Sleep hygiene is the term used to describe good sleep habits to ensure you get a good nights sleep. Common sleeping problems (like insomnia) are often caused by bad sleeping habits that have been reinforced over decades.
Medications are available which are used to treat insomnia, but these tend to be only effective in the short term. Ongoing use of sleeping pills can cause dependency and don’t induce natural sleep. Therefore developing good sleeping habits, independent of medication would seem to be the best long term solution.
If you have prolonged sleeping difficulties talk to your health professional, they will be able to advise you if you need further sleep assessment to exclude other medical issues such as sleep apnoea. You will then be referred to the most appropriate specialist for management.
Considerable research has gone into developing a set of guidelines and tips which are designed to enhance good sleeping. Evidence also suggests that these strategies can provide long-term solutions to some sleep difficulties.
Sleep Hygiene Tips
Regulate your Sleep Patterns
Going to bed and getting up at more or less the same time every day will provide your body with some regularity with your sleep patterns. You will find that this strict routine will help set your body clock.
Sleep when Sleepy
Try to sleep when you actually feel tired or sleepy, rather than spending too much time awake in bed, you will start to worry about why you can’t sleep and end up lying awake.
Get out of Bed if you can’t Sleep
If you haven’t been able to get to sleep after about 20 minutes or more get up and do something calming or boring until you feel sleepy. Then return to bed and try again.
Sit quietly on the couch with the lights off, bright light will tell your brain that it is time to wake up. Read a non stimulating book. Avoid doing anything that is too stimulating or interesting like screen time with a device, as this will wake you up even more.
Avoid Caffeine and Nicotine
It is best to avoid consuming any caffeine in coffee, tea ,cold drinks, chocolate and some medications because of the stimulating effect of caffeine. Some people don’t have a coffee after 4pm for instance because it the caffeine will interfere with their sleep patterns.
Resist having cigarettes for at least four to six hours before going to bed as the nicotine is also a stimulant and will affect your ability to fall asleep.
Avoid alcohol for at least four to six hours before going to bed. Many people believe that alcohol is relaxing and helps get to sleep but it actually interrupts the quality of sleep.
Bed is for Sleeping
Do not to use your bed for anything other than sleeping and sex. Your body will associate bed with sleep, if you use your bed to watch television, work on your laptop, pay bills and other things they distract from the real purpose of your bed being for sleep.
Choose loose sleepwear, in materials that are cool and soft. It is purely a matter of choice but avoid tight fitting sleepwear that will make you hot and therefore wake up because you are uncomfortable.
It is best to avoid taking naps during the day to make sure that you are tired at bedtime. If you can’t make it through the day without a nap make sure it is for less than an hour and before 3:00 PM.
You can develop your own rituals of things to remind your body that it is time to sleep some people find it useful to do relaxing stretches or breathing exercises for 15 minutes before bed each night, or sit calmly with a cup of caffeine free tea.
Relaxing Bath or Shower
Have a hot bath or shower as part of your routine. Relaxing in a warm bath, or standing under a warm shower will be refreshing and prepare you for having a good nights sleep.
Checking the Time
Many people who struggle with sleep tend to check the time frequently, this ends up adding more stress if the person can’t sleep. Worrying about whether its late or early, I havn’t been to sleep yet, counting the hours before daylight adds stress. If you have had 5 hours sleep this is what yo will focus on all day, and be tired all day.
You end up feeling very tired and overwhelmed in the morning.
Use a Sleep Diary
Using a sleep diary can be a useful way of making sure you have the right facts about your sleep rather than making assumptions. It is a good idea to only use it for two weeks to get an idea of what is going on because having a sleep diary is about checking and monitoring the amount of time you have been asleep. If you have a smart watch you can monitor it on the watch.
You may fine this blog post on Tracking Sleep helpful.
Once you have an idea about your sleep pattern give yourself a couple of months to implement changes to your sleep habits then monitor yourself again to check out your improvements.
Regular exercise is a good idea to help with a good nights sleep. Doing strenuous exercise in the four hours before bedtime morning can be detrimental because of the endorphins released when you exercise. Going for a walk is a great way to start the day feeling refreshed.
Diet and Sleep
A healthy balanced diet will help you to sleep well but timing of your meals is important. Some people find that a very empty stomach my bedtime is distracting so it can be useful to have a light snack. At the same time a heavy meal soon before bed can also interrupt sleep. A warm glass of milk is recommended as it contains tryptophan. This acts as a natural sleep inducer.
Your bedroom needs to be quiet and comfortable place for sleeping. Check out your bed, you may need to make some changes if it is not comfortable.
Are your pillows comfortable or do you wake up with a stiff neck and headache. Wearing an eye mask or earplugs can help if your home is in a noisy area.
Do you Sleep Alone
Sleeping with a partner can be distracting, particularly if they snore or are restless during the night. If this is happening talk to them about their sleep habits. It may be necessary for them to seek professional help for snoring or other chronic sleep issues.
Check these sleep hygiene tips and if you can identify any issues you are having or if you are needing assistance, contact your doctor or other health professional to help you to improve your sleep habits.