Poor Sleep Hygiene Meant I Slept 15 Hours a Day – Here’s How I Cured it

Getty Images / Elena Noviello

Image Source: Getty Images/Elena Noviello

I used to have a solid after-school routine. From years nine to 11, I’d get in from school at around 4.30p.m. and have a nap. This nap would last until about 6pm, when my mum would come home from work. We’d chat for a bit, have dinner together, and then I’d be ready for yet another nap – or to be honest with you, to get in bed and just sleep until the next day, when I’d get up for school and repeat the same unhealthy cycle.

My parents were concerned to say the least, and booked me in with my GP, panicking that I was keeping something from them, like a drug problem, or feeling depressed. This was not the case. But, if your teenage child was doing around 15 hours of sleep a day, you’d probably be worried too.

It was a chat with my doctor that awakened me to the world of sleep hygiene, a term I wasn’t familiar with at all. I’d never heard of it, and going into school the next day to share the news, neither had any of my friends. It was an alien term, but it perfectly explained my poor sleep routine, because despite all the sleep I was getting, I was still tired – and, according to my GP, I only had myself to blame.

What is Sleep Hygiene and How Does it Go Bad?

Sleep hygiene is your daily routine that promotes good sleep. It includes your bedtime routine, your sleep environment, and habits that affect the quality of your sleep”, sleep expert at MattressNextDay Martin Seely explains. Essentially, sleep hygiene includes everything from keeping a regular bedtime (even on weekends) to a calming and relaxing wind-down routine before bed, and regular exercise throughout the day to help you sleep well at night.

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I was told that my bad sleep hygiene was down to my excessive sleeping at different times of the day which was disrupting my sleep-wake cycle. But there are a number of things that could cause poor sleep hygiene, for example, drinking caffeine or alcohol close to bedtime or using devices in bed that emit blue light, which suppresses melatonin production (the hormone that helps regulate sleep.)

Phones really aren’t any good for sleep. And as it turns out, young people need much more of it, but are less likely to be getting a good night’s kip because of their screen time. “Adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night (though research has shown that many of us are getting less sleep than this; around six to seven hours), whereas teenagers need around eight to 10 hours,” Seely explains.

How I Improved My Sleep Hygiene – And How You Can Too

For starters, the napping had to stop. I was on a strict ban, and instead filled the time I’d usually be sleeping with some revision (which helped me get really good grades, actually). I was on dog-walking duty after dinner and was encouraged to sit with my mum and watch the holy trinity of soaps, Emmerdale, Coronation Street, then Eastenders.

In recent years, I’ve used the Lumie Sunrise Alarm (£50), which has made early mornings so much easier. It uses a soft, yellow light, which gradually gets lighter 30 minutes before your wake time, when it sets off a gentle alarm sound. Before bed, I use Apple’s Sleep (Free) Focus Do Not Disturb feature to block anything but important notifications to my phone from 10.30p.m., so I’m less inclined to doom-scroll and instead fill this time winding down or reading.

Image Source: lumie.com

Of course, while my sleep hygiene has improved, it isn’t perfect. I enjoy the occasional late night drink, especially if I’m out with my friends. And if I do nap, I normally limit myself to 20 minutes, for a light sleep with minimal grogginess. Much to my parents’ delight, I ditched morning lie-ins too, which Seeley believes is a good shout. “Having a lie-in can disrupt your circadian rhythm,” he says. “Meaning you’ll find it harder to fall asleep that night. This might lead to you wanting to have a nap the next day because you’re tired, but napping for too long can disrupt the cycle even more.

“Also, using your bed for anything other than sleep and sex should be avoided; things like working and watching TV in bed means your brain associates the space with alertness rather than sleep.”

Booking in with your GP when you feel concerned about your sleep hygiene is a step in the right direction too. And Unplugged co-founder Hector Hughes recommends that once you’ve identified what’s disrupting your sleep hygiene, to implement small changes to adjust your routine.

“If you’re scrolling socials in bed then remove your phone from your bedside and spend 30 minutes before sleep without your phone,” he tells us. “If you’re feeling stressed with work or your to-do list, then try a brain dump before bed. This is where you write down everything you’re worried about or that you have to do tomorrow in a journal or notepad. This physical exercise can help transfer your thoughts to paper and also rationalise your worries.”

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The Ideal Environment For Good Sleep Hygiene

Creating the ideal sleep environment is important for good sleep hygiene and there are a number of things you can do to ensure your area is up to scratch, from making sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable enough, to using sleep masks or blackout curtains.

“A new, comfortable mattress and pillows that support your head correctly can be beneficial, and so can blackout curtains that make the room as dark as possible. You could also try a light-blocking sleeping mask and earplugs to stop outside noises disturbing your sleep,” Seely recommends.

Adequate daylight is also essential for regulating your circadian rhythm, so a sunset lamp or SAD lamp can be very beneficial if you aren’t able to get enough daylight – whether that’s because of low light-levels in winter, or you work a night-shift and have to sleep during the sleep,” he adds.

Lauren Gordon is the editorial coordinator at POPSUGAR UK, where she creates lifestyle and identity content. Lauren has a degree in journalism from University of the Arts London and previously worked as a showbiz and TV reporter at The Mirror US. Lauren specialises in pop culture, hair and beauty, focusing on trends, sharing in-depth tutorials, and highlighting hidden gems in the beauty industry.

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