Trouble sleeping and daytime sleepiness can be indicators of poor sleep hygiene or sleep habits. Sleep hygiene includes numerous factors including the timing of sleep, food intake, exercise and sleeping environment. At eos sleep, our board-certified snoring and sleep apnea specialists frequently share tips with patients about how to control these behavioral and environmental factors that precede and may interfere with sleep. Some of these guidelines are easier to include in your daily and nightly routine than others. However, if you stick with them, your chances of achieving restful sleep will improve.
That said, not all sleep problems can be fixed by practicing good sleep hygiene. In some cases, poor sleep may signify the presence of a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy, or another clinical sleep problem. If your sleep difficulties don’t improve after making a change with your sleep habits, you should consult your primary physician or a sleep specialist.
What is sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is the controlling of all behavioral and environmental factors that precede sleep and may interfere with sleep. Good sleep hygiene is the practice of certain guidelines set forth by clinicians in an attempt to ensure more restful, effective sleep.
Why is it important to practice good sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is important for everyone, from childhood through adulthood. A good sleep hygiene routine promotes healthy sleep and daytime alertness. Good sleep hygiene practices can also prevent the development of sleep problems and disorders.
How do I know if I have poor sleep hygiene?
Sleep disturbances and daytime sleepiness are the most telling signs of poor sleep hygiene. If one is experiencing a sleep problem, he or she should evaluate their sleep routine. It may take some time for the changes to have a positive effect, but if you try to stick with it, eventually it will become second nature because you will start to feel the results of a better quality and quantity of sleep.
How do I know the best sleep hygiene routine for me?
If you’re taking too long to fall asleep or awakening during the night, you should consider revising your bedtime habits. Most important for everyone is to maintain a regular sleep-wake schedule throughout the week and consider how much time you spend in bed, which could be too much or too little.
Recommendations to Improve Your Sleep Quality:
- Get 7-9 Hours of Sleep per Night
Always make an effort to allow enough time for sleep. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each day and children need even more. To learn more about the recommended sleep hours from the National Sleep Foundation check out this blog post.
- Set and Stick to a Fixed Schedule
Set a fixed bedtime and waking time and don’t allow it to drift. The body gets used to falling asleep at a certain time, but only if this is relatively fixed. Even if you are retired or not working, this is an essential component of practicing good sleep hygiene. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day sets the body’s “internal clock” to expect sleep at a certain time night after night. Try to stick as closely as possible to your routine on weekends to avoid a Monday morning “sleep hangover”. Waking up at the same time each day is the very best way to set your clock, and even if you did not sleep well the night before, the extra sleep will help you consolidate sleep the following night. Put simply, you CAN catch up on your sleep, just as you can pay down financial debt.
- Create a Relaxing Sleep Environment
Make sure that your sleep environment is pleasant and relaxing. The bed should be comfortable, the room should not be too hot or cold or too bright. Arrange a sleep environment that is very dark, comfortable, quiet and cool (60-75 degrees Fahrenheit) to facilitate falling asleep quickly and staying asleep. Invest in a comfortable mattress, pillows and linens. Block out all distracting noise and eliminate as much light as possible.
- Establish a Regular and Relaxing Bedtime Routine
Ease the transition from wake time to sleep time with a period of relaxing activities an hour or so before bed. Take a bath (the rise and consequent fall in body temperature promotes drowsiness) or read a book. Light reading before bed is a good way to prepare yourself for sleep. Avoid stressful, stimulating activities such as doing work or discussing emotional issues. Physically and psychologically stressful activities can cause the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which is associated with increasing alertness. If you tend to take your problems to bed, try writing them down and then putting them aside. It is important that you go to sleep when you’re truly tired. Struggling to fall sleep just leads to frustration. If you’re not asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed, go to another room, and do something relaxing. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation and deep breathing may help relieve anxiety and reduce muscle tension.
- Keep the TV Turned Off Before Bed
This is a tough one because many people fall asleep with the television on in their bedroom. Watching television before bedtime is a bad idea because it is an engaging medium that tends to stimulate rather than relax. Many are unwilling to accept the implications that the TV has on their quality of sleep because it has become rather habitual, but it’s a fact. Silence is the best medicine for good sleep, so turn the TV off and keep it off.
