TRUE FACT: Even though sleep is beneficial for our physical and mental wellbeing, a concerning number of individuals routinely lack quality sleep and exhibit pronounced daytime sleepiness.
After working in the area of health and lifestyle for over 14 years, I have gained a deep appreciation for addressing the underlying factors that contribute to one’s health status, and this Includes sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is a topic that is often overlooked, yet holds significant importance in achieving your health goals. Research continues to confirm the connection between adequate sleep hygiene and optimal health, and for seriously great reasons, including the support of a faster metabolic rate, reduced cravings, and increased energy levels. My hope with this article is to provide beneficial information on this topic and guide behaviour change surrounding sleep patterns. For simplicity, this article is broken down into four categories:
Hours of Sleep You Need
Sleep and Metabolism
Benefits of Optimal Sleep Hygiene
How to Implement a Sleep-Inducing Routine
How Many Hours of Sleep Do You Need?
According to Canada's 24-Hour Movement Guidelines, the amount of sleep an individual needs is directly linked to their stage of life. For example, individuals between the ages of 18 years to 64 years should aim to get around seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep, every night. So, as much as you may feel like a cup of coffee can make up for a late night, your health is being put on the back burner when you trade your pillow for caffeine.
Hours of sleep, in relation to age:
· 0-3 months: 14-17 hours, including naps
· 4-11 months: 12-16 hours, including naps
· 1-2 years: 11-14 hours, including naps
· 3-4 years: 10-13 hours, including naps
· 5-13 years: 9-11 hours, uninterrupted
· 14-17 years: 8-10 hours, uninterrupted
· 18-64 years: 7-9 hours, uninterrupted
· 65+: 7-8 hours, uninterrupted
How is Sleep Related to Metabolism?
Sleep is important in regulating metabolism. According to current research findings, an individual’s risk for obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension, high blood sugar, and other metabolic problems may increase if they don't follow an optimal sleep routine. In fact, individuals may face a 27% higher probability of developing a metabolic imbalance for every hour of variation in the time they go to bed and get up.
A 2022 Systematic Review found a short sleep duration to be strongly associated with insulin resistance. Insulin is an important hormone produced by the pancrease. it plays a crucial role in the regulation of blood sugar levels. Without insulin, the body is unable to uptake sugar from the blood and convert it to energy. Thus, insulin resistance is associated with an increase to blood-sugar levels - a risk factor for both prediabetes and type-2 diabetes.
Impaired sleep or a lack of sleep has also been associated with reduced overnight leptin levels. Leptin is a hormone that regulates fatty acid oxydation. When this hormone is reduced, fatty acid oxidation decreases - leading to an excess storage of fat cells in parts of the body that are not meant to carry extra fat.
Overall sleep plays an important role in various physiological mechanisms that regulate numerous metabolic pathways, such as carbohydrate and fatty acid metabolism. Without optimal sleep habits, indidviduals face a higher chance of experiencing varying metabolic issues.
What are the Benefits of Optimal Sleep Hygiene?
“Sleep hygiene” is a term that is often used to describe good sleep habits. This includes following a relatively consistent sleep schedule and obtaining an optimal amount of sleep every night. However, the term doesn’t describe the outcome of good sleep habits, which may leave you wondering, “why should I care about my sleep hygiene?”. The answer to that question is simple, good sleep hygiene is associated with numerous benefits – some of which are listed below:
1. Decreased cravings for processed food
A large body of evidence demonstrates that individuals who have poor sleep hygiene often crave energy-dense foods, such as donuts, chips, and cookies. These findings have been found among both adult and child populations, suggesting that sleep is strongly associated with an individual’s perception and choice of food. Research also suggests that those who are sleep deprived are more susceptible to enticing smells, such as the scent of freshly baked goods.
2. Increased energy for daily movement
Research has found varying associations between sleep and exercise, suggesting that the two share a complex interrelationship. While more research is encouraged, current findings suggest that daily exercise may aid in improving one’s ability to sleep. In relation to this, optimal sleep habits have also been found to potentially support greater physical activity levels throughout the day.
3. Increased motivation
Research suggests that those who sleep for appropriate amounts of time are more likely to choose healthier food options and crave less energy-dense foods. Thus, it would be fair to assume that these same individuals would be more motivated to cook healthy meals at home and engage in meal planning strategies.
4. Improved mood
Evidence suggests that those who lack structure around their sleep schedule often experience greater mood swings. For instance, a 2021 study found that 1st year medical students who stayed up late or got the fewest hours of sleep tended to report greater depressive symptoms and lower daily mood ratings.
5. Greater ability to focus positively
Individuals who lack optimal sleep habits are more likely to negatively react to common stimuli, such as loud noise and bright light. Additionally, this same group of individuals is less likely to be able to focus on positive information (such as goals and aspirations) and more likely to focus on negative information (such as anxiety about the future or intrusive thoughts).
How can you Implement optimal sleep hygiene?
There are many strategies that can be implemented to improve your sleep hygiene. For example, try:
· Staying consistent – Have a regular bedtime and wake-up time.
· Making your room comfortable – Keep it cool, dark, and quiet.
· Avoiding caffeine and alcohol up to five hours before your bedtime.
· Being active throughout the day - Adults 18-64 years should aim for 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity every week. Try going on a 20–30-minute walk, daily.
· Reducing screen time at least one hour before bed – Try reading a book!
The above strategies don’t have to be implemented all at once. In fact, learning how to set SMART goals can help you gradually engage in optimal sleep hygiene.
A SMART goal is:
Specific - When will you start? What is your focus?
Measurable - What will you track? (e.g., time or amount)
Action-oriented - What health behavior will you change/improve?
Realistic - Is your goal too big or is it achievable?
Time-frame - How long will it take to reach your goal?
Example: Starting Monday and continuing every subsequent day of the week, I will put my phone away at 9pm and read for 30 minutes.
Specific: You’re starting at the beginning of the week and focusing on reading before bed.
Measurable: You’re reading once per day for 30 minutes.
Action-oriented: You’re focused on improving your sleep hygiene.
Realistic: This is a small, achievable goal.
Timeframe: This goal will occur over the span of 1-week.
Wishing you all sleepy, quality vibes, to help make your health journey smooth and successful, long-term!
Blog Collaborators: Maya Silva BSc candidate and Lara Inany BASc
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