Sleep “hygiene” is simply behaviors and habits in everyday life that affect the quality and quantity of sleep. There are certain lifestyle and dietary habits that promote sound sleep and most of them are common sense, but it is easy to slip out of positive patterns and into choices that adversely affect your health.
Here are some techniques that may help you sleep better on a regular basis.
How does stress affect sleep?
Stress causes many sleep problems. If you find that stress causes you trouble in sleeping, you may begin to develop certain habits—such as regular napping, overuse of caffeine, use of alcoholic beverages at bedtime, working at night or sleeping at irregular times—to help you cope with the lack of regular sleep. And when the stress goes away, the poor sleeping habits stay on!
Some people develop a cycle of repeated difficulty falling asleep and a lot of worry about being able to fall asleep. Even your bedroom may become associated with “the place I can’t sleep” and you end up trying to sleep in a chair or on the sofa. Setting and keeping a good pattern for sleep will help you weather the effects of stress. Setting aside time before bed to do something relaxing—light reading, listening to music, a warm bath—can help you mind and your body let go of stress and get ready for sleep. Relaxation techniques such as meditation can also be beneficial, as is a program of exercise as long as it is not close to your bedtime.
How does diet affect sleep?
Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol are all common sources of problems for good sleep. Even how much you eat and when can affect your sleep.
Caffeine in coffee, tea, colas, chocolate, energy drinks and even in some prescription medicines stimulates the brain. Moderate daytime consumption does not usually interfere with sleep, but withdrawal from heavy use of caffeine will impact sleep. If you suffer from insomnia, do not drink more than two caffeinated beverages a day, and only before noon.
Nicotine also stimulates the brain and disrupts sleep for many people because of awakening during regular sleep hours. For most people, kicking the habit—not smoking or “dipping”—will result in falling asleep faster and waking up fewer times during the night. While alcohol slows down brain activity and may induce sleep at bedtime, it will disrupt sleep later in the night. People who use alcohol to fall asleep suffer from frequent awakening during the night, nightmares and early morning headaches. For better quality sleep, don’t drink alcoholic beverages within four to six hours before bedtime.
A heavy meal close to bedtime, or foods that cause upset stomach, will interfere with many people’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. A light snack at bedtime can help promote sleep, and milk or other dairy products with a complex carbohydrate like a whole grain cracker are especially good as bedtime snacks.
So what else affects my sleep?
Where you sleep matters. A comfortable bed in a quiet, dark room is the best for a good night’s sleep. Some people are very sensitive to light and need to be sure natural and artificial light, even electronics, are dimmed or removed. Noise is also an issue for some people and they can benefit from ear plugs or “white noise” machines or even the hum of a fan. If you are a clock watcher, set an alarm and then remove it from your sight so you do not increase pressure on yourself to fall asleep. The point is to sleep without pressure or interference from your environment.
Regular exercise helps encourage better sleep. It is important not to strenuously exercise within six hours of your bedtime because it may disrupt your sleep. Light exercise and adequate daytime activity are very important for sound sleep, so if you are office bound, be sure to consider a program of regular exercise.
Tips for Good Sleep Hygiene
- Try to sleep only when you are drowsy
- If you are unable to fall asleep or stay asleep, leave your bedroom and engage in a quiet activity elsewhere—don’t fall asleep outside the bedroom! Go back to bed when you are sleepy. Repeat this process as often as necessary throughout the night.
- Maintain a regular schedule—wake up and go to bed at the same time even on weekends and vacations.
- Your bedroom is for sleep, sex and when you are sick.
- Avoid daytime napping. If you are overwhelmed by sleepiness during the day, limit yourself to one nap of less than an hour before 3:00pm.
- Distract your mind—avoid lying in bed when you are unable to sleep. Try reading, listening to light music or audio books or other activity outside of your bedroom. Go back to bed when you are drowsy.
- Avoid caffeine within four to six hours before bedtime and before noon if you have trouble with insomnia.
- Kick the nicotine habit—or at the very least avoid nicotine close to bedtime or during the night.
- Don’t drink alcoholic beverages within four to six hours before bedtime.
- Avoid large meals before bedtime and consider a light snack that features a dairy product and a complex carbohydrate such as cheese and wholegrain crackers.
- Avoid strenuous exercise within six hours of bedtime.
- Minimize light, noise and extremes in temperature in the bedroom.
If you suffer from sleeplessness for four to six weeks even though you have modified your sleep and daytime habits, it’s time to consider seeking professional help. The sleep professionals at CSI welcome your calls at 314-645-5855. We will help you achieve the sleep you need for your personal wellbeing. At CSI, we know that better sleep means better life.