Good Sleeping Habits (Sleep Hygiene)

1.  Exercise: Exercise is a wonderful and healthy “medicine” for a good night sleep. Try to get moderate level of activity about 3 to 5 days a week, 30 minutes each. Moderate means break a sweat and get your heart rate up. It is fine to work out in the evenings but avoid it too close to bedtime.

2  Wind down: Have a pre-bedtime “wind time” ritual. Consider it a mini vacation of the day. Try this: Take a warm shower in the late evening, then watch TV in your living room or read a nice book. Then, about 1 hour before bedtime, stop using electronics including TV, computers and cell phones. You may want to listen to soft music (perhaps classical music, soft jazz) while you read or converse with your family. These rituals help you relax before bedtime. If you insist that watching TV in your bedroom helps you fall asleep, make sure to have a timer that turns off.

3.  Dim the lights: Start to dim the lights in your living room about 1 hour before bedtime. Pay attention to computer screens and electronic media before bedtime. The luminance of the screen can interfere with sleep.

4.   Meals and liquids: Avoid eating a meal or liquids at least 3 hours before bedtime. A full stomach before bedtime can cause reflux of food and liquids with acids to back up into your mouth. It is unpleasant and causes awakenings. Liquids will make you have frequent bathroom visits; none of these are conducive to sleep. A light snack such as crackers are fine and diabetics need to follow their doctors’ advises about nighttime eating. Avoid going to bed hungry also.

5.  Caffeine: Avoid caffeine about 12 hours before bedtime. There are no rules for when to stop caffeine because different people have different sensitivities but if you suffer from insomnia, the less caffeine and the earlier you stop, the better. Studies show that caffeine can make your sleep lighter and this effect can last up to 12 hours.

6.  Keep a routine schedule: Go to bed at approximately the same time and wake up at the same time. You can vary your schedule by 1 hour on weekends. This routine helps entrain your body’s circadian rhythm or clock. With time, you should start to feel sleepy as you approach your routine bedtime. On the other hand, if you wake up late during the day on week-ends because you are trying to make up for sleep during weekdays, you are setting yourself up for a cycle of insomnia. Remember, you need to build a certain number of waking hours for your body to want sleep.

7.  Stimulus control therapy: If you go to bed and cannot fall asleep after half an hour, leave your bedroom and try to do something relaxing, like reading a book or listen to soft music. Return to your bedroom when you feel drowsy. This practice which was pioneered by Dr Bootzin in 1972.
8.  Bedroom cues: It is best that you keep your bedroom for sleep and intimacy. Avoid TV, work, computers, videogames, eating in your bedroom because you need to associate the bed with sleep and relaxation. Don’t send the wrong signal to your brain that it time to think, work and worry when it is bedtime.

9.  Naps: Avoid naps during the day if you suffer from insomnia. There is nothing wrong with a brief 15-30 minute afternoon nap as long as it does not affect your sleep at night. It is actually recommended for the elderly and people with narcolepsy.

10.  Clock: Avoid watching the clock. This habit will only raise your anxiety in the middle of the night.

11.  Alcohol and tobacco: Tobacco is a stimulant. If you smoke, try to quit for your health’s sake. If you still need to smoke, avoid it close to bedtime. Alcohol might help you fall asleep but it has a negative effect on the sleep quality. It makes your sleep disrupted during the night.

12.  Bedroom environment: Keep it dark and quite. Cover your eyes with a towel or have dark curtains to block the early morning light. For elderly folks, complete darkness might not be safe, so use wall lights to guide you through bathroom visits. If noise is a problem (birds by the window, snoring spouse, street noise) wear earplugs. White noise is fine with ocean wave CDs or a noise machine that can be purchased on-line or local store. Make sure the room temperature and the mattress are comfortable.

Good Luck !