How to Develop Healthy Sleep Habits
New Year’s is a great time to start crafting and sticking with healthy sleep habits. You can benefit any time of year from making sleep more of a priority, but why not use your resolutions to work on it for a fresh start in the new year? Changing habits is hard, but it’s doable.
What Are Healthy Sleep Habits?
Understanding what good sleep habits are and actually implementing them are two different things. To make positive changes, first know what kinds of things you should be doing on a regular basis for better and healthier sleep:
- Go to bed and get up at approximately the same time every day (yes, that includes weekends).
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and heavy meals in the hours before bed.
- Make your bedroom restful and relaxing. Keep it dark and cool and avoid doing other activities there, such as work or watching television.
- Exercise every day.
- Manage stress and anxiety with a meditation nightly
How to Break and Make Lasting Habits
Developing healthy sleep habits is as much about changing bad behaviors as creating and sticking with new ones. Both are important for making lasting changes. The psychology of habit is complicated, but researchers have some ideas on how it works and how to change your habits for the better.
Breaking Bad Sleep Habits
The good news about healthier habits is that once they are set, they’re difficult to change. Of course, that means changing bad habits you have now will also be challenging. Researchers have found two main strategies for breaking habits that can be effective for many:
- Change the context of the habit. Contextual clues trigger habits. For instance, if you always check your emails as soon as you get into bed, being in bed will make you want to reach for your device. Change the context by only checking emails in certain places, like the kitchen or home office.
- Make a habit more difficult. If continuing with an old habit is difficult or causes some discomfort, you’re more likely to change it. Watching TV in bed is a bad habit that doesn’t help sleep. Take the TV out of the bedroom, and in order to watch a program you have to get out of bed and go to another room.
Creating New Habits
The study of habit formation has shown that intention is not enough to act. There is only about a 50 percent chance that if you intend to develop better sleep habits, that you actually will make that happen.
- Change the contest of the habit. Changing context is useful for breaking old habits, but also for forming new ones. Make changes to your bedroom, like rearranging the furniture for instance. This will eliminate contextual cues for bad habits and help you use them for forming new habits.
- Repeat the habit on a regular basis. Research indicates that if you can stick with a habit, performing it regularly for an extended period of time, it will become easier, even automatic to do. If you can stick with it long enough—the time it takes varies by individual—you will be able to keep up with healthy sleep habits even under stress or distractions.
- Find a way to relate a new habit to an existing one. Sticking with those new habits for long enough to make them routine is easier if you attach them to existing habits. For example, if you brush your teeth before bed, add a new sleep habit immediately after brushing. Go straight from this activity that is already a habit, to listening to a sleep meditation on your Relax Melodies app.
When you are intentional and use some tricks from psychology research, you can really change bad habits that prevent good sleep. Developing lasting healthy sleep habits is worth the effort and will improve your overall health and wellness.
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