Getting restful sleep may seem like an impossible dream in our non-stop, go-faster, and do more world. But getting good sleep consistently is under your control more than you think, and it doesn't always require having to take harsh chemicals. A much safer and natural approach, with potential for longer lasting effects, involves having good "sleep hygiene". This may sound far-fetched and undoable when you're exhuasted and wide awake in the middle of the night or early in the morning. But with some lifestyle changes and a bit of discipline, adopting some of these simple guidelines can help make good sleep a nightly reality.
Rarely is someone born with an inability to get good restful sleep. The most common reason people can't sleep well is because the natural sleep process is being interrupted. Sometimes this is caused by an illness, emotional distress, or any number of sleep disorders. And it may be short-lived or last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, months, years, or even decades. But no matter the cause or how long it has been going on, if your lifestyle habits and bedtime rituals support the natural process of sleep, it is more likely you will be able to fall and stay asleep, and get plenty of good rest.
Lifestyle habits and bedtime rituals related to sleeping are described as sleep hygiene. Practicing good sleep hygiene is necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness. It is similar to other forms of personal hygiene in that there are daily habits that should be followed in order to improve sleep. The worse your sleep hygiene, the more likely it becomes that you develop or extend a sleep disturbance. But the better your sleep hygiene, the easier it will be for you to sleep well and feel rested.
Everyone can benefit from practicing good sleep hygiene, and it can be started at any age. Healthy sleep is important for both physical and mental health, and it can also improve productivity and overall quality of life. Below are 10 ways to improve your sleep hygiene and begin improving your sleep today.
1. Wake up and go to bed at the same times every day
Do not procrastinate when it comes to going to bed at night and getting up in the morning. Set a schedule and go to bed and get up at the same time everyday, even on weekends, and even if you've had a bad night of sleeping. Use an alram if you have to.
2. Start winding down at least 1 hour before bedtime
About 1 hour before bed, turn off all of your electronic devices and begin winding down. Develop a night time routine in which you prepare your self for bed while avoiding any stimulus. This means turning off all electronic devices and using very limited artificial lighting (see below).
3. Keep your bedroom quite, clean, dark, and cool
Everyone sleeps better in a comfortable bedroom. In general, your bedroom should be as quiet as possible. But sometimes soft and relaxing music or white noise that blocks out sound pollution may enhance deep sleep. Keeping your bedroom clutter-free of anything unrelated to sleep and only dedicating it for sleeping also has a lasting effect on the quality of sleep. And keeping it as dark as possible makes it cooler, which tends to also make you sleep better. Also, when your bedroom is dark your biological systems are primed for resting and relaxation.
4. Avoid screen time right before bed
Artifical lighting from TVs, smart phones, and other electronics disturb our natural clock and confuse our bodies ability to recognize when its time to be awake or asleep. The light from these devices is perceived by your brain as sunlight, tricking you into thinking it’s daytime again. Try to use only low-lighting around your home at night and stop using all electronics at least 1 full hour before bed.
5. Avoid big meals and stimulants before bedtime
Small snacks before bed can help some people sleep better. But in general you should avoid eating anything within 3 hours of your bedtime, and definitelty avoid having a big meal late at night. The reason is that while you may not be aware of it, when you eat something your body needs to digest it and absorb it, and this requires it to keep working. So even though you are ready for bed, your body systems are still working to break down and digest the food, instead of resting and supporting the sleeping process.
You should also avoid consuming stimulants such as caffiene, nicotine, and sugar, particularly at night. Stimulants stay in your body and release into your blood long after you have consumed them, and can keep you up at night when you're trying to wind down. If your insomnia is really severe, you may want to consider avoiding these after lunch time.
6. Limit daytime napping
Napping can be useful when you need an extra boost in productivity during a long day. But taking too many naps, or napping for too long a time, can seriously disturb your sleep at night. Pay attention to how much you nap during the day, and never nap for more than 30 minutes at a time to avoid entering a deep sleep and waking up more tired than before. The best time to nap is in the middle of the day after lunch, or in the early afternoon. But avoid taking naps later into the day as this will likely keep you from sleeping at night.
7. Limit use of alcohol and sleeping pills
While alcohol can help make you more sleepy faster, it is not the type of sleep you need. Alcohol causes you to sleep lightly, preventing you from getting essential amounts of deep sleep.
Try to avoid it if you're trying to get good sleep that night and definitely don’t take it to help you sleep because it can become addictive and cause a host of other problems besides insomnia.
Taking sleeping pills may also seem tempting but like many drugs they only mask symptoms while ignoring the root cause. Plus, sleeping pills are addictive, they don't provide the type of sleep your body needs, and they often make you feel lowsy the next day.
So while they may be helpful in the short-term, before long you'll need to take more or you’ll have even worse sleep than before. Worse is that they also cause a wide range of side effects and can cause serious problems, even death if taken incorrectly or mixed with other substance such as alcohol.
Try to avoid taking sleeping pills and instead focus on improving your sleep hygiene naturally. However if you need to use these, make sure these are only used for the sort term and that it’s a short acting sleeping pill so the effects wear off by the time you wake up.
8. Get plenty of sunshine during the day and exercise
Natural sunlight helps regulate your body's biological clock. If you're not getting enough sunshine during the day, your body has trouble recognizing when it’s time to be awake and alert. The more sunlight you get, the more your body learns to associate the darkness of night with falling asleep. Try to get some natural sunlight first thing in the morning. If you can combine it with your exercise to help wake you up and make you more tired by bedtime.
9. If you can't fall asleep, get out of bed and leave your bedroom
Sometimes, eventhough you put good sleep hygiene to practice, there will be nights where you don't sleep well. When this happens, don't force yourself to sleep. Instead, get out of bed and leave your bedroom. This is because you don't want to start associating your frustration with being unable to sleep with your bedroom, which can become habitual. Go do something relaxing in another part of your home that can be done in low lighting, like meditating, sketching, or journal writing. But do not turn on any electronics!
10. Get professional help when you need it
A lot of people try to navigate their inability to sleep on their own, which is good if you're getting somewhere with it. But if you're reading this article you probably have spent some considerable time researching your problem, and have even tried numerous natural supplements to no avail. This is where a professional can help. When you're suffering from insomnia, it is often very difficult to see your situation from the correct perspective. A professional knows the correct questions to ask and can make recommendations to you that you may have missed or otherwise haven't been able to incorporate correctly.
If you need help with establishing good sleep hygiene or would like more information on how Dr Rene uses acupuncture therapy, herbs, and supplements to help you with your insomnia, click here to make an appointment.