Health and Fitness: How sleep hygiene affects your energy, brain function

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: ISTOCK (BRIANAJACKSON)
Tomorrow begins with tonight's proper sleep hygiene habits.

You think you are doing it right: eating healthy 85 to 95 per cent of the time and getting in daily exercise. So why do you find your energy levels are low and it’s hard to focus on your work? There is a big piece of the physical health pie to check in with: sleep hygiene.

The National Sleep Foundation ( defines sleep hygiene as “a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness”. When you practice good sleeping habits, you will find most things in life to be much easier, especially in regards to physical and mental activities.

For many college students, or anyone who is working on a varying shift schedule, it can be difficult to stick to a regular routine. Sometimes it is good to be spontaneous and do something different once in a while, but your body craves as much routine as possible. When your eating, exercise and sleeping habits are routine, it is much easier to tell where something went wrong in your general health if one of these things happens off routine or not at all.

Of course, there are other factors (environmental) that affect your health, but if you are living your life differently every day, it is really hard to pinpoint what changes affected illness or low energy levels.

Try to keep a routine within an hour or so each day.

For example, wake between 6 to 7 a.m., walk or do yoga 7 to 8 a.m., eat breakfast 8 to 9 a.m., go to work/class 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., go for a walk or workout 12 to 2 p.m., have lunch/snack 12 to 2 p.m. (post workout), snack at 4 p.m., exercise/ activity 4 to 6 p.m., dinner 6 to 7 p.m., read/study/leisure activities 7 to 10 p.m., sleep 10 p.m. to 6 p.m.

If you are going out late, try to limit it to one night past midnight and only sleep in an extra hour, then catch a nap for an hour later in the day. If you have several nights where you are up until midnight or later, you may need to adjust your sleeping to start closer to that time always and wake up later so you get at least six to eight hours of rest each night. Sleeping or laying in bad for longer than eight to nine hours can leave your groggy, stiff, and sore.

When you sleep well, your body and brain are rested and ready for the day. This means better, more efficient workouts, a desire for healthier foods at regular intervals, and concentration at school or work is more likely (especially if you enjoy what you do). You don’t have to sleep like a log to reap the benefits, as long as you allow yourself to feel relaxed and rested. It’s OK if you wake up a few times and you can actually benefit from changing positions several times in the night so you don’t become sore from putting your weight on one area all night.

Besides establishing a routine, the following tips are essential to getting a good night’s sleep:

1. Room temperature/air flow: 16 to 21 degrees Celsius is ideal, adding layers of blankets for desired comfort. Open the window for air flow or invest in a fan with multiple speeds and let it oscillate the air on you or around the room.

2. Bed comfort: Could you lay on an exercise mat or a carpet and fall asleep? If so, chances are you like a firm mattress and pillow. If this makes you restless, then look into something like a pillow top or memory foam mattress. For pillows, you may want to have a flat pillow if you mostly sleep on your back and one that is higher or curved if you sleep on your side.

3. Wind down and hour or so before bed: Start your bedtime routine at least 30 to 60 minutes before bed. Make up food for the next day, shower/ wash up, change to clean bed clothes, brush teeth, pack your school/work bag, watch a short show, and then make sure to turn of any screens at least 20 to 30 minutes before sleep time. During this time you could try relaxing yoga poses in bed, slow breathing exercises, meditation or reading a book. No matter how tired you think you are, doing this before bed will help you to sleep longer and feel more relaxed.

4. Sleep in a dark room: Cover up any lights from devices with black electrical tape or put them in another room. Put your phone to ‘do not disturb’ and turn it face down. Don’t fall asleep with the TV on. Get black-out curtains and shut your door.

5. Eat healthy: Eat at regular intervals throughout the day and leave at least two hours before bed from the last time you eat, allowing digestion to start and avoiding acid reflux. Eat ideal portions allowing you to feel satisfied but not stuffed (two handfuls at meals, one handful or less at snacks). Eat lots of vegetables and fruits, lean meats or plant proteins (grains, nuts, seeds, beans and various vegetables), healthy fats from plants. Avoid processed foods with excessive salt, sugar, and animal or hydrogenated fats, as well as synthetic ingredients.

6. Exercise: Strength train two to four days per week, two to three sessions per week of about 30 minutes of vigorous cardio like running or HIIT training, two to three sessions per week of moderate intensity cardio like biking, jogging and dancing. Get daily exercise such as walking, leisurely biking, housework or gardening. Make sure to stretch or do mobility exercise daily, typically at the end of a workout or at the end of the day.

7. Keep a ‘brain dump’ journal on your night stand: When you wake in the night and thoughts are racing in your head, turn on a dim light, pick up your journal and write them all down. Don’t write full sentences – just the basic point so that you can continue the thought the next day or so that you can add it to a to-do list or your calendar.

8. Try meditation or breathing exercises: You can use a podcast for this or come to a yoga or meditation class at the Student Wellness Centre to help you with techniques for relaxation.

9. Find a sleep playlist: Sometimes, when I’ve had an off day and I’ve tried all the techniques, I turn on a sleep podcast or playlist. I prefer gently piano music and a playlist that last two hours or one that will shuffle and replay. Just make sure to keep your device charged/plugged in and turned low and face down.

10. Show love and gratitude: Before bed, give love or gratitude for the day. Love can come in the form of saying ‘I love you’ or ‘have a good sleep’, hugging, cuddling or doing the horizontal tango (wink, wink). Gratitude can be saying thank you to someone, writing down what you are most thankful for, praying or just saying all the things you are thankful for that day to yourself. This can help you feel positive, loved, and relaxed for a good night sleep.

On Wednesday, Sept. 25 from 6 to 7 p.m., Brooke Hohenadel from Bedtime Beginnings will be joining us at the Student Wellness Centre for a presentation on Sleep. Register (under enrolments) using our Fanshawe student Wellness Centre app in your app store or visit

Karen Nixon-Carroll is the Program Manager at the Student Wellness Centre.