What is sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene refers to the routine and practices we go through when preparing for sleep each night.
In our society, many issues with sleep can be related to poor sleep hygiene, for example: staying up too late and/or getting up to early, over-caffeinated, over-worked and over-stimulated with late night activities, such as television, computer and cellphone use.
Healthy Sleep Habits
Fix a bedtime and an awakening time. Continually alternating your bedtime and awakening time makes it difficult for your body to know when it should be asleep and when it should be awake. The body “gets used” to falling asleep at a certain time, but only if this is relatively fixed. On weekends, there is a tendency to fall asleep later and wake up later; however, if you truly want to be well rested then it is recommended that you keep your regular week day routine.
Avoid napping during the day. If you have difficulty getting to sleep at night, you should avoid napping during the day. Typically, if you are getting the proper quality and quantity of sleep at night, a nap during the day should not be required. If you don’t have issues with falling asleep at night, the occasional nap is okay, provided you limit it to 30-45 minutes.
Avoid caffeine 4-6 hours before bedtime. Caffeine is a stimulant, which may make it difficult to fall asleep if consumed too close to bedtime. This includes beverages such as coffee, tea and many sodas, as well as chocolate.
Avoid alcohol 4-6 hours before bedtime. Many people believe that alcohol helps them sleep. While alcohol has an immediate sleep-inducing effect, a few hours later as the alcohol levels in your blood start to fall, it may be difficult to stay asleep. If you have a pre-existing sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, drinking alcohol before bed can increase it’s severity.
Avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods 4-6 hours before bedtime. These can affect your ability to stay asleep. Regular exercise, particularly in the afternoon, can help deepen sleep.
Strenuous exercise within the 2 hours before bedtime, however, can decrease your ability to fall asleep.
The Sleeping Environment
Use comfortable bedding. Uncomfortable bedding can prevent good sleep. Evaluate whether or not this is a source of your problem, and make appropriate changes.
A cool bedroom is often the most conducive to sleeping. If your bedroom is too cold or too hot, it can keep you awake. A cool (not cold) bedroom is often the most conducive to sleep.
Block out all distracting noise, and eliminate as much light as possible.
Reserve the bed for sleep and intimacy. Don’t use the bed as an office, workroom or recreation room. It is important to create an association between the bed and sleeping.
Getting Ready For Bed
Practice relaxation techniques before bed. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing and others may help relieve anxiety and reduce muscle tension.
Don’t take your worries to bed. Leave your worries about work, school, daily life, etc., behind when you go to bed. Some people find it useful to write your thoughts and worries down in the late evening and save them for the next day.
Establish a pre-sleep ritual. A warm bath, a few minutes of reading or an activity that allows your body to reach a state of relaxation and signals to your brain and body that it is time for sleep, is a great way to prepare your body for bedtime.
A word about television.
Many of us watch television in our rooms before bed and as a result, fall asleep before we have a chance to turn it off. Why is this bad? Television is a very engaging medium and therefore requires the attention of our senses, whether we are actively watching or not. As a result, TV will either keep people up longer, or can interfere with the quality of sleep if left on. To avoid these situations, we suggest you do not place a TV in the bedroom at all. In fact, keeping electronics (ie. Computers, tablets, phones etc) to a minimum is a great habit to develop in order to create an environment that is conducive to sleep. If you do have issues falling asleep, limiting your exposure to electronic devices at least 1 hour prior to bed is recommended.
Do you have trouble getting to or staying asleep?
Typically, you should fall asleep within 15-20 minutes. If this is not the case, then do not remain in bed “trying harder” to fall asleep. Get out of bed and leave the bedroom, but do not turn on any lights. Sit quietly in a dark room until you feel tired enough where you feel you could fall asleep. At this time, you may listen to relaxation CDs, however it is important not to engage in any stimulating activity, such as TV watching, computer use, etc. From here, get back into bed and allow yourself to fall asleep. If you do not fall asleep in another 15-20 minutes, repeat the process. This process should also be used if you wake up during the night.
Several physical factors are known to upset sleep. These include arthritis, acid reflux with heartburn, menstruation, headaches and hot flashes.
Psychological and mental health problems like depression, anxiety and stress are often associated with sleeping difficulties. In many cases, difficulty staying asleep may be the only presenting sign of depression. A Sleep Medicine Specialist should be consulted about these issues to help determine the problem and the best treatment.
Many medications can cause sleeplessness as a side effect. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if medications you are taking can lead to sleeplessness.
Always follow the advice of your Sleep Medicine Specialist and other healthcare professionals. The goal is to rediscover how to sleep naturally.