What is sleep hygiene? And how does it lead to a healthy heart?

If you are anything like me, you might associate the word, “hygiene” with the number of showers you take per week, how often you brush your teeth, how often you apply deodorant or how “good” you smell. Hygiene consists of each of the aforementioned things, but it also encompasses a whole lot more – including better sleep.

Dictionary.com defines hygiene as “the science that deals with the preservation of health; a condition or practice conducive to the preservation of health; a beneficial or recommended practice or set of practices.” And thus, that brings us to the topic of sleep hygiene.

In the following article, we will talk about how better sleep begins with good sleep hygiene and how great bedtime routines and sleep habits can lead to a healthier, happier heart.

First, we will dive a bit deeper into what it looks like to have good sleep hygiene. And then, we will look at how better sleep positively impacts our heart health.

Dr. Natalie A Bello, from the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars Sinai Hospital, recently stated in the article, “Why Sleep Has Been Added to Heart Association’s Updated Cardiovascular Health Checklist,” that good sleep hygiene is crucial and so impactful to heart health because good sleep directly affects the whole person, not just a single part of the body. And thus, the heart is positively impacted by whole body health, such as lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar, positive mental health, etc.

Sleep allows the body to “reset” and “repair” itself, which eases the work that the heart has to do overall. Maintaining a non-stressed heart helps the heart to maintain proper function over time.

Top 7 Habits That Lead To Great Sleep Hygiene:

  1. Stick to a regular sleep schedule; go to bed at the same time (give or take 20 minutes) each day, including weekends and holidays.
  2. Get enough exposure to natural light during wakeful hours. This trains the body to know what times of day you “should” be sleeping.
  3. Find a health coach to help you develop and maintain a solid exercise routine
  4. Have a light, healthy snack prior to bed. Do not go to bed hungry, and do not eat a large, carb-heavy meal right before bed.
  5. Avoid caffeine after 3:00 P.M.
  6. Keep your bedroom cool and dark.
  7. Avoid artificial light sources, such as television, computer and cell phones within two hours of bedtime.

In the paragraphs that follow, we will explore each of the top seven habits that lead to better sleep hygiene.

Sticking to a regular sleep schedule can help regulate your body’s clock and can thus enhance the quality of sleep you are getting and also the time you are spending awake. Along the lines of maintaining a regular sleep schedule, avoiding naps may be key. It has been shown that each person has a specific number of hours she requires of sleep in a 24 hour period. Naps can cause fragmented sleep at night because they decrease the amount of total sleep needed.

A good way to avoid a nap is getting outside to get adequate natural light. Exposing yourself to adequate natural light allows your body to better regulate sleeping and waking hours.

Walking and jogging outside are a great way to get adequate natural light in a day’s time. They are also great for getting regular exercise. Regular exercise is a crucial part of healthy sleep hygiene because exercise circulates endorphins, which can and do help combat depression and anxiety. Further, regular exercise leads to lower blood pressure, healthier circulation and healthy metabolism. But it can be hard to develop and maintain a solid exercise routine on your own. It can be invaluable and transformative to enlist a well educated health coach to help you develop and maintain healthy exercise habits.

Another area in which a health coach can be impactful is in nutrition education and developing healthy eating habits. One of the reasons it is good to develop healthy eating habits is because our eating habits directly affect our sleep. Hunger can create fragmented sleep. To avoid this, eat a light healthy snack, such as Greek yogurt, a banana with almond or seed butter, air popped popcorn, hard boiled egg or a kiwi. Avoid carb heavy meals close to bedtime.

While having a light healthy snack can be beneficial close to bedtime, one thing that is not beneficial is drinking caffeine close to bedtime. Practice good sleep hygiene by avoiding caffeine after 3:00 P.M. It takes the body three to seven hours to process caffeine, and therefore it can take that long for the effects of caffeine to subside. Caffeine can cause fragmented sleep, similar to that of napping and heavy meals.

Finally, when practicing good sleep hygiene, keep your room cool, dark and quiet, and avoid artificial light, such as that from a television, computer or mobile device. Light alerts the body that it is time to be awake, and provides stimulation for the brain. If you are trying to sleep in a bright room or are giving your attention to a screen up until bedtime, it is hard for the brain to decompress and prepare for sleep. Sleeping in a cool, dark, quiet room and avoiding screen time, as well as the other healthy sleep hygiene habits discussed above, can lead to better quality rest, which in turn leads to a higher quality of life and a healthier person overall. As you’ll find in the next couple of paragraphs, one of the most affected parts of the body is the heart.

Fundamental research talks in depth about the converse of good sleep hygiene, which is insomnia. According to the CDC, “Insomnia is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease. Over time, poor sleep can also lead to unhealthy habits that can hurt your heart, including higher stress levels, less motivation to be physically active, and unhealthy food choices.” The CDC states that adequate sleep is crucial to overall health and specifically to cardiovascular health. Getting good sleep, or rather, having good sleep hygiene, can be challenging but making small habitual changes can make monumental impacts over time

Similarly, according to the American Heart Association, sleep decreases blood pressure, which decreases the work your heart has to do. This, in turn, puts less stress on your heart. The infographics at the end of this article, created and provided by the American Heart Association, give visual representations of the positive correlation between healthy sleep hygiene and heart health.

With all of the information above, you should be on your way to better sleep and a healthier heart. And while all of this information is helpful and vital, it can be overwhelming knowing where to begin. Making small adjustments over time is key, and a personal trainer can help jumpstart your journey.

The seven habits of good sleep hygiene include, but are not limited to, sticking to a regular sleep schedule; going to bed at the same time (give or take 20 minutes) each day, including weekends and holidays; getting enough exposure to natural light during wakeful hours. finding a health coach to help you develop and maintain a solid exercise routine; having a light, healthy snack prior to bed; keeping your bedroom cool and dark; avoiding artificial light sources, such as television, computer and cell phones within two hours of bedtime. All of these things lead to the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep for healthier adults per night. And adequate sleep leads to a healthy heart.

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Resources Used In This Article

Heart Health and Sleep

Healthy Living = Health Sleep

Sleep and Heart Association Checklist

Blood pressure and Sleep.