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Sleep Hygiene

Poor sleep habits (referred to as hygiene) are among the most common problems encountered in our society. We stay up too late and get up too early. We interrupt our sleep with drugs, chemicals and work, and we overstimulate ourselves with late-night activities such as television.

While sleep requirements vary slightly from person to person, most healthy adults need at least 8 hours of sleep each night to function at their best. Our bodies tend to operate on a 24-hour or circadian cycle. Sleep, body temperature, and alertness are all part of a daily rhythm or cycle that is regulated by our brains. What we do during the day affects how well we will sleep at night. Research suggests poor sleep may either cause pain or lower pain thresholds, thus intensifying pain, lowering our body's immune system, and adding undo stress, both physically and mentally.

Sleep is affected by: 

● General health (hormonal upset, acid reflux with heartburn, arthritis, headaches, menstruation, pain, allergies)
● Life habits (diet, smoking, alcohol intake)
● Psychological problems (depression, anxiety)
● Personality style
● Stress
● Reaction to medications or withdrawal from medications
● Conditioned poor sleep

By learning to avoid common enemies of sleep and trying out a variety of healthy sleep-promoting techniques, you can discover your personal prescription to a good night's rest. The key is to experiment. What works for some might not work as well for others. It's important to find the sleep strategies that work best for you. Sleep hygiene techniques can help you establish and maintain healthy sleep/wake patterns. Below are some essentials of good sleep habits. Many of these points will seem like common sense, but it is surprising how many of these important points are ignored by many of us.

● Keep a regular sleep schedule - train your body to fall asleep and wake up at the same time on a regular basis To do this you should go to bed at the same time every night, a time when you normally feel tired, so that you don't toss and turn, and wake up at the same time.

○ Don't stay up late at night, even on weekends when it may be tempting to stay up late, and don't sleep in on the weekends past your wake time. If you want to change your bedtime, help your body adjust by making the change in small daily increments, such as 15 minutes earlier or later each day. CONSISTENCY is important.

■ Nap to make up for lost sleep rather than sleeping late. This strategy allows you to pay off your sleep debt without disturbing your natural sleep–wake rhythm. However, be smart about napping, as it can make insomnia worse. If insomnia is a problem for you, consider eliminating napping. If you must nap, do it in the early afternoon, and limit it to thirty minutes.

● Physically and mentally prepare yourself to go to sleep.

○ Physically - make a consistent effort to relax and unwind before bed.

■ It's particularly important to watch what you put in your body in the hours leading up to your bedtime.

● Don't eat 3 hours before bedtime and have only a light dinner. Rich, heavy, fatty foods take a lot of work for your stomach to digest and may keep you up. Spicy or acidic foods at night can cause heartburn.
● Avoid alcohol before bed. Many people think that a nightcap before bed will help them sleep. While it may make you fall asleep faster, alcohol reduces your sleep quality, waking you up later in the night.
● Cut down on caffeine. Caffeine can cause sleep problems up to 10 hours after drinking it! Avoid any caffeine at least 3 hours before bedtime.
● Avoid drinking too many liquids in the evening. Drinking lots of water, juice, tea, or other fluids may result in frequent bathroom trips throughout the night. Caffeinated drinks, which act as diuretics, only make things worse.
● Quit smoking. Smoking causes sleep troubles in numerous ways. Nicotine is a stimulant, which disrupts sleep. Additionally, smokers actually experience nicotine withdrawal as the night progresses, making it hard to sleep.

■ Take a warm bath - Do not take a hot bath or shower right before bed; the body needs to cool a degree before getting into deep sleep.
■ Change your clothes
■ Deep breathing. Close your eyes—and try taking deep, slow breaths—making each breath even deeper than the last.
■ Progressive muscle relaxation. Starting at your toes, tense all the muscles as tightly as you can, then completely relax. Work your way up from your feet to the top of your head.