- Exercise in the Morning
Exercise can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly – as long as it’s done at the proper time. Exercise is best done in the morning or late afternoon as it stimulates the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol, which helps activate the alerting mechanism in the brain. This is fine, unless you’re trying to fall asleep. Try to finish exercising at least three hours before bed. Strenuous exercise within the two hours before bedtime can decrease your ability to fall asleep. However, a relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep.
- Watch the Food & Drink
Avoid heavy meals and alcohol before sleep and reduce the intake of caffeine and other stimulants like nicotine several hours before bedtime. While alcohol is known to speed up the onset of sleep, it disrupts sleep in the second half of the night as the body begins to metabolize the alcohol, causing arousal. Also, food can be disruptive right before sleep. Avoid spicy or sugary foods 4-6 hours before bedtime. Dietary changes can cause sleep problems so if you are struggling with your sleep habits, it is not a good time to start experimenting with eccentric dishes or crash diets. And remember, while chocolate can be a delicious treat for dessert, it contains caffeine. If you must eat something right before bed, try a light snack. Warm milk and foods high in the amino acid tryptophan, such as bananas, may help you to sleep better.
- Balance Fluid Intake
Drink enough fluid at night to keep from waking up thirsty, but not so much and so close to bedtime that you will be awakened by the need for a trip to the bathroom.
- Don’t Watch the Clock
Staring at a clock in your bedroom, either while you are trying to fall asleep or when you wake in the middle of the night, can actually increase stress, making it harder to fall asleep. Turn your clock’s face away from you if possible. Also, smartphones are great to use as an alarm clock and night light if you do wake up during the night, but be sure to set the phone face down so you do not see the time or glow from the screen, maintaining a dark and relaxing sleep environment. Remember that many electronics like your computer screen, iPad or digital alarm clock all emit light, even if it is slight. This light can be distracting, stimulating and disruptive to your quality of sleep.
- Getting Up in the Middle of the Night
Most people wake up one or two times a night for various reasons. If you do wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep in about 15 to 30 minutes, it is best to not remain in bed “trying hard” to sleep. Get out of bed and leave the bedroom. Read, have a light snack, do some quiet activity or take a bath. You will generally find that you can get back to sleep within 20 minutes or so later. Do not perform challenging or engaging activities such as office work, housework or watching television. Keep the lights dim as any source of bright light can stimulate your internal clock. When your eyelids are drooping and you are ready to sleep, return to bed, get into your favorite sleeping position and think of something peaceful.
- Get Natural Light During the Day
Ensure adequate exposure to natural light during your waking hours. This is particularly important for older people who may not venture outside as frequently as children and adults. Natural light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle. So let in the light first thing in the morning and get out of the office for a sun break during the day.
- Nap Early – Or Not at All
Avoid napping during the day unless it is absolutely necessary. The late afternoon for most people is a “sleepy time” so many people will take a nap at that time. This is generally not a bad thing to do, provided you limit the nap to 30-45 minutes and can still sleep well at night. 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.
Other Factors for Sleep Quality
If you are practicing good sleep hygiene and still having difficulty achieving restful and restorative sleep, don’t get discouraged. There are a number of other factors that may impact your ability to sleep well at night. Physical factors including arthritis, acid reflux, heartburn, menstruation, headaches and hot flashes can all play a role in disrupting sleep.
Psychological and mental health problems 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.
To help overall improvement in sleep patterns, your doctor may prescribe sleep medications for short-term relief of a sleep problem. The decision to take sleeping aids is a medical one to be made in the context of your overall health picture.
For those who have a chronic snoring problem or sleep apnea, you may not only be affecting your own sleep quality, but the sleep quality of those who share your living space. In these cases, it is important to see a doctor who specializes in treating these specific sleep disorders in order to identify the root cause(s) of the condition and to learn about treatment options. Many patients can be treated using non-invasive devices or quick, in-office procedures with little or no downtime. To find an eos sleep specialist near you, visit our locations page.