Sleep hygiene is the term that psychologists use to describe getting set up for bed time. Sleep hygiene is probably a term that conjures up images of not having a shower before bed, but actually is a term used to describe good pre-sleep habits to give yourself the best chance of a refreshing night’s rest. I imagine that, when you read this list, it will all seem like common sense but as we all know this doesn’t mean these good ideas are always acted on. If you have trouble falling asleep, here are a few things to try before resorting to medication.
➢ Try to get to bed at much the same time each day. Your body clock will get used to this and you’ll find that you get drowsy as this time approaches.
➢ Try to have your environment sorted out to allow you to hit the bed when you are sleepy like this.
➢ Get up from bed at the same time each day. Again, this will help your body clock to stay tuned in to what are your times to sleep deeply.
➢ Avoid the temptation to make up for poor night’s sleep by sleeping in excessively.
➢ Get some regular exercise into your day. Studies have shown that this can help a lot.
➢ Try to schedule the exercise so it does not occur in the couple of hours before bed time.
➢ Be sure to spend some time outdoors in natural light. This will help your body to produce a chemical called melatonin, which promotes sleep. Sunlight early in the day is particularly good for synchronising your body clock.
➢ Make your bedroom as restful as possible and use your bed only for sleep and sex so that your brain knows that bed is for sleeping and not stimulating activities such as TV watching and video gaming.
➢ Also avoid things that stimulate before bed, such as exciting programs on television, competitive games or having an important conversation that is likely to stir up emotions.
➢ Make a house rule of no ‘screen time’ 30 minutes before bed.
➢ It is hard to avoid worrying about or planning the next day’s activities but try not to do this. If you must, devote a few minutes to this alone earlier in the evening and make notes with a pen and paper. Once your plan is sealed, you may be more able to refrain from thinking about it more.
➢ Avoid things that make noise during the night such as chiming clocks, smart ‘phones and beeping watches by leaving them in another room.
➢ Do likewise with light emitting devices, perhaps draping a shade over your clock radio.
➢ Try to keep the temperature pleasant and stable through the night where possible. Avoid cold hands and feet.
➢ If your bedding isn’t comfortable, get it sorted out. A new pillow or doona is a small investment.
➢ Take a warm bath about an hour before bedtime. This makes the body’s temperature rise and then fall which may promote sleep.
➢ Take your medications as directed, including the stated time of day best taken. Some medications cause alertness and need to be taken in the morning and the opposite is also true.
➢ Don’t have caffeine drinks in the evening. This includes not only coffee and tea but also cola, energy soft drinks and others such as Mountain Dew.
➢ Try not to drink so much fluid during the evening that your bladder will awaken you for a trip, or trips, to the toilet over night. Be sure to urinate just before retiring for the night as well.
➢ Don’t go to bed either hungry or uncomfortably full.
➢ Don’t nap in the evening. If you are falling asleep in front of the TV, go to bed.
➢ Don’t stay in bed all night if you can’t sleep. If 30 minutes go by, get up and do something tedious in another room. Keep the lights low and noises down to avoid getting aroused. When you are tired, go back to bed.
➢ Don’t share your bed with children or pets.
➢ Don’t watch the clock.
➢ Don’t smoke before bed as the nicotine is a stimulant. Consider giving up and you will also avoid being woken by cravings.
➢ Don’t use alcohol to help you sleep as it will cause extra need for toilet trips over night, an increased chance of early waking and will worsen snoring and sleep apnea.
➢ Don’t rely for long on sleeping tablets to help you to sleep.
➢ Many sleeping problems are due to bad habits acquired over a long period. Expect to take some time to improve your sleep habits.
➢ Different things work for different people. Once you find out what works for you, stick with it.
➢ Above all, don’t obsess about your sleep. If you still have troubles with these suggestions on board, make an appointment with your psychologist for some additional techniques in mindfulness and relaxation.