○ Mentally - Relaxation is beneficial for everyone. Practicing relaxation techniques before bed is a great way to wind down, calm the mind, and prepare for sleep

■ Visualizing a peaceful, restful place. Close your eyes and imagine a place or activity that is calming and peaceful for you. Concentrate on how relaxed this place or activity makes you feel. A peaceful bedtime routine sends a powerful signal to your brain that it's time to wind down and let go of the day's stresses.
■ Calm down your thoughts and don't dwell on negative issues, avoid dealing with issues, problems, or stressors

● Counting sheep is more beneficial that worrying during bedtime. If worries and life stressors are keeping you awake, you need help with stress management. By learning how to manage your time effectively, handle stress in a productive way, and maintain a calm, positive outlook, you'll be able to sleep better at night.

● Turn off your television - Many people use the television to fall asleep or relax at the end of the day. However, it actually stimulates the mind, rather than relaxing it. Even the most relaxing program or movie can interfere with the body's clock due to the continuous flickering light coming from the TV or computer screen. Television is also noisy, which can disturb sleep if the set is accidentally left on.

■ You may be so used to falling asleep to the TV that you have trouble without it for the first few nights. If you find you miss the noise, try soft music or a fan. If your favorite show is on late at night, record it for viewing earlier in the day.

● Physical activity - Make sure your day is active and interesting.

○ Exercise - You sleep more deeply if you exercise regularly. 30 min of daily physical activity is all that is needed, you can break it up between 3-10 min intervals throughout the day.

■ Don't exercise too late in the day, it actually stimulates the body, raising its temperature. That's the opposite of what you want near bedtime, because a cooler body temperature promotes sleep.

● Create a conducive environment to fall asleep. The quality of your bedroom environment makes a huge difference in how well you sleep.

○ Make your room dark -. Even dim lights—especially those from TV or computer screens—can confuse the body clock. Heavy curtains or shades can help block light from windows, or you can try an eye mask to cover your eyes.
○ Ensure the temperature is comfortable for you- most people sleep best in a slightly cool room (around 65° F or 18° C) with adequate ventilation. A bedroom that is too hot or too cold can interfere with quality sleep.
○ Keep noise down - People differ in their sensitivity to noise, but as a general rule, you'll sleep better when your bedroom is quiet. If you can't avoid or eliminate noise from barking dogs, loud neighbors, city traffic, or other people in your household, try masking it with a fan, recordings of soothing sounds, or white noise. White noise can be particularly effective in blocking out other sounds and helping you sleep. Earplugs may also help.
○ Bedding - Prepare a nice, clean bed. If you wake up with a sore back or an aching neck, you may need to invest in a new mattress or a different pillow.  Experiment with different levels of mattress firmness, foam or egg crate toppers, and pillows that provide more support. You should have enough room to stretch and turn comfortably. Make sure there is also enough room for your bedmate.

■ Reserve your bed for sleeping. If you associate your bed with events like work or errands, it will be harder to wind down at night. Use your bed only for sleep and sex.

Relaxing bedtime rituals to try

● Read a light, entertaining book or magazine
● Listen to soft music, white noise, or fan
● Enjoy a light snack – Pairing tryptophan containing foods with carbohydrates helps calm the brain, and allows you to sleep better. For a relaxing bedtime snack, try:

● Half a turkey or peanut butter sandwich
● A small bowl of whole–grain, low–sugar cereal
● Granola with low–fat milk or yogurt
● A banana and a cup of hot chamomile tea

● Do some easy stretches
● Wind down with a favorite hobby
● Listen to books on tape
● Turn your alarm clock around so it is not facing you; do not look at the clock during the night as this can cause more stress and anxiety about your sleep.
● Aromatherapy may help, such as lavender, to help you ease into sleep, you may want to use some linen spray on your sheets

The goal is to rediscover how to sleep naturally.   Don't force yourself to fall asleep. You should gently ease into it. If you find yourself tossing and turning, try reading a book for a few minutes before trying again. Keep the information found in your sleep hygiene handout at hand so you can get a good night's rest.