Sleep hygiene is a term that’s becoming increasingly well known as the message about good sleep gets more mainstream exposure.
We’re finally starting to understand that getting a good night’s sleep is vitally important because ongoing sleep deprivation affects our mental and physical wellbeing, with a high cost at both a personal and societal level.
As a sleep therapist, I’m so happy to see that these topics are finally getting the attention they deserve. I particularly like seeing a renewed focus on sleep hygiene, which is best defined as “Habits and practices that are conducive to sleeping well on a regular basis.”
In my programs, I always address any potential physical causes of bad sleep including obstructive sleep apnea but I also cover sleep hygiene in depth. Without looking at the big picture of sleep, it’s easy to miss something that could be a major factor in how well a patient is sleeping.
The exercises I prescribe as part of my sleep therapy are amazingly effective but I’d hate for a patient to be practicing diligently while unknowingly sabotaging their efforts through poor sleep hygiene.
For example, staring at the bright screen of a tablet or smartphone for hours before bed can lead to a difficulty getting to sleep followed by a restless night. Repeat that pattern for long enough and bad sleep will probably be a fact of life instead of something that occasionally happens.
But if you take a close look at sleep hygiene, and change any habits that could cause bad sleep, then you’ve got the best possible chance of making a long-term difference that could be life changing.
Sleep Hygiene Topics In My Programs
Topics I address with my patients include:
- General Sleep Hygiene
- Room preparation – temperature, humidity, light levels, bedding choice, and noise
- Screen and device habits – TV, phone and tablet use
- Night routines – bed time, adequate hours of sleep, establishing ongoing routines
- Allergy control
- Relaxation techniques – breathing, meditation, and exercise
- Nutrition for better sleep
Where appropriate, I’ll also work with my patients to help them optimize their CPAP machine or how they use their dental sleep appliance. To get the best possible results with these treatments, we need to increase compliance and comfort.
Three Sleep Hygiene Tips
Ideally, I like to find out exactly what my patients’ sleep routines and habits are like before I make any recommendations but here are three tips that can be applied to almost anyone.
1. Be Aware Of Your Caffeine Intake
Like many of my patients, I enjoy a cup of coffee in the mornings but I know how easy it is to become reliant on caffeine, especially when circumstances and workload pile up to become almost overwhelming.
But caffeine can seriously affect your sleep, especially when it’s consumed in the afternoon, or even worse, at night. Caffeine has been described as the most popular drug in the world. It definitely is a drug with real effects as anyone who’s had a strong cup of coffee or an energy drink at just the right time will know.
The effect of caffeine can take as little as 10-15 minutes to be felt but it takes between five and seven hours for the dose to become half as effective. So if you load up with 200mg of caffeine at 4PM, you’ll still have something like 100mg active in your body at 10PM. That’s likely to disrupt your sleep.
So when you’re reaching for your third cup of coffee for the day, or wondering if that second large energy drink is a good idea to get your through the day, it might pay to hold off and instead, to wonder why you actually need a late afternoon boost.
2. Limit Your Use Of Technology Before Bed
When it comes to sleep, light is what programs our bodies. In a world without technology and electricity, we’d be falling asleep at much more regular intervals, and probably sleeping far better as well.
But of course, sunset is no reason to start winding down for the night when we can just turn on the lights. And darkness doesn’t matter when you’ve got an iPad and Facebook is calling your name. So a modern pattern is to just stay awake as long as it suits us, scrolling through social media, news and videos of cats.
Then when it comes time to sleep, we wonder why we’re not able to fall asleep easily. The problem is that even the small amount of light emitted by our devices and televisions can disrupt our circadian rhythms, affecting hormone levels and delaying sleep. Children are particularly susceptible to this.
It’s possible to reduce this effect by wearing glasses that cut out certain light frequencies or even by adjusting the light that our devices emit, but the best option of all is to just stop using devices before bed. After all, besides the light, these devices can stimulate our brains, leaving us alert and deep in thought at precisely the time when we should be falling asleep.
So ideally try to stop using all electronic devices an hour or so before bed.
3. Establish A Bedtime Routine
An erratic bedtime routine can easily disrupt sleeping patterns but so many of us treat sleep like an afterthought instead of something that should be a priority. So one night, we’ll stay up past midnight, often just so we can read “another post or two” on Facebook, or watch “just one more video” on YouTube. This is especially true on days where we know we don’t have to be up early for work – the temptation to stay up late can be irresistible.
But setting up a regular bedtime routine can be a powerful way to improve your sleep.
Try to start getting ready for bed at the same time every night. This can help to get your body’s internal clock set to a specific sleep pattern, which will make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Getting all your “sleep chores” done well ahead of time can help in this regard too. So try to make sure that you deal with any distractions before you need to go to bed – the last thing you want to do a few minutes before bed is to take out the garbage, or to iron a shirt so it’s ready for work the next day. Ideally you want to be able to climb into bed, turn the lights off and just go to sleep.
You’ll be surprised at how changing your habits around these three simple areas can make a huge difference in how well you sleep. I’ll look at three more sleep hygiene tips in my next blog post, so please check back in a few days.
If you’ve got any questions, or have any topics you’d like me to cover in my blog, please leave a comment below or drop me a note here.