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Do You Practice Good Sleep Hygiene?



If you want to improve your sleep, sleep hygiene is a good place to start as it involves taking a handle on things that you CAN control. It means focusing on regulating your sleep behaviours and environments in attempts to optimize your sleep. In short, sleep hygiene describes good sleep habits.


Many people have tried numerous techniques to improve their sleep with little to no success. From the considerable amount of research done on sleep duration and quality, experts have been able to develop a set of guidelines or tips to promote better sleep long term. Below are some of those suggestions.


Make your bedroom dark; really dark

Melatonin helps you sleep, but only if your eyes are not seeing light. Your brain can pick up on even the smallest sources of light (e.g. clock radio, cell phone display). You do not need to know what time it is at 2:30 am. If light cannot be eliminated fully (e.g. shift work), use a sleeping mask or towel to cover your eyes


Turn off the television… or remove it from your room altogether

A significant source of light is the television. Putting a TV in a bedroom is like putting a toilet in a kitchen… it just doesn’t belong. TVs give off a high degree of light intensity and noise, ruining your brain’s natural ability to make you sleep. The TV also conditions you to NEED IT to fall asleep. The brain does incredible things while we sleep. It does not need to hear Seinfeld playing in the background while it is trying to do its thing.


Turn off ALL electronics for that matter

The light and electromagnetic energy emitting from your devices can impact your sleep. Any light exposure from using these devices before bed can affect your circadian rhythms - internal clock that regulates sleep and alertness. If you must use your device, try an app that filters out the blue or green light from the screen as they can suppress the secretion of melatonin. Screens should be turned off several hours before bed.


Make sure your bed is EXTREMELY comfortable

If you are going to spend extra money on one thing in your life, it should be your bed. Investing in a mattress, bedding and pillows that are comfortable to you is incredibly important. You should LOVE your bed.


Dress comfortably, but not too much

Because of variations in body temperatures between people, some may feel hotter than others at night. Even if you tend to get cold at night, use more blankets instead of putting on more layers. Wearing a fleece lined flannel jumpsuit can be problematic if you start to get too hot in your sleep. Wearing less may also prevent you from waking up in throughout the night from feeling uncomfortable.


Forget about the time

Find a clock that does not tick/emit light in your bedroom. It is best if you can’t see what time it is throughout the night. It really makes no difference what time you wake up to use the bathroom in the night and knowing the time can sometimes cause anxiety. If you wake up before your alarm, gently tell yourself that it is still time to sleep. Forget about the plan for the day, sleeping is the only thing that matters in the moment.


Change up your bedroom from time to time

Rid yourself of any negative feelings associated with your bedroom. Changing your space around from time to time can greatly change the energy of the room. You can even go beyond moving furniture around to getting new blinds, painting, buy new artwork etc. You want to ensure that your mind does not recognize your bedroom as a place where your sleep is poor. Switch things up and see how the energy changes!


Use your bed for ONLY sleep and sex

Your bed is not for watching television, typing on your computer, talking on the phone etc. It is only for sleep and sex. The living room is for watching television, NOT sleep. It is important if you share your bed with a partner that you both follow these rules as your partner’s screen can affect you.


Make sure you are on the same page as your partner

Everyone has the right to a good sleep. If you and your partner went for a hike and you took one water bottle to share and your partner drank it all, would you find that fair? Why should sleep be any different? Some partners are great sleepers and others can be an issue for the other’s sleep. If one of you is difficult to sleep with, it is important to find ways to effectively address it. Try these sleep hygiene habits to see if they make a difference. If need be, it is okay to sleep a part at times as a “sleep-cation”; a way to recharge your batteries. Many people equate sleeping as a lack of commitment, but it really is okay to do to get back on track.


Avoid having additional members in your bed (children, pets)

Family beds has always been a hot topic of controversy. If you have a pet that sleeps with you and your sleep is great, than you are an exception. If you are having problems with your sleep however, the pet should not be in your bed. Many experts feel the same way about children and assert that by making them sleep in their own beds, they are learning to sleep consistently and confidently. This however, is ultimately your choice.


Avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine before bed

Consuming alcohol, caffeine and nicotine are poor habits to engage in before bed as the two latter are both stimulants while alcohol causes sedation (not sleep) and blocks your REM sleep which is known as restorative.


Put the snacks down!

It is best not to eat food within 2 or 3 hours of bed time in order to avoid sleep disturbances from indigestions or reflux. Foods heavy in protein in particular, can have the unwanted effect of keeping you up at night. If you are going to eat, enjoy dried fruit, cereal or bananas as they are high glycemic foods that produce sleepiness. Other foods that are good choices contain high amounts of melatonin like walnuts and tart cherries. Foods high in magnesium (almonds) and calcium (kale) can also help to promote relaxation and sleep.


Exercise

Building exercise into your daily activities can have a positive effect on your sleep when it is time to go to bed. Exercising consistently in the morning in bright light, is particularly beneficial for sleep as it produces a surge of serotonin that is wake and mood enhancing and trains the brain to know when your day begins and ends.


Build a sleep routine

We all can benefit from bedtime routines as they let the brain know what to expect. Try and wake up consistently at the same time as it trains your brain to plan out your next 24 hours, including when you fall asleep. Try also incorporating some relaxing exercises like meditation into your bedtime routine. If you find that your mind starts racing before or while in bed, use a notebook to write down these thoughts. It is a disciplined practice, but can help to release the things that are interrupting your sleep. You can also visualize putting your thoughts into a box and using a big key to lock it away for the night. Throw away the key! Hot showers/baths can also help, but ensure to take one about an hour before bed as you don’t want to be hot.


Get up if you need to, but don’t freak out!

If you have been in bed for a while and you don’t think sleep is going to happen any time soon, you can get up, but you do not have to get out of bed. Resting without sleeping is also good for you. If you are lying in bed and it is stressing you out however, get out of bed and go back to bed shortly after. Don't obsess over your upcoming day and how you might feel. Deep breathe and bring it back to the present.



Reference:

Winter, W. C. (2018). The sleep solution: Why your sleep is broken and how to fix it. New York: Berkley.