You may be asking yourself why you struggle to stay awake during the day, why you take a while to fall asleep at night, or why is it so difficult for you to wake up in the morning. It is more than likely that if you suffer from any of these sleeping issues, then there are deficits in your sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is defined as several different practices necessary for normal, restful sleep and for ensuring proper alertness during the day.
The following are several sleeping tips to improve your sleep hygiene:
There are several factors that affect an individual’s sleep hygiene that you may not have considered. One of the most important influences on sleep hygiene is the ability to maintain a steady sleep and wake pattern. Your body has its own internal clock, called the circadian rhythm, that is set when you go to sleep and awake at the same times each day. It is essential to maintain this pattern as closely as possible, even on weekends. You should plan to wake up at the same time each day, whether or not the sleep was sufficient. If you did not get adequate sleep one night, the additional sleep drive you will feel will allow you to sleep the subsequent night.
Short naps, commonly known as the power nap, should be taken only if necessary for 20-30 minutes or less during the day. Taking long naps late in the day can interrupt your normal sleep pattern and wakefulness. This, in turn, will reduce your sleep drive and your circadian rhythm will suffer.
Several individuals make the common mistake of consuming stimulants, such as caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, before bedtime. Although alcohol can increase the onset of sleep, its stimulant properties subsequently reduce the quality of sleep and increase the chances of awakening, due to its arousal effect in the brain. Caffeine, found in tea, coffee, chocolate, soda, and some pain relievers, should be avoided approximately 4-6 hours before bedtime.
Exercising at the right time of the day, such as early in the morning or afternoon, has been shown to aid in decreasing the time it takes to fall asleep. The hormone cortisol is released in response to physical activity that triggers an alerting mechanism in the brain. Therefore, moderate to high intensity workouts should not be performed too close to bedtime.
Food consumption that is timed too close to bedtime can have certain consequences. Your digestive processes will be initiated in response to this food, which in turn can cause sleep problems and indigestion. Dinner and even small snacks should be consumed several hours before your planned bedtime.
A 2009 study at the University of Memphis showed that poor sleeping habits were associated with excessive bedroom noise and uncomfortable room temperatures. Quiet, dark, and cold environments are conducive to sleep. You can create a silent environment by using earplugs or white noise machines to lower outside noise volume. Heavy blinds or eye masks can be used to eliminate light. A room temperature of between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit would be an ideal sleeping temperature. If pets are a constant disruption throughout the night, it is best to keep them out of your bedroom.
In order to ensure restful sleep, it is important to establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Activities, like taking a bath, reading, and watching television, allow for a slow transition from wakefulness to sleepiness. Activities that evoke stress, such as work or emotional problems, should be avoided at this time.
Exposure to natural light in the morning can help you set your biological clock to be in acceptance of your wake up time. A study in 2000 at the University of Chicago found that morning exposure to bright light resulted in instantaneous inhibition of melatonin secretion, the hormone that is associated with the onset of sleep. There was also a robust release of cortisol secretion, which promotes alertness. Regulating these hormones with natural light will allow your body to be prepared and more attentive for the day ahead.
It is important to talk to your doctor if you are currently maintaining your sleep hygiene and still suffering from insufficient sleep. Sometimes, this may be indicative of a sleep disorder. It is more than likely that if you take these sleep hygiene factors into consideration and apply them to your sleep routine, you will be on your way to more alert, energetic days and restful nights.
Thorpy, M. Sleep Hygiene [Internet]. 2003. [cited 2014 Nov 8]. Available from: http://sleepfoundation.org/ask-the-expert/sleep-hygiene
Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep [Internet]. [updated 2007 Dec 18; cited 2014 Nov 8]. Available from: http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/getting/overcoming/tips
Leproult R, Colecchia EF, L’Hermite-Baleriaux M, Van Cauter E. Transition from Dim to Bright Lift in the Morning Induces an Immediate Elevation of Cortisol Levels. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2001; 86(1):151-157.
Gellis L, Lichstein K. Sleep Hygiene Practices of Good and Poor Sleepers in the United States: An Internet-Based Study. Behavior Therapy. 2009;40(1):1-9. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0005789408000518)
Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:
Stepanski, E. J., & Wyatt, J. K. (2003). Use of sleep hygiene in the treatment of insomnia. Sleep medicine reviews, 7(3), 215-225.
Brown, F. C., Buboltz Jr, W. C., & Soper, B. (2002). Relationship of sleep hygiene awareness, sleep hygiene practices, and sleep quality in university students. Behavioral medicine, 28(1), 33-38.
Mindell, J. A., Meltzer, L. J., Carskadon, M. A., & Chervin, R. D. (2009). Developmental aspects of sleep hygiene: findings from the 2004 National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America Poll. Sleep medicine, 10(7), 771-779.
LeBourgeois, M. K., Giannotti, F., Cortesi, F., Wolfson, A. R., & Harsh, J. (2005). The relationship between reported sleep quality and sleep hygiene in Italian and American adolescents. Pediatrics, 115(Supplement 1), 257-265.
Mastin, D. F., Bryson, J., & Corwyn, R. (2006). Assessment of sleep hygiene using the Sleep Hygiene Index. Journal of behavioral medicine,29(3), 223-227.
Suen, L. K., Tam, W. W., & Hon, K. L. (2010). Association of sleep hygiene-related factors and sleep quality among university students in Hong Kong.Hong Kong Med J, 16(3), 180-5.
Lauderdale, D. S., Knutson, K. L., Yan, L. L., Rathouz, P. J., Hulley, S. B., Sidney, S., & Liu, K. (2006). Objectively measured sleep characteristics among early-middle-aged adults the CARDIA study. American journal of epidemiology, 164(1), 5-16.