Sleep Hygiene and Mental Wellness

When it comes to sleep, there are many benefits to living in rural communities, such as less traffic noise and artificial lights. Those involved in agricultural careers are more likely to sleep and wake with the cycle of the sun, which can be helpful for maintaining consistent sleep routines. Yet according to the Sleep Association, those in rural communities struggle with sleep just as much as those in urban areas. This could be due to many different factors, such as stress levels and greater health inequalities, or the fact that sometimes getting a good night’s sleep is just difficult no matter where you live.

Regardless of where you live, getting enough sleep is one of the most critical actions you can take to maintain overall wellness. Restful sleep benefits your memory, creativity, concentration, problem-solving skills—and, of course, your physical and mental health!

Lack of sleep can cause many problems, including irritation and forgetfulness. Over time, lack of sleep contributes to depression and anxiety. Taking a proactive approach can help mitigate these problems.

Sleep guidelines tend to vary according to age, outlined by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society. Every individual is different, but the general recommendation for most adults is 7 to 9 hours per night. Sleeping in excess of this amount of hours may be a sign of other problems, but generally people struggle with not getting enough sleep, rather than getting too much.

Sleep Hygiene Strategies

  • There are many things you can do to get better sleep. For best sleep hygiene, pay attention to both your practical routines and your physical environment.
  • Maintain a regular schedule. Aim for a consistent sleep and wake-up time every day. You may want to allow for some sleep-in flexibility over the weekend, but it’s a good idea to keep this variation minimal (e.g. a difference of two hours or less).
  • Budget wind-down time. Spend the last 30 minutes before bed doing something relaxing (e.g. taking a bath, listening to soft music, or reading a book).
  • Watch your screen time. Try to take a break from your phone, iPad, and other electronic devices during your wind-down time. Avoid bringing these devices to bed.
  • Monitor your napping schedule. If you take a nap during the day, schedule this nap no later than the early afternoon to avoid disruption to sleep schedules later.
  • Avoid consuming caffeine, sweets, alcohol, or large meals close to bedtime. Having a light snack before bed may help, but be mindful about what you consume. While many of us enjoy a cup of coffee, consume it in moderation and give the caffeine time to leave your system before your scheduled sleep cycle.
  • Restrict the use of your bed. Doing so will help your body to associate being in bed with rest and relaxation. Most importantly, ensure that you are not working in bed.
  • Get physical exercise and exposure to sunshine during the course of your day if you’re not already doing so. Being physically active and spending time outdoors will help regulate your circadian rhythm. These habits are also good for boosting your overall mood.
  • Find a temperature that is comfortable for you. Many people find that they sleep best when they turn the temperature down a degree or two.
  • Reduce and control your light exposure. Depending on your circumstances, room-darkening curtains and/or eye masks may be useful.
  • Silence or block out distracting sounds. You may find it helpful to use ear plugs, a white noise machine or a noise-blocking app.
  • Use quality bedding and pillows. You don’t need to invest in an expensive mattress, but it’s a good idea to ensure that your materials support and promote your comfort.

Making Positive Changes

Cultivating a healthy sleep routine takes time. It’s okay to start small! Rather than try to manage everything all at once, we suggest picking a few strategies to target right away and then add new habits as you are ready. Tracking your patterns over time can also help you make progress! You can use a sleep diary to help you see how you’re doing.

If you find yourself unable to sleep after you go to bed, experts suggest that it’s best not to lie there, tossing and turning. Instead, get out of bed and do a soothing activity in dim light (e.g. sit on the couch and listen to music or use an adult coloring book). Return to bed when you feel you are ready to sleep.

Getting a good sleep is easier said than done, but keep in mind that this is not an all-or-nothing matter. Strive for slow, practical, and feasible gains. Most importantly, do not stress about any difficulties you may have falling asleep. That will only exacerbate the problem! Treat yourself with kindness and compassion at every step. Embracing the reality that not every day–or every night–is perfect will ultimately help you on your journey to better sleep