Healthy Sleep Habits for Better Sleep

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Healthy Sleep Habits for Better Sleep

How to improve sleep quality

Good “hygiene” is anything that helps you to have a healthy life. Sleep hygiene helps you stay healthy by keeping your mind and body rested and strong.  Many people experience insomnia. There are several types of insomnia sleep onset (you can’t fall asleep due to tension or you can’t relax), sleep maintenance (you can fall asleep but wake up frequently throughout the night) and early morning (you can fall and stay asleep, but wake up very early and can’t go back to sleep).

Sleep can be affected by a number of different factors including environmental, physical, and emotional. Many different mental health concerns affect sleep including depression and anxiety. Things such as sleep apnea, heartburn, or menopause are some physical health conditions that can influence sleep as well. Often, sleep can be improved by changing our environment.

Although sleeping pills can help some people with insomnia, they are not necessarily a good long-term solution because they only help people fall asleep about a half hour earlier on average and they can lead to disturbed sleep with shortened, abnormal dream periods, which means you may not even feel more rested in the morning. Also the effectiveness of sleep pills tends to decrease over time and you may experience worse insomnia (called rebound insomnia).

Here are some tips for how you can work to improve your sleep hygiene:

  • Try to establish a regular sleep cycle

    • You can’t control when you fall asleep, but you can control when you get up and not taking naps during the day. Start your bedtime routine and get into bed at the same time every night.

    • Just as importantly get out of bed at the same time everyday as well. Even if you are tired, get up! If you sleep in later on weekends or because you had a bad night’s sleep you disrupt your normal sleep schedule making it harder for you to sleep the next night.

    • At first, you may feel more tired when starting a new sleep cycle but it can help in the long run and you’ll begin to feel tired when it is time for sleep and well rested when time to wake up with better sleep quality.

  • Turn off all screens and electronics at least 30 minutes before bed - 60 minutes is best.

    • The lights from screens activate our brains in such a way that it interprets this as daylight and responds appropriately - keeping up awake. Having 30-60 minutes of no screen before bed allows your brain to naturally follow sleep cues/rhythms to slow down.

  • Establish a bedtime routine.

    • Having a routine that you do every night before bed helps ease your mind from wake to sleep. This is a good thing to do during the 30-60 minute interval after you’ve shut down all screens. Take a long, warm shower. Take your time brushing your teeth, putting on lotion and so on. You can do calming activities (reading, crossword puzzle, talking with a family member) as long as it does not use a screen. Start turning off bright lights and keep on only enough light to see what you’re doing.

    • Begin rituals that help you relax each night before bed. This can include such things as gentle stretching, meditation, prayer, eating a light snack or using some of your favorite relaxation/calming coping skills or techniques (such as muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and imagining calming scenes) each night right before getting into bed.

  • Do not use your bed for anything but sleep (and sex).

    • When you want to read, eat, talk, sit, watch TV or scroll through your phone, sit on a chair rather than your bed or somewhere outside of your bedroom like a couch in the living room. Your bed should be reserved exclusively for sleeping and sexual activity. Doing other things in bed builds a negative association between your brain and your bed where you train your brain to be awake and active in bed rather than cueing it for sleep.

  • Avoid stimulants (coffee, soda, tea, sugar) before bedtime.  

    • Avoid any caffeinated beverages after lunch and sugar several hours before lights out. This can help you to rule out sleep difficulties due to stimulant effects.

  • Try to avoid worrying in bed.

    • Rather than lying in bed worrying about things you need to do or problems you need to solve, make a list of these things to worry about at planned time the next day. The next day at the planned time, worry about these things, even if you don’t feel like it then.

  • Use white noise.

    • If you are sensitive to noise, try using a white noise (static) machine or downloading a sound making app with rain, ocean sounds, or other noise that you can use with or without headphones. This will help block out any outside noises as well as have a calming effect.

  • Get a full night’s sleep on a regular basis.

    • Get enough sleep so that you feel well-rested nearly every day. If you’re not sure how much sleep you need, try going to bed at the same time every night and getting up 10-15 minutes earlier the next day. If you feel exhausted after 6 hours of sleep, wake up later. If you feel well rested at 7 hours of sleep go to bed at the same time and wake up 7 hours later every day (including weekends/holidays/days off work).

  • Avoid taking naps if you can.

    • You want to be tired with it is time to sleep. You want to build a sleep deficit and bed ready to hop into bed when the time comes. Napping increases likelihood for poorer sleep quality at night because you have not built up a sufficient sleep deficit.

    • If you must take a nap, try to keep it short (less than one hour). Never take a nap after 3 p.m. Remember, it may be easier to tolerate being tired for one day and not nap than spend the whole night awake.

  • Avoid any tough exercise within six hours of your bedtime.

    • You should exercise on a regular basis, but do it earlier in the day. If you can’t make time to exercise 4-6 hours before bed, try to do more moderate exercise like walking, stretching, yoga or light weightlifting. Exercise can also help you feel energized for your day if you are able to do it in the mornings after waking up.

  • Try to avoid thinking “I MUST GET TO SLEEP!”

    • And, don’t be a clock watcher. These actions are sleep killers. When you have this thought or you see yourself counting the minutes you have been lying awake, think to yourself STOP!!! And focus instead on getting as relaxed as possible. Even if you do not sleep you will feel more rested the next day if you focus on relaxation rather than the fact that you can’t sleep.

These techniques do work, but only if you give them an honest and consistent try and put effort into making changes. Keep in mind that changing your sleep habits takes time and is a process. You won’t sleep better after just one or two nights of change, it usually takes longer. Keep practicing these skills and you will likely slowly see an improvement in your sleep.