As most of us have experienced a lack of sleep at one time or another, you know that if you don’t get enough sleep, it’s much more difficult to cope with everyday life. Problems seem bigger, our reactions are larger and things just seem more difficult and overwhelming.
Sometimes our bodies are ready for sleep, but our minds are not. When we are stressed or anxious, our bodies often respond by producing chemicals (like cortisol), that may interfere with falling and staying asleep.
What is Sleep Hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is a set of best practices to help you maintain normal, healthy sleep patterns.
They are designed to facilitate your falling asleep, staying asleep until morning, and experiencing quality sleep cycles like REM sleep. If your sleep time too short, you may miss out on your last REM sleep “session.”
Simple Rules of Good Sleep Hygiene
These guidelines are designed to help you relax, fall asleep, stay asleep, and get better sleep, so that you wake up refreshed and alert!
– Keep a routine to your day, if possible. Go to sleep at approximately the same time everyday. Get up at the same time everyday, even if you ended up going to bed later than planned or had trouble sleeping during the night.
– If you have to take a nap during the day, keep it to less than 1/2 hour. And if you’re finding that it’s contributing to you having trouble falling asleep at night, give it up.
– Exercise as early in the day as is practical for you. Exercise can be stimulating and rev you up, not calm you down.
– If you have coffee or other caffeinated drinks or foods (soda, tea) stop at least 6 hours before you go to sleep. If you need to, stop earlier as caffeine can stay in the system for up to 14 hours.
– As a rule, don’t drink alcohol after dinner. While it may help you fall asleep, when it’s metabolized and cleared from your system it may cause you to awaken.
– You shouldn’t be smoking anyway, but nicotine is a stimulant and will work against you in terms of trying to fall asleep.
– Before bedtime, a hot bath can relax your muscles and mind.
– Make the bedroom conducive to sleeping; minimize noise and light, and set the thermostat to a comfortable temperature – not too hot or cold.
– If your bedroom is noisy and you’ve done all you can to minimize the noise, there are “white noise” machines that help soften the noise.
– If you read in bed before dozing off, make sure you can turn off the light switch without getting out of bed.
– Sleep experts suggest that your bedroom should not have a TV or other electronics. Neither should it have paperwork that’s on your “to do” list.
– If your mind is on “overdrive” and you are having trouble falling asleep, there are lots of relaxation, breathing or meditation techniques that can help you slow it down.
– If you are often awakened during the night to go to urinate, try drinking your last fluids for the day about two hours before bedtime.
– If you do get up at night, keep the lighting dim.
– If you wake up during the night worrying, and are unable to fall back to sleep within a short period of time, get out of bed. Go into another room and read or write down your thoughts on a piece of paper. Then try going back to bed.
Natural Botanical Sleep Aids
There are several nutrition and herbal supplements that are known to help promote restful sleep, without concern of being habit-forming.
I have used a dietary supplement with a mix of botanicals, including valerian root and hops, on occasions when I’ve had difficulty falling asleep.
Ashwaganda helps reduce elevated cortisol (stress hormone) levels at bedtime.
Many noncaffeinated herbal teas, such as chamomile tea, are soothing and calming in the evening.
Note: If poor sleep persists, there might be other reasons for your sleep difficulties and you should consult with your physician.