Poor sleep habits (referred to as hygiene) are among the most common problems today. We stay up too late and get up too early. We interrupt our sleep with drugs, chemicals and work, and we overstimulate ourselves with late-night activities such as television.
Below are some essentials for maintaining good sleep habits. Many of these tips will seem like common sense, but it is surprising how many of these important points are ignored by many of us.
- Fix a bedtime and an awakening time - Do not allow bedtime and awakening time to drift. The body gets used to falling asleep at a certain time, so stick to that time. Even if you are retired or not working, this is an essential component of getting good sleep.
- Avoid napping during the day- Don't be surprised if you nap throughout the day and then are unable to sleep at night. Many people will get tired late in the afternoon and will take a nap. This is generally not a bad thing as long as you limit the nap to between 30 and 45 minutes and can sleep well at night.
- Avoid alcohol four to six hours before bedtime - Many people believe that alcohol helps them sleep. While alcohol has an immediate sleep-inducing effect, a few hours later the alcohol levels in your blood fall and there is a stimulant or "wake-up" effect.
- Avoid caffeine four to six hours before bedtime - This means coffee, tea and many sodas are off limits, as well as chocolate.
- Avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods four to six hours before bedtime - These can affect your ability to stay asleep.
- Exercise regularly, but not right before bed - Exercise, particularly in the afternoon, can help deepen sleep. Strenuous exercise within the two hours before bedtime, however, can decrease your ability to fall asleep.
In your sleeping environment:
- Use comfortable bedding - Uncomfortable bedding can prevent good sleep. Evaluate whether or not this is a source of your problem and make appropriate changes.
- Find a comfortable temperature setting for sleeping and keep the room well ventilated - If your bedroom is too cold or too hot, it can keep you awake. A cool (not cold) bedroom is often the most conducive to sleep.
- Block out all distracting noise - And eliminate as much light as possible.
- Reserve the bed for sleep - Don't use the bed as an office, workroom or recreation room. Let your body "know" that the bed is associated with sleeping.
When getting ready for bed:
- Try a light snack - Warm milk and foods high in the amino acid tryptophan, such as bananas, may help you to sleep.
- Practice relaxation techniques - Relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing and others may help relieve anxiety and reduce muscle tension.
- Forget your worries- Leave your concerns 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.
- Establish a pre-sleep ritual - Sometimes a warm bath or a few minutes of reading can help you sleep.
- Get into your favorite sleeping position - If you don't fall asleep within 15 to 30 minutes, get up, go to another room and read until you're tired.
Getting Up in the Middle of the Night
Most people wake up one or two times a night for various reasons. If you find yourself getting up in the middle of night and unable to fall back asleep within 15 to 20 minutes, then get out of bed. Leave the bedroom. Read, have a light snack or take a bath. Most often you will find that you can get back to sleep 20 minutes or so later. Do not perform challenging or engaging activity such as office work, housework or watching TV.
A Word About Television
Watching it before bedtime is often a bad idea. Television is a very engaging medium that tends to keep people awake. That's why we usually recommend that TVs should never be placed in the bedroom. The TV should be turned off and the patient should go to bed. Some people find that the radio helps them go to sleep. Since radio is a less engaging medium than TV, this is probably a good idea.
Some other factors that upset sleep are:
- Several physical factors - These include arthritis, acid reflux with heartburn, menstruation, headaches and hot flashes.
- Psychological and mental health problems like depression, anxiety and stress - In many cases, difficulty staying asleep may be the only presenting sign of depression. A physician should be consulted about these issues to help determine the problem and the best treatment.
- Medications - Ask your doctor or pharmacist if your medications can lead to sleeplessness.
To improve overall sleep patterns, your doctor may prescribe medications for short-term relief of a sleep problem. The decision to take sleeping aids is one that is made after carefully considering your health history. Always follow the advice of your physician and other health care professionals. The key is to rediscover how to sleep naturally.
For more information or to arrange for a sleep study, please call 410-787-4768.