Recovery Messages & News

Sleep Hygiene

 By Ms. Sue Newton, RN, MN

Sleep hygiene (also known as sleep habits) are a variety of different practices that are necessary to have normal, quality nighttime sleep and full daytime alertness. Sleep disturbances and daytime sleepiness are the most telling signs of poor sleep hygiene and are among the most common problems encountered in our society. If you are experiencing a sleep problem, it is important to review your sleep routine and try and make some changes before turning to medication to alleviate the problem. It may take some time for the changes to have a positive effect.

What are some examples of good sleep hygiene?

The most important sleep hygiene practice is to maintain a regular wake and sleep pattern seven days a week if possible. It is also important to spend an appropriate amount of time in bed and for adults, it is recommended to have 7.5-9 hours of sleep each night. According to the National Institutes of Health, the average adult sleeps less than seven hours per night. In today’s fast-paced society, 6 or 7 hours of sleep may sound pretty good. In reality, though, it’s a recipe for chronic sleep deprivation.

The best way to figure out if you’re meeting your sleep needs is to evaluate how you feel as you go about your day. If you’re logging enough hours, you’ll feel energetic and alert all day long, from the moment you wake up until your regular bedtime.

Other good sleep hygiene practices include:

Nap early or not at all- Avoid napping during the day when possible as it can disturb the normal pattern of sleep and wakefulness. Many people make naps a regular part of their day. However, for those who find falling asleep or staying asleep through the night problematic, afternoon napping may be one of the culprits. This is because late-day naps decrease sleep drive. If you must nap, it’s better to keep it short and before 5 p.m.

Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol too close to bedtime. While alcohol is well known to speed the onset of sleep, it disrupts sleep in the second half as the body begins to metabolize the alcohol, causing arousal.

Practice relaxation techniques to help initiate a restful night’s sleep. Relaxation techniques or exercise such as yoga, deep breathing and others may help relieve anxiety and reduce muscle tension. Exercise can promote good sleep but vigorous exercise is preferable in the morning or late afternoon and relaxing exercise can be done before bed.

Stay away from large meals close to bedtime. Food can be disruptive right before sleep. It is recommended to not eat any later than 7pm to allow you time to digest your food before bed. Also dietary changes can cause sleep problems so if you are struggling with a sleep problem, it’s not a good time to start experimenting with spicy dishes….and remember, chocolate has caffeine. If you are hungry, try a light snack before bed. Warm milk and foods high in the amino acid tryptophan, such as bananas, may help you to sleep.

Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine. Try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations and activities before trying to go to sleep. Don’t dwell on, or bring your problems to bed. Some people find it useful to journal during the evening or late afternoon to deal with these issues. Pre-sleep rituals, such as a warm bath or a few minutes of reading, can also help initiate sleep.

Ensure adequate exposure to natural light. This is particularly important for older people who may not venture outside as frequently as children and adults. Light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.

Several physical factors are known to upset sleep. These include arthritis, acid reflux with heartburn, menstruation, headaches and hot flashes. Not all sleep problems are so easily treated and could signify the presence of a sleep disorder such as apnea, restless legs syndrome, narcolepsy, or another clinical sleep problem. If your sleep difficulties don’t improve through good sleep hygiene, you may want to consult your physician or a sleep specialist. Mental health issues like depression, anxiety and stress are often associated with sleeping difficulty. 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.