Getting a good night’s sleep is a critical part of living a healthy life. Sleep is when our bodies repair themselves, and inadequate sleep has been linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, weight gain and depression.
“Sleep hygiene” is a variety of different ideas and practices that help you have normal, quality sleep. Sleep hygiene helps your body prepare to fall asleep, and helps you stay asleep.
Here are some sleep hygiene recommendations:
- Irregular Schedule: One of the biggest things that can affect our sleep is an irregular schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day—even on weekends. If you do this, your body will get into a natural rhythm of sleepiness at bedtime and wakefulness in the morning.
- Early Exercise: Physical activity during the morning or afternoon can help with sleep, but don’t exercise within a few hours of going to bed. Gentle yoga or stretching is an exception, though; as it can help you wind down.
- Light Exposure: Getting plenty of light during the day, and then removing as much light as possible at bedtime, helps set your body clock to sleep at the right times.
- Alcohol Intake: Avoid alcohol if you have trouble staying asleep at night. It may make you sleepy at first, but as your body starts processing the alcohol, it disrupts your sleep.
- Meals: For the same reason, avoid a big meal within a few hours of bedtime. Your body will be aroused by digesting a large amount of food while you’re sleeping.
- Develop a relaxing bedtime routine. At least an hour before bed, start winding down.
- Having a comfortable bedroom is important. Set the thermostat to let the house cool down a few degrees at night—not too cool, but cooler than daytime hours.
- Take a warm shower or bath. As your body cools afterwards, it will help develop a sense of sleepiness.
- Don’t get your brain too wound up right before bed. Don’t get engaged in a big conversation, watch a thrilling movie or read a suspenseful book.
- Avoid screens—television, computer, phones and even e-readers—as the light they emanate is stimulating to your eyes and brain.
- Turn off some of the lights in the house.
- Have a regular rhythm to the last few minutes before going to bed. Brushing teeth, setting up the coffee pot, taking that day’s medications/vitamins, etc. can all help program your brain that it’s time to sleep.
- If you have trouble falling asleep at night, here are several important tips to start with:
- Avoid napping during the day. You need to go to bed tired.
- Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening. (Remember, chocolate has caffeine!)
- Don’t use tobacco products, as nicotine is a stimulant, and interrupts sleep all night long.
- Practicing good sleep hygiene is beneficial to everyone, of any age. It helps babies and small children establish a healthy sleep pattern that encourages growth and development. And it helps teens and adults wake up ready to take on a day of learning, working and contributing.
Note: Sleep disorders can affect the quality of your sleep no matter what sleep hygiene techniques you use. Below is a list of symptoms that can be signs of a sleep disorder, and should be discussed with your primary care provider.
- Being excessively sleepy and tired during the day even after what seems like a full night of sleep.
- Excessive snoring, especially if there are periods where you briefly stop breathing (this is noticed by sleep partners)
- Having trouble falling—or staying—asleep for at least a few weeks.
- Constantly moving legs at night, or having the urge to do so.
Learn more from the Deaconess Sleep Center about healthy sleep and the sleep disorders that can affect your sleep quality. You can also schedule a new patient appointment online.
Sources: www.cdc.gov; www.sleepfoundation.org