What is Sleep Hygiene?

One of the most common complaints I get as a clinician is sleep impairment. The patient may report that they can fall asleep easily, but are unable to stay asleep. Or they may report that they are not able to fall asleep easily at all. And others have interrupted and restless sleep. For those really lucky individuals, they suffer from all of these impairments. The bottom line is: at one point every one of us will be affected by poor sleep quality.

Why is sleep so important? Think of your body as a computer. When your computer needs to make updates to the software, it requires that you shut down and restart for those updates to take place and for your computer to perform optimally. Well the same rings true about our bodies. Ideally, when you go to sleep at night you are able to fall asleep within thirty minutes and stay asleep for 7-8 hours. During that time, you go through the 4 stages of sleep appropriately and get adequate restorative sleep. Restorative sleep allows your body to repair itself and regulate hormone and neurotransmitter function. When you are successful in obtaining restorative sleep, you wake to find that you feel refreshed and are functioning at your best.

Poor sleep quality disrupts the body’s ability to update and repair itself. Without proper sleep, our body cannot appropriately regulate hormones and neurotransmitters. Poor sleep can cause sleep debt and from that you are more susceptible to weight gain which can result in diabetes, have circulatory deficits=such as problems with your heart or blood pressure, and your mood is adversely affected.

So what is sleep hygiene? Sleep hygiene is practicing a variety of techniques that will help improve your ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, and obtain restorative sleep. Here are some examples of sleep hygiene:

1). Limit or omit all caffeine, nicotine, or stimulants (like sugar) by the afternoon.

2). Limit daytime naps. Ideally, if you must nap, ensure it does not last longer than 30 minutes.

3). Your bed should be used for two things: sleep and intimacy. If you have a TV in your bedroom, remove it or adjust the brightness setting on your screen. If you use your cellular device as your alarm and clock, leave it on your nightstand and do not use it when you are in bed.

4). Set up a routine bedtime hour. For example, if you want to be in bed by 9:00pm each night, make that your routine and habit.  This will not only help you behaviorally, but it will also help your circadian rhythm (the part of your brain that controls your sleep/wake cycle) to also maintain a similar routine. Ideally, waking to natural light will also improve your circadian rhythm.

5). Get plenty of exercise but do not exercise within two hours of bedtime. For example, if your bedtime routine is 9:00pm, do not exercise after 7:00pm.

6). Ensure your bedroom, and your bed, are very relaxing. Invest in a comfortable mattress and comfortable pillows. I personally use an oil diffuser and diffuse lavender oils which are known for their calming benefits. Some people enjoy the use of an air purifier, humidifier or fan as calming background noise. If you’re a “light” sleeper, consider ear plugs to limit external noise. You know yourself best, find what relaxes you and implement that in your bedroom.

7). Lastly, ensure you’re eating a proper diet. Eating foods that are high in fat (such as fried foods) or foods that are spicy can disrupt your sleep. At the very least, do your best to ensure your dinners are light, healthy, and lean and aren’t likely to cause any acid reflux or stomach disturbances that can disrupt your quality of sleep.

I hope you find these tips helpful or useful! Please comment below with any tips or suggestions on improving sleep quality that have been effective for you.

Always remember that you are loved and valued!

Goodnight readers, and sleep well!

Dr. Engels

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