Sleep hygiene encompasses a variety of different practices that are necessary to have normal, restorative sleep and full daytime alertness. Sleep is a combination of both your sleep drive (a natural drive like hunger or thirst) and your biological clock that tells you that you are sleepy. When both are working in combination, you sleep well. This is why a regular sleep schedule is so important. If you don't get full night's sleep you know what happens; headaches, daytime tiredness, waking up feeling exhausted and more. Conversely, when you do get good night's sleep, you feel great, look better and have more energy. There is research that shows that a good night's sleep (or lack thereof) also has a big effect on hormone levels and weight gain/loss. If you are feeling lousy from lack of a good night's sleep, over-eating is a common way of compensating in order to feel better!
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, not too much. This may vary by individual; for example, if you have a problem with daytime sleepiness, you should spend a minimum of eight hours in bed. If you have difficulty sleeping at night, you should limit yourself to seven hours in bed in order to keep your sleep pattern consolidated.
Good sleep hygiene practices include:
- TAvoid napping during the day; it can disturb the normal pattern of sleep and wakefulness
- If daytime sleepiness becomes overwhelming, limit nap time to a single nap of less than one hour no later than 3pm
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol too close to bedtime - 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 - avoiding the use of alcohol or caffeine 4-6 hours before bedtime is a good guideline
- Avoid vigorous before sleep - exercise should be taken in the morning or late afternoon but not in a six-hour period before you plan to sleep (although a relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful nights sleep)
- Avoid eating large meals or foods that cause acid reflux close to bedtime - also dietary changes can cause sleep problems, if you are struggling with a sleep problem, it's not a good time to start changing your diet
- Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine including regular wake-up times, even on days off and weekends
- Ensure adequate exposure to natural light during the day (particularly important for older people who may not venture outside as frequently as children and adults) as light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle
- Try to clear your mind of things that make you worry before trying to go to sleep - don't dwell on, or bring your problems to bed
- Associate your bed with sleep - it's not a good idea to use your bed to watch TV, listen to the radio, or read
- Make sure that the sleep environment is pleasant and relaxing - your bed should be comfortable, the room should not be too hot or cold, or too bright
- If you are not asleep in 20 minutes get out of bed and try to find something to do that will make you sleepy (e.g. reading a book), returning to bed only when you are sleepy.