By Paige Abbott, M.Sc., R.Psych.
Sleep hygiene is one way of referring to strategies that people can use to improve their sleep on a nightly basis. Even if the term ‘sleep hygiene‘ is not familiar to you, having difficulty falling or staying asleep might be. In the past, I have given workshops and done individual counselling with people challenged in the area of sleep, including shift workers. As a summary of these experiences, here is a list of the most commonly (and often most useful) recommended techniques:
- Have a consistent bed and waking time, even on weekends
- Consider eating a light snack before bed to keep your blood sugar level stable throughout the night (e.g., yogurt, piece of fruit, glass of milk, crackers)
- Reduce or eliminate caffeine from at least 3:00pm on. Keep in mind that caffeine can stay in your system for up to 12 hours after consumption, so you may want to reduce this even earlier in the day
- Reduce or eliminate the use of nicotine and alcohol at least a few hours before bedtime
- Engage in a relaxing bedtime routine 30 minutes before you get into bed. This can include things like: candlelit baths, listening to soft music, meditation, gentle stretching, and journaling. Try to find activities that are a release, rather than an intake of stimulation
- Go to bed when you are feeling drowsy, not wide awake
- Create a haven in your bedroom that is: quiet, dark, cool, and comfortable. Consider a white noise machine if your house is creaky or you live in a loud neighbourhood (a good online resource is http://www.simplynoise.com/). Lighting, even the glow from a TV or computer screen, can trigger our circadian rhythms to think it is daytime. Ideal sleeping temperature if 16-18 degrees Celsius so adjust your thermostat, fans, and windows accordingly. If you feel restless or uncomfortable in the night, you may want to ensure your mattress and pillows are good fits for your body
- Pets in the room can be distracting during the night, so create sleeping environments that work for all members of the household
- If you cannot fall asleep within 30 minutes of going to bed, get out of bed and engage in a relaxing, soothing activity before returning to bed. Try not to stay in bed tossing, turning, and staring at the clock. The same is true if you wake up in the night; give yourself 30 minutes to fall back asleep but, if you are still awake, get out of bed for awhile
- Certain medical issues can cause difficulties with sleeping, such as sleep apnea, but treatment is possible. Speak to your doctor or healthcare provider if you think you may have a health condition that is impacting your sleep and/or to rule out medical contributors to poor sleep
- Eliminate napping to allow your body to develop a routine and sleep easier.
Incorporating one or two of these tips into your bedtime routine can be helpful, particularly for those who do not have regular problems with sleep. For those with more persistent sleep difficulties, you may need to make some significant changes to your sleep routine. Remember, this is not something you have to do on your own! Consult your healthcare provider(s) for support and advice about proactive changes you can make with sleep hygiene