Sleep habits (referred to as hygiene) are the most important factors dictating our sleep health. Sleep hygiene is a variety of behaviors necessary for healthy, quality nighttime sleep and full daytime alertness. By these behaviors, we can affect directly our neuropsychology for improved health.
What is good sleep hygiene?
The most important step in sleep hygiene is to achieve a regular sleep and wake pattern seven days a week. People in general need 7-9 hours in bed, yet individuals need to know their specific “in bed” requirement. For example, if you have a problem with daytime sleepiness, you may need a minimum of eight hours in bed. Yet if you have difficulty sleeping at night, you may need to limit yourself to 7 hours in bed. Whatever your specific requirement is, you should keep it consistent to within 15 minutes every day (even weekends). Also know, that it is impossible to determine your ideal “in bed” requirement while suffering from disordered sleep. One should first focus on the following components of sleep hygiene:
- Try to spend at least 30 minutes during daylight hours in natural light. Sunlight exposure early in the day can help synchronise your body’s internal clock. Even getting a few minutes of sunshine on your face in the morning can is good sleep hygiene.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time each day. The body has an internal clock which makes you sleepy, so do not ignore this. Going to bed too early may also result in disturbed sleep. If you have a fairly regular waking and sleeping time, your body can get used to it. Avoid the temptation to “make up” for a poor night’s sleep by sleeping in. However, you should not be obsessive; an occasional night out or sleep in is not going to hurt.
- Get consistent exercise each day. Research studies demonstrate that daily exercise improves restful sleep. Yet avoid agressive exercise within 2 hours of going to bed as this may delay falling asleep.
- Don’t go to bed too hungry or too full. You’ll need at least 90 minutes to start digesting a meal before going to bed. On the other hand, a healthy snack before bed can keep you from going to bed hungry.
- Rest your brain 1 hour before bed. Playing a game, watching videos, and having the TV on stimulates wakefulness. Also avoid planning the next day’s activity immediately before bed. Make a plan earlier in the day, so you don’t have to later think about it before bed.
- Make the bedroom a place of rest and peace. This means keeping the room cool, quiet, and very dark. Have a light that is easily accessible, and turn off distracting things such as beeping watches or chiming clocks.
- Disconnect. Use your phone’s “do not disturb” setting starting 1 hour before bed. Emergency calls can get through, but the standard notifications can wait until tomorrow.
- Turn down the lights when it is dark outside. Just like sunlight on your face is important during daylight hours, avoiding artificial light at night is key to resetting your internal clock. Specifically, blue light spectrum of lights and screens inhibits natural melatonin production. A blue blocking coating can be added to prescription eyeglasses and inexpensive blue blockers are easy to purchase online. Also consider turning off most of your lights at home in the evening.
- Use your bedroom only for sleep. Using the bedroom as a home office, media room, or hobby area results in your brain connecting the bedroom with events other than sleeping. The bedroom is for sleeping, and all sleeping should happen in the bed.
- Be comfortable and relaxed. If you have uncomfortable pillows, mattress, or bedding, get it fixed. You spend 7-9 hours a day in bed, so make sure it is comfortable. Relax and experiment with different options.
- Address aches and pains. If pain and discomfort keep you up at night, don’t simply blame it on your mattress. Pain should be diagnosed and addressed by your doctor of chiropractic.
- Don’t drink caffeine in the evening. Try to address daytime sleepiness with getting restorative sleep instead of pursuing an increasing amount of daytime stimulants.
- Limit naps to less than 30 min. If taking a short daytime nap in early afternoon doesn’t seem to affect your night-time sleep, that’s OK. However, napping in the evening or for more than 30min is going to alter your body’s need to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night.
- Don’t try to force yourself to sleep. If you do not fall asleep or wake in the middle of the night for roughly 20-30 minutes, then get up and do something boring in another room. Keep the lights low and when you are tired, go back to bed.
- Don’t look at the clock. Checking the time throughout the evening is a distraction making it more difficult to sleep. The room should be dark anyway.
- Don’t smoke. Quitting smoking eliminates the stimulant effects of nicotine that contribute to sleep loss and poor sleep pattern.
- Don’t use alcohol as a sleep aid. Alcohol may aid in getting to sleep, but it results in more trips to the restroom, causes fragmented sleep, and exacerbates snoring and sleep apnea. The sedative effect of alcohol and some prescribed medicine prevents appropriate brain activity consistent with quality sleep.
Who should practice good sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is important for everyone. Children and adults at every stage of life benefit from a good sleep hygiene routine which promotes healthy sleep and daytime alertness. Also, good sleep hygiene can prevent and reverse the development of sleep problems and disorders. For those having troubled sleep, a focus on sleep hygiene should be the first step. Problems staying asleep, daytime sleepiness, and failure to wake up feeling refreshed, are the most telling signs of poor sleep hygiene. If you are experiencing a sleep problem, evaluate your hygiene. Discuss needed changes with your sleep partner, family, and doctor. Also know that it takes time for changes in behavior to have an effect.
What if sleep hygiene is not enough?
Poor sleep is a symptom that may need further evaluation. Talk to your doctor about your sleep so you can enjoy comprehensive chiropractic care. Depending on your type of sleep problem, you may benefit from one of these commonly prescribed products.