Sleep hygiene is a set of practices that promote and maintain healthy and restful sleep. People with sleep disorders have been using them for decades to improve their nighttime rest and stave off unwanted symptoms of sleep deprivation during the day. The goal is to prevent sleep issues from interfering with daily life.
Start your hygiene checkup by reviewing your bedroom environment:
- Your bed is comfortable.
- The ambient temperature is comfortable.
- The bedroom air is free of disturbing irritants or odors.
- The noise level doesn’t annoy or distract you.
- Use window shades wisely. Keep the room darker by closing the shades when you need to sleep.
- Keep the television out of the bedroom.
Pay attention to the following factors that interfere with sleep:
- Your intake of stimulants. You may need to reduce or eliminate foods, drinks or medications that keep you awake, particularly in the latter half of the day. The most notorious example is caffeinated coffee, which many people use as “pick me up” to combat sleepiness.
- Smoking before bedtime. An unhealthy habit which has an additional deleterious impact on sleep that is less well known: Nicotine is a stimulant.
- Timing and intensity of exercise. Exercise can improve sleep quality, which in turn facilitates physical recovery. But high-intensity exercise that’s too close to bedtime may interfere with your ability to fall asleep.
- Use of relaxation techniques. Finding a way to unwind at the end of the day can help you to fall asleep at bedtime. Use whatever works best for you.
- Alcohol as a sleep aid. The use of alcoholic drinks to assist with falling asleep is a popular but misguided notion. Alcohol may indeed help you to fall asleep, but it’s toxic to sleep quality, making your rest inefficient and fragmented.
- Heavy meal before bedtime. Eating a large or heavy meal before going to bed can make falling asleep difficult.
- Lying awake for long periods. Use your bed only for sleeping and intimacy. If you can’t fall asleep, get up and do something relaxing, then go back to bed when you feel ready. Lying in bed and not sleeping for long periods of time can exacerbate sleep difficulties.
- Daytime napping. Don’t nap during the day. Period.
If you wake up too early each morning:
- Check environment factors such as noise, pets, children, etc.
- If you feel moody, depressed or anxious, consider talking to your physician.
If you have trouble falling asleep, find it very difficult to wake up, and are chronically late or irritable, you may be sleep-deprived.
To improve things, you need to change your behavior by doing the following:
- Choose a wake-up time that makes sense in the context of school, work or other obligations.
- Always wake up at that time. On weekends, don’t let yourself sleep more than 30 minutes past that time.
- Count backwards from that time based on your sleep needs (at least 7 hours). That’s when you should be in bed and asleep.
- It may be helpful to limit yourself to 6 hours of sleep initially, and then increase the amount by 15 minutes each week until you reach a duration that satisfies your sleep needs.
- Follow the other rules of good sleep hygiene.