Literally every person has had at least one bad night's sleep during their lifetime. One poor night of sleep and we suffer tremendously the following day! We feel terrible, have a hard time concentrating, and lack energy. Over half of us suffer from poor sleep on any given night. In a society that thrives on sleep deprivation as a sign of success, we are slowly starving ourselves of good health. The most important way to ensure good sleep is to develop good sleep habits. Poor sleep habits is by far the most common cause of sleep disorders and the development of good sleep hygiene is the easiest way to ensure good sleep and, as a result, good health.
The basic Do's and Don't of sleep hygiene are as follows:
1. MAINTAIN a regular sleep schedule. AVOID changing sleep patterns on days off. Give yourself a two hour window for bedtime every night. For example, if you normally go to sleep around 8 pm on school or work nights, make sure you go to bed within 6 and 10 pm on your days off.
2. EXERCISE 2-4 hours before sleep to help relax. DON’T exercise just before bedtime. Determine which types of exercise produce just enough stimulation to relax and de-stress you so that you are relaxed by bedtime and not too stimulated.
3. DO take a warm bath before bed to relax. AVOID showers at bedtime if they tend to stimulate you. Bath oils and salts can be very relaxing, particularly lavender or lemon balm.
4. REDUCE noise and distractions in bed. AVOID TV, radios, reading, or other activities that keep you awake at night. Sometimes the use of "white noise" machines will mask distracting noises and help you sleep better. Relaxation music that utilizes ambient or soothing music or environmental sounds may be of benefit when used occasionally. It is not recommended that such tapes or CDs be used every day or too frequently as people may become dependent on them to sleep.
5. Snacks at night should be light. They should be complex carbohydrates (e.g., baked potatoes, whole-grain pastas, or fresh veggies). Turkey, bananas, figs, dates, yogurt, tuna, whole grain crackers, nut butters, lettuce, and grapefruit are good foods to snack on at night. AVOID heavy meals at night. Do NOT eat foods high in protein or simple sugars. Foods that are particularly bad include sugar, cheese, chocolate, sauerkraut, bacon, ham, sausage, eggplant, spinach, and tomatoes.
6. Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillow. AVOID mattresses and pillows that do not keep your spine straight when on your side. Thick pillows prop you head up and reduce your breathing ability in addition to creating neck problems over time. Spring mattress should have a large number of independent coil springs. Sometimes a thick "egg crate" or memory foam type foam mattress adds comfort to spring mattresses. Waveless water beds may be beneficial as may some models of air mattresses. The amount of air or water added must be adjusted to provide the right amount of support to the spine. Additionally, water beds with heaters may provide additional comfort if adjusted to the right temperature. Another bed that may be good for persons, especially with a history of back problems or pain is the tempurpedic mattress which is made of a special memory foam material that works well in keeping the spine in better alignment and reducing pressure points on the body.
7. Make sure you have fresh air and good ventilation where you sleep. AVOID poor air ventilation and unpleasant odors. The use of a HEPA filter can reduce respiratory problems by removing dust, pollen, and other allergens from the air.
8. Adjust temperature of room for better sleep. Cooler temperatures at bedtime help induce sleep whereas warmer temperatures enhance wakefulness. AVOID excessive heat or cold. Programmable thermostats may be set to temperatures and times that will help you achieve better quality sleep.
9. Drink warm herbal teas/milk or a high complex carbohydrate-low protein drink at bedtime. AVOID alcohol, caffeine, or sugar containing drinks such as coffee, sodas, and tea. Avoid hot and cold drinks.
10. If you can’t sleep, leave your bed and engage in a positive and relaxing activity until you feel sleepy (e.g., finish undone activities, read a good book, eat a light snack, do relaxation exercises, etc.). AVOID staying in bed if you can’t sleep. Don’t get upset by your inability to sleep as this will just prolong sleep. Don’t force yourself to sleep. This will make you become more awake. Return to bed when you feel sleepy.
11. Get up at your regular time regardless of how little sleep you got the night before. AVOID napping during the day even if tired from lost sleep the night before. This will help you get to sleep earlier the next night! If you can take a 15-20 minute power nap and feel refreshed and get to sleep at the desired time without problem then, a power nap is okay. However, if you require longer nap times and feel unrefreshed after a nap or have trouble getting to sleep at the desired bedtime, then naps should be avoided.
12. Enjoy good sex at bedtime! It is very relaxing and increases brain levels of serotonin which is a major sleep and mood transmitter. Increased serotonin levels following good sex is relaxing, reduces depression and anxiety, and helps induce sleep. AVOID sex at bedtime if it’s distressing. The stress and anxiety produced by bad sex will counteract the beneficial effects of elevated serotonin levels. It is better to work on sexual problems when there are no sleep problems present.
If sleep problems persist or are severe, complete a sleep log and see a somnologist. AVOID medicating or treating yourself for sleep problems if sleep hygiene does not help. A sleep log should contain information about approximate bedtimes, wake up times, number and description of arousals from sleep, dream descriptions, estimated time taken to fall asleep (done the morning after), list of medications taken, if any, health problems, if any, and information related to the items listed above. Sometimes, patients are able to identify the cause of sleep problems by looking at their sleep logs after they've kept one for1-2 weeks.