- The term sleep hygiene is used to describe good sleep habits.
- On-going use of sleeping pills may lead to dependence and interfere with developing good sleep habits.
- Only sleep when you’re sleepy.
- Contrary to popular belief, avoid alcohol & other sedatives.
- Get plenty of sunlight to help regulate your sleep-wake cycle.
SLEEP HYGIENE: WHAT IS IT?
The term sleep hygiene is used to describe good sleep habits. Considerable research has gone into developing a set of guidelines and tips that are designed to enhance good sleeping, and there is an abundance of research to suggest that these strategies can provide long-term solutions to sleep difficulties.
Whilst there are many medications that are used to treat insomnia, these tend to be only effective in the short-term. Ongoing use of sleeping tablets may lead to dependence and interference with developing good sleep habits independent of medication, thereby prolonging sleep difficulties. Good sleep hygiene is an important part of treating insomnia, either in conjunction with other strategies (e.g. medication) or alone.
TIPS TO GETTING A BETTER NIGHT’S SLEEP:
One of the best ways to train your body to sleep well is to go to bed and get up at more or less the same time every day, even on weekends and days off! This regular rhythm will make you feel better and will give your body something to work from.
SLEEP WHEN SLEEPY
Only try to sleep when you actually feel tired or sleepy, rather than spending too much time awake in bed.
GET UP & TRY AGAIN
If you haven’t been able to get to sleep after about 20 minutes or so, 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), or read something boring like the phonebook. Avoid doing anything that is too stimulating or interesting, such as checking Facebook, as this will wake you up even more.
AVOID CAFFEINE & NICOTINE
It is best to avoid consuming any caffeine (e.g., coffee, tea, cola-drinks, chocolate, and some medications) or nicotine (cigarettes) for at least 4 to 6 hours before going to bed. These substances act as stimulants and interfere with the ability to fall sleep.
AVOID ALCOHOL & OTHER SEDATIVES
It is also best to avoid alcohol for at least 4 to 6 hours before going to bed. Contrary to popular belief that alcohol is relaxing and helps them to get to sleep, it actually interrupts the quality of sleep. Other sedatives, including sleep medications, can impair one’s ability to have quality deep sleep.
BED IS FOR SLEEPING
Try not to use your bed for anything else other than sleeping, so that your body comes to associate bed with sleep. If you use your bed as a place to watch TV, eat, read, work on your laptop, pay bills, and other things, your body will not learn this connection.
AVOID DAYTIME NAPPING
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 less than an hour and before 3pm.
ESTABLISH SLEEP RITUALS
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.
Having a hot bath 1-2 hours before bedtime can be useful, as it will raise your body temperature, causing you to feel sleepy as your body temperature drops again. Research shows that sleepiness is associated with a drop in body temperature.
Many people who struggle with sleep tend to watch the clock too much. Frequently checking the time during the night can wake you up (especially if you turn on the light to read the time or use your phone) and reinforces negative thoughts such as “oh no, look how late it is, I’ll never get to sleep”. If necessary, hide or remove the bedroom clock.
Regular exercise is a great idea to help with good sleep, but try not to do strenuous exercise in the 4-hours before bedtime. Morning walks are a good way to start the day feeling refreshed!
Get plenty of sunlight, as it helps to regulate your sleep-wake cycle.
A healthy, well-balanced diet will help you to sleep well, but timing is important. Some people find that a very empty stomach at bedtime is distracting, so it can be useful to have a light snack, but a heavy meal soon before bed can also interrupt sleep. Some people recommend a warm glass of milk, which contains tryptophan, which acts as a natural sleep inducer.
THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT
It is very important that your bed and bedroom are quiet and comfortable for sleeping. A cooler room with enough blankets to stay warm is best, and make sure you have curtains or an eye-mask to block out early morning light and earplugs if there is noise outside your room.
- minimise external noise (use earplugs if necessary)
- keep the bedroom clean and tidy
- make sure the bedroom is a comfortable temperature
- introduce pleasant smells such as a drop of lavender oil onto the pillow
- get extra pillows
KEEP DAYTIME ROUTINE THE SAME
Even if you have a bad night sleep and are tired it is important that you try to keep your daytime activities the same as you had planned. That is, don’t avoid activities because you feel tired. This can reinforce and maintain the insomnia.