere between 8-10 hours of sleep. As someone who consistently sleeps for 5 hours, I wanted to try for 8 hours of sleep. However, I needed to rearrange my day. I had to learn to start eating my meals at an earlier time and not follow the 7 am, 12 pm, and 5 pm eating schedules that people with normal working schedules follow. I also wanted to implement mindfulness to help ground and relax me before bedtime. The mindfulness practices that I chose were meditation, light stretching, and reflection.
February 7 marked the first week of my experiment. I was PUMPED. I was so excited to try to get more sleep!
But, as usual, things did not go according to plan. I felt like I was rushing to try to get to sleep by 7:00 pm and I was finding that I was not yet tired. As a result, I would lay in bed until about 8:00 pm before I would fall asleep. I would be frustrated that I was not yet tired and I tried nearly everything to fall asleep. I changed pillows, slept with my head at the foot of the bed, and slept on the couch, I tried pillow sprays and warm baths to try to tire me out, but nothing worked. The more frustrated I was the less tired I became.
Week 2 was different. I had learned that 7:00 pm is an unreasonable time for me to go to bed because I'm not tired. Instead, I moved my sleep hygiene schedule 1 hour forward and aimed to sleep at 8:00 pm. While I would not be getting 8 full hours of sleep, 7 seemed much better than 5. This seemed doable. I was falling asleep faster because I was so relaxed from the mindfulness exercises. I noticed that my quality of sleep was slowly improving also. I was waking up feeling rested, I felt motivated, and I felt happy. What an absolute breath of fresh air that 2 extra hours of sleep added to my day.
As the weeks continued on, I tried my best to stick to my sleep routine. While I was successful most of the time, there were many nights, especially in March, where I would put sleep on the back burner. I began studying for my board exam and I wanted to
fit every second I had into studying. I was slowly getting back into old habits that were not beneficial to me or my studying. Sleeping assists in the learning process, so, basically, I was sabotaging myself. And I panicked, again.
I put myself back into my sleep routine for April with the purpose of learning as my driving force to stay consistent. I wanted to learn, therefore, I wanted to sleep.
And let me tell you, I slept, a lot. I was averaging about 10 hours of sleep on the weekend (yay for sleeping in!), and I was averaging about 7-8 hours per weeknight. April was the most well-rested month I have ever had as an adult. I truly felt like a "morning person" - I was opening up my curtains at sunrise and I felt energetic.
It is now the end of May and I have continued on with my new sleep routine. This experiment that I have put myself through since February has turned into a new lifestyle where I appreciate sleep and its importance. Sleep is considered an element of the Mind-Body connection that significantly impacts other areas of our health. I am still waking up every morning with ease, I open up my curtains every morning, and I just feel great.
If you are struggling with falling asleep, maintaining sleep, or waking up feeling unrested, your clinician can help you create and implement a sleep hygiene routine.