Learn about Sleep Hygiene & Sleep Hygiene Tips
‘Sleep hygiene’ is the term used to describe good sleep habits. Considerable research has gone into developing a set of guidelines and tips which are designed to enhance good sleeping, and there is much evidence to suggest that these strategies can provide long-term solutions to sleep difficulties. There are many medications which are used to treat insomnia, but these tend to be only effective in the short-term. Ongoing use of sleeping pills may lead to dependence and interfere with developing good sleep habits independent of medication, thereby prolonging sleep difficulties. Talk to your health professional about what is right for you.
Sleep Hygiene Tips
1) Get regular. One of the best ways to train your body to sleep well is to go to bed and get up at more or less the same time every day, even on weekends and days off! This regular rhythm will make you feel better and will give your body something to work from.
2) Get up & try again. If you haven’t been able to get to sleep after about 30 minutes or more, get up and do something calming or boring until you feel sleepy, then return to bed and try again. Sit quietly on the couch with the lights off (bright light will tell your brain that it is time to wake up), or read something boring like the phone book. Avoid doing anything that is too stimulating or interesting, as this will wake you up even more.
3) Avoid caffeine & nicotine. It is best to avoid consuming any caffeine (in coffee, tea, fizzy drinks, chocolate, and some medications) or nicotine (cigarettes) for at least 4-6 hours before going to bed. These substances act as stimulants and interfere with the ability to fall asleep
4) Avoid alcohol. It is also best to avoid alcohol for at least 4-6 hours before going to bed. Many people believe that alcohol is relaxing and helps them to get to sleep at first, but it actually interrupts the quality of sleep.
5) Bed is for sleeping. Try not to use your bed for anything other than sleeping and sex, so that your body comes to associate bed with sleep. If you use bed as a place to watch TV, eat, read, work on your laptop, pay bills, and other things, your body will not learn this connection.
6) No naps. It is best to avoid taking naps during the day, to make sure that you are tired at bedtime. If you can’t make it through the day without a nap, make sure it is for less than an hour and before 3pm.
7) Sleep rituals. You can develop your own rituals of things to remind your body that it is time to sleep - some people find it useful to do relaxing stretches or breathing exercises for 15 minutes before bed each night, or sit calmly with a cup of caffeine-free tea.
8) Bath time. Having a hot bath 1-2 hours before bedtime can be useful, as it will raise your body temperature, causing you to feel sleepy as your body temperature drops again. Research shows that sleepiness is associated with a drop in body temperature.
9) No clock-watching. Many people who struggle with sleep tend to watch the clock too much. Frequently checking the clock during the night can wake you up (especially if you turn on the light to read the time or are using our phone) and reinforces negative thoughts such as “Oh no, look how late it is, I’ll never get to sleep” or “it’s so early, I have only slept for 5 hours, this is terrible.”
10) Use a sleep diary. This can be a useful way of making sure you have the right facts about your sleep, rather than making assumptions. It is a good idea to only use it for two weeks to get an idea of what is going on and then perhaps two months down the track to see how you are progressing.
11) Exercise. Regular exercise is a good idea to help with good sleep. Morning walks are a great way to start the day feeling refreshed!
12) Eat right. A healthy, balanced diet will help you to sleep well, but timing is important. Some people find that a very empty stomach at bedtime is distracting, so it can be useful to have a light snack, but a heavy meal soon before bed can also interrupt sleep.
13) The right space. It is very important that your bed and bedroom are quiet and comfortable for sleeping. A cooler room with enough blankets to stay warm is best, and make sure you have curtains or an eye mask to block out early morning light and earplugs if there is noise outside your room.
14) Keep daytime routine the same. Even if you have a bad night sleep and are tired it is important that you try to keep your daytime activities the same as you had planned. That is, don’t avoid activities because you feel tired. This can reinforce the insomnia.
Stages of Sleep
Research tells us that there are two types of sleep:
1) REM rapid-eye-movement sleep: this type of sleep occurs for about 25% of the night, and is characterised by electrical activation of the brain, very relaxed muscles and body becoming immobile, and rapid eye movements as the eyes dart back and forth under closed eyelids. REM sleep provides energy to the brain and body and supports daytime performance. Dreams often occur during REM sleep, although they can occur at any stage.
2) NREM non-rapid-eye-movement sleep: this type of sleep occurs during the other 75% of the time, and can be further broken down into 4 stages:
• Stage 1: this stage is light sleep, between being awake and falling asleep
• Stage 2: this stage is the onset of sleep, when the person begins to become disengaged from their surroundings. Body temperature drops and breathing and heart rate become regular.
• Stages 3 & 4: These stages are the deepest and most restorative sleep, known as ‘delta sleep’ - Stage 3 is a transition into Stage 4, or ‘true delta.’ During these stages, blood pressure drops, breathing becomes slower, muscles are relaxed and receiving more blood supply, tissue growth and repair occurs, and hormones are released (including growth hormone, which is why growing teenagers need to sleep more).