Sleep Hygiene

Did you know that practicing sleep hygiene is more effective in the long run compared to medications? Here are some good sleep hygiene tips to help improve the quality of your sleep and minimize the use of medications.

Go to bed at the same time each night. Your body has a circadian rhythm that it relies on for its sleep and wake cycle. Inconsistencies in your sleep time each makes it difficult to predict when to release the sleep hormone melatonin. 

Avoid bright light at night. Bright lights at night disrupt your circadian rhythm and make it difficult to fall asleep. That is because the presence of bright light signals to your brain that the sun (bright light) is still present. As a result, the brain will not release as much melatonin when it feels there is still light out. This means avoiding television at night and the use of computers, tablets, and cellphones. There are settings on electronic devices that seek to reduce the amount of blue light it emits and reducing the overall impact on melatonin release, though it is not fool proof. 

Get up at the same time each morning. Like getting to bed at a regular time, it is also important to have a regular wake time to maintain your circadian rhythm. 

Use a wake light in the morning. If you struggle with sleeping in or through alarms, the use of a wake light may be an easy way to naturally help wake up at certain times. The light will slowly turn on in the morning over a given time interval, simulating the effect of the sun rising and stimulating photoreceptors in your brain which helps you wake up easier.  

Avoid naps. Napping during the day tends to impact your ability to fall asleep at night. You will become sleepier as the day progresses if you do not nap. This may help get you to sleep easier and earlier. 

Don’t stay in bed awake for more than 20 minutes. Staying in bed longer may condition your brain to not expect to fall asleep. Therefore, if you go 20 minutes without falling asleep, get up and out of the bed. Go do something else non stimulating to pass the time and then attempt sleep again. Repeat the process if you are not asleep in 20 minutes. 

Don’t go to sleep unless you are tired. Sleep only when you feel physically tired. Forcing yourself to sleep when you are not completely ready for sleep will result in delayed sleep onset. 

Don’t watch TV or read in bed. Doing other activities in your bed other than sleep may disrupt the association of your bed as a place for sleep. 

Exercise regularly. Exercise has been shown to increase the amount of slow wave sleep.

Keep your room cool and dark. The optimal sleep temperature is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.

Avoid caffeine. You probably know that caffeine is a stimulant, but did you know caffeine has a half-life of 6 hours? Therefore, its best to avoid caffeine after 2PM if possible. 

Avoid nicotine. Nicotine is a stimulant and disrupts sleep. Do not use nicotine before bed, furthermore, do not smoke if you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back sleep. 

Don’t drink alcohol to sleep. While alcohol may help you fall asleep quicker, it will reduce the time you spend in rapid eye movement sleep. REM sleep is one of the most important stages of sleep. 

Don’t eat large meals late at night or go to bed hungry. When you are hungry your body produces a hormone throughout the night which may wake you up hungry. However, eating large amounts of food may cause physical discomfort which makes it harder to sleep since our digestive systems slow down during our sleep.  Carbohydrate rich foods are good snacks before bed because they help increase levels of tryptophan in the blood, which induces sleep. Good choices are a few bites of cereal or a small cup of warm milk.

Have a pre-bedtime routine. We are creatures of habit. Setting a good sleep routine makes it easier to fall asleep. Try reading, coloring, listening to ambient music, or a warm cup or tea or milk. Your body will associate these routines with impending sleep. It also gives you an opportunity to slow down and relax your body in preparation for sleep.

Take a warm shower or bath. This process jump starts your body’s circadian rhythm. A warm shower followed by drying off/cooling off quickly signals your brain to release melatonin, a pro-sleep hormone. 

Unload your worries before sleep. Anxiety can lead to insomnia. Racing thoughts at night can lead to insomnia. Using a worry journal before sleep is symbolic as it signals a stop to the worrying process. Write down what’s on your mind on a piece of paper, place it by your nightstand, tell yourself that you will go to sleep and these worries will be on the paper in the morning. There is no need to worry about them now.

Use ambient noise or music. Setting the mood for sleep can be accomplished by the sound in your room. Using ambient noises or sleep music may facilitate sleep. There are free phone apps such as relax melodies or sleep sounds which allow you to customize sleep soundtracks. Alternatively, is an internet based radio station that has many ambient music stations perfect for sleep.