Doctors and experts call sleep hygiene (= poor sleep habits) a variety of different practices that are seen necessary to have ‘normal’ sleep followed by full daytime alertness.
The most important sleep hygiene measure is to maintain a regular sleep and wake pattern seven days a week. It is also important to spend an appropriate amount of time in bed, not too little, or too excessive. This may vary by individual; for example, if someone has a problem with daytime sleepiness, they should spend a minimum of eight hours in bed, if they have difficulty sleeping at night, they should limit themselves to 7 hours in bed in order to keep the sleep pattern consolidated.
Poor sleep habits are among the most common problems encountered in our society. We stay up too late and get up too early. We destroy our sleep with drugs, chemicals and work, and we overstimulate ourselves with late-night activities such as television and share our pillows with laptops and smart phones while we sleep.
Sleep hygiene is the controlling of “all behavioural and environmental factors that precede sleep and may interfere with sleep.” It is the practice of following guidelines in an attempt to ensure more restful, effective sleep which can promote daytime alertness and help treat or avoid certain kinds of sleep disorders. Trouble sleeping and daytime sleepiness can be indications of poor sleep hygiene or sleep habits.
Doctors and clinicians who advise sleep hygiene strategies for patients and families have lists of suggestions which may include advice about timing of sleep and food intake in relationship to it, exercise, sleeping environment, etc. Re-education involves a combination of advice about homeostatic, adaptive and circadian aspects of sleep control, how to avoid sleep deprivation, and how to respond to unwanted awakenings from sleep if these occur.
Below are some essentials of good sleep habits. Many of these points will seem like common sense. But it is surprising how many of these important points are ignored by many of us. Even if we were naturally good sleepers, abusing sleep long enough might create a severe sleep problem.
Spend appropriate time in bed: Most people need 7-9 hours of sleep each day. Don’t spend too much or too little time in bed.
Reduce or drop caffeine: Do not have any food, medicines, or drinks that contain caffeine or other stimulants for six hours before bedtime (see above). Some people have found that cutting out caffeine completely through the entire day has helped. And, remember, chocolate has caffeine.
Reduce or drop alcohol: Do not drink alcohol within six hours before bedtime or try to give it up altogether if insomnia is very bad. While alcohol is well known to speed the onset of sleep, it disrupts sleep in the second half as the body begins to metabolize the alcohol, causing arousal and poor quality of sleep.
Reduce smoking: Do not smoke within six hours before bedtime.
Keep same rhythm 7 days a week: Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
Avoiding heavy and spicy meals before sleep: Have your last snack around 2 hours before going to sleep. Warm milk and foods high in the amino acid tryptophan, such as bananas, may help you to sleep.
Create a right sleep environment: A good bedroom for sensitive sleepers is very dark, comfortable, quiet, and cool to facilitate falling asleep quickly and staying asleep.
Avoiding blue screens close to sleep time: Don’t make TV beds and avoid gadgets, laptops, ipads and smartphones in your bedroom. Bedroom is for sleeping (and making love) only; it’s not an office.
Follow an exercise routine (but not within 3 hours before bedtime): daily physical activity improves sleep and mood (even 15-30 minutes walks), helps with stress management, and promotes general health. A relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep.
Seeking assistance from healthcare providers for continuing difficulties with sleep: Specific sleep disorders may require particular treatments.
Be aware of your medication: Some medications cause drowsiness, and in such cases it may be beneficial to use a non-sedating alternative.
Pay attention to your mood and atmosphere: Try to relax and wind down with a routine before going to bed. For example: a stroll followed by a bath, some reading, and a warm drink (without caffeine). Avoid anything mentally demanding. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing and others may help relieve anxiety and reduce muscle tension.
If you cannot get off to sleep after 20-30 minutes – then get up: If you can, go into another room, and do something else such as reading or watching TV rather than brooding in bed. Go back to bed when sleepy. You can repeat this as often as necessary until you are asleep.
Avoid long naps during the day: Long naps (over 40 minutes) can disturb the normal pattern of sleep and wakefulness.
Stop checking the clock: Hide your alarm clock under your bed. Many people will clock watch and this does not help you to get off to sleep.
Ensure adequate exposure to natural light: This is particularly important for older people who may not venture outside as frequently as children and adults. Light exposure helps to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
Leave your worries about job, school, daily life, etc., behind when you go to bed. Some people find it useful to assign a “worry period” during the evening or late afternoon to deal with these issues.
As a summary:
1) A good sleep hygiene routine promotes healthy sleep and daytime alertness. Good sleep hygiene practices can prevent the development of insomnia and related disorders.
2) Poor sleep in the night and daytime sleepiness are the most telling signs of poor sleep hygiene. If one is experiencing a sleep problem, he or she should evaluate their sleep routine. It may take some time for the changes to have a positive effect.
3) Most important for everyone is to maintain a regular sleep-wake schedule throughout the week and consider how much time you spend in bed, which could be too much or too little.
NOTE: Not all sleep experts think sleep hygiene is the correct way. Some experts think that this kind of lists of stiff rules only makes the situation worse for chronic insomniacs as they already are obsessive about their sleep routines and sleep/insomnia in general. If, however, you are occasionally sleeping poorly and want to avoid turning into chronic it’s worthwhile thinking whether your everyday life is sleep-friendly in the first place.