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Sleep Hygiene and Healthy Sleep Habits

Sleep Hygiene and Healthy Sleep Habits

Posted By: Mihir Shah, Psy.D.

Tossing and turning in bed at 2 a.m. trying to fall asleep might seem like an impossible dream, but you have more control over a good night’s sleep than you might think.

Researchers have concluded that "healthy sleep" practices and habits – defined as "sleep hygiene" – can help maximize the hours you spend sleeping; despite disrupted sleep due to insomnia, sleep apnea, jet lag, shift work, or any other sleep disorders.

Sleep hygiene is defined as the recommended behavioral and environmental practices that are intended to promote better quality of sleep. They are a group of habits that are essential for both physical and mental health to promote overall quality of life and full daytime alertness.

Following are some simple guidelines for making the sleep of your dreams a persistent reality:

1. Avoid stimulants – Alcohol, Nicotine, Caffeine, and other Chemicals that Interfere with Sleep

  • Stimulants can keep you awake.
  • Avoid for 4-6 hours before bedtime.
  • Although alcohol may aid with sleep onset, within a few hours it acts as a stimulant causing increased awakening and a general decrease in the quality of sleep.

2. Turn your bedroom into a sleep-inducing environment

  • A quiet, dark, and cool environment can promote good sleep.
  • Your mattress and pillows should be comfortable.
  • The room temperature should be between 60 and 70 degrees.
  • Keep the lights off! Bright light from the television and phone can make it difficult to fall asleep, resulting in a dysregulated sleep cycle.
  • Consider using black out curtains, eyeshades, earplugs, or "white noise" machines to promote serenity.
  • Limit your bedroom activities to sleep and sex only. Keep computers, TVs, and other work materials out of the room to strengthen the mental association between your room and sleep.

3. Establish a Relaxing Pre-Sleep Routine

A smooth transition from wake time to sleep time with a period of soothing activities an hour or so before bed should be considered:

  • Take a bath, read a book, or practice relaxation exercises.
  • void stressful, stimulating activities – work, engaging in emotional discussions, and exercising.

4. Go to sleep when truly tired

  • Difficulty falling asleep can result in frustration.
  • If you’re not asleep after 15-20 minutes: Get out of bed, go to another room, and do something soothing, like reading or listening to music, until you are tired enough to sleep.
  • Avoid stimulants, food, or other high octave activities.
  • Avoid staring at a clock when trying to fall asleep or when you awake in the middle of the night as this increases stress, making it difficult to fall asleep.

5. Maintain a regular sleep routine

  • Go to bed at the same time.
  • Wake up at the same time.
  • Ideally, your schedule should remain the same (+/- 20 minutes) every night of the week including weekends.
  • Regular sleep routine sets the body’s “internal clock” to expect sleep at a certain time at night consistently.

6. Nap Early – or Not at All

  • Naps decrease the “sleep debt” that is so important for easy sleep onset.
  • People, who nap, as a part of their day, find falling asleep or staying asleep though the night problematic.
  • If you must nap, it’s best to keep it short and before 4 p.m.

7. Go easy on evening meals

  • Eating pepperoni pizza or cheese casserole at 10 p.m. may be a recipe for restlessness slumber (insomnia).
  • Finish dinner several hours before bedtime and avoid foods that cause indigestion.
  • If you are hungry at night, light snacks will not disturb your sleep. Two good choices are warm milk or dark chocolate.

8. Balance Fluid Intake

Be mindful to consume enough water at night to keep you from waking up thirsty, but not so much that you will be awakened by the need for frequent trips to the bathroom.

9. Exercise Early and Regularly

  • Exercise can assist you falling asleep and sleeping more soundly – if it’s done at the right time and on a consistent basis.
  • Exercising stimulates the body to secrete a hormone that helps activate the alerting mechanism in the brain. This is optimal, unless you’re trying to fall asleep!
  • Exercise before 2 p.m. can help initiate and maintain restful sleep.

10. Follow Through

Incorporating the tips above in your daily routine will improve your ability to achieve optimal restful sleep. However, some of these may be easier to include and others a bit more difficult.

Additionally, not all sleep problems are easily treated and may signify the presence of a sleep disorder.

If your sleep problems do not improve or you find it difficult to accommodate healthy sleep habits, you may want to consult our team at NRS/LifeSpan for a consultation and treatment plan.