Apr 30, 2020

Sleep Hygiene: The Answer to Your Sleep Problems

What is Sleep Hygiene?

The CDC defines sleep hygiene as good sleeping habits. Falling asleep quickly and enjoying adequate amounts of deep sleep shouldn't be taken for granted. In the U.S., 50 to 70 million adults have sleep problems ranging from sleep deprivation to difficulty falling/staying asleep. Sleep hygiene can help you avoid or get rid of common sleep disorders sleep apnea, snoring, insomnia, etc. Here are the sleeping practices and habits to follow to get rid of most, if not all, sleep problems.

  1. Sleep/wake up the same time every day

You can solve half your sleeping problems by simply sleeping and waking up at the same time daily. This practice adjusts your "internal clock" making sure you feel sleepy and wake up with ease at specific predetermined times. Even if you don't get enough sleep occasionally, you will hardly have problems waking up once you set your "internal clock".

Our sleep drive (urge to sleep) and the ability to stay awake varies depending on the quality and amount of sleep enjoyed previously. Sleeping and waking up the same time every day creates a consistent sleep drive and brain activity when we are awake, getting rid of inconsistent sleepiness and wakefulness.

  1. Have a sleep-inducing routine just before bed

You also need to craft a sleep-inducing routine. Sleep hygiene is about practices and habits that support sleep. Being deliberate about your actions before bed can help you sleep faster and better. Taking a bath just before bed is a great way of preparing your body to sleep. Your body temperature decreases by a few degrees to induce sleepiness. That's why sleep experts recommend a cool environment for you to induce sleep naturally.

Ideally, your bedroom should be approximately 18 degrees Celsius. While some variables may come into play, including personal preferences, 18 degrees C (+ or - a few degrees) is the optimal temperature for inducing sleep. You can buy climate control gadgets to ensure you sleep in the perfect temperature. It also helps to dim your lights just before bed. Alternatively, you can install night glow-lights designed to induce sleep in minutes.

You can engage in other activities like stretching your body or reading your book to relax your body and induce drowsiness. It also helps to listen to some soft music. Your sleep-inducing routine shouldn't include stressful activities that trigger the body to release cortisol, the stress hormone responsible for increasing alertness.

iii. Watch what and when you eat before bed

Your eating and drinking habits just before bed could also be responsible for your sleeping problems. There is good and bad food for sleep. A balanced diet composed of B vitamins is important for supporting the work of sleep hormone melatonin. A glass of milk can also induce sleep. Milk contains tryptophan - an amino acid that induces sleep naturally.

You should avoid caffeine, alcohol, and other stimulants that keep the body awake. Heavy meals should also be avoided before bed to reduce the risk of suffering from GERD (gastroesophageal reflux) or diet-induced heartburn that can make it impossible to sleep. While it's advisable to avoid heavy meals, this shouldn't mistake to mean you should go to bed hungry. You are bound to have problems falling asleep if you go to bed too full or too hungry.

It also matters when you eat. There is a link between eating near sleeping periods and poor sleep quality. Eating late at night is a recipe for sleep problems like insomnia. You should eat dinner hours before bedtime. If you feel hungry just before bed, drink a glass of warm milk.

  1. Exercise (preferably outdoors) at the right time

Exercise and natural light both play a critical role in establishing a perfect sleep-wake cycle. Exercise leaves us feeling tired, which is an important ingredient for deep sleep. However, it also matters when you work out. Exercising later in the day when the internal clock is in its normal range can trigger drowsiness, helping you fall asleep faster at night.

Evening workouts don't give the body adequate time to alter temperature accordingly to promote good sleep. In fact, evening workouts are more likely to keep you awake than make you fall asleep immediately. Try working out several hours before bedtime.

Exercise intensity also matters. Moderate exercise (at least 30 minutes daily for five days a week) can improve sleep quality. Whether it's walking, cycling, or swimming, moderate exercise can boost your sleep. Strenuous exercise can trigger the secretion of cortisol - a stress hormone that promotes alertness.

  1. Sleep in pitch darkness & keep your phone away before getting into bed

Sleeping in total darkness is also part of sleep hygiene or good sleeping practice. Darkness is an indication that your body needs to sleep. Artificial light such as security lights outdoors inhibit the work of melatonin. If light penetrates your bedroom curtains at night, it can be challenging falling asleep and/or staying asleep. Installing blackout curtains in your bedroom will help to keep off any artificial outdoor light from interrupting your sleep by suppressing the work of melatonin.

You should also avoid artificial light from electronics like TV's Smartphones, laptops, and tablets when preparing to go to bed. These gadgets emit blue light, which is proven to affect sleep negatively.

Important: Not all light is bad. Night glow-lights are good for inducing sleep.

  1. Track your sleep

Tracking your sleep using technology is good sleep hygiene. You can't tell for sure if you have the right amount of deep sleep at night without tracking your sleep. Out of the 7 to 9 hours of sleep recommended for adults every night, 1 to 2 hours should be deep sleep. Wearable sleep trackers today can take a variety of measurements, including sleeping time, movements while sleeping, breathing rate, and heart rate, among other critical data for analyzing if you are getting adequate and quality sleep.

vii. Use effective remedies if you have a sleep disorder

Common sleep disorders like snoring, insomnia, and sleep apnea can be dealt with effectively at home. If snoring or sleep apnea makes you wake up at night, you can use an anti-snoring device while sleeping. You may also have problems falling and staying asleep because you don't wear the right sleeping clothes. Buying good pajamas and sleeping socks can be the difference between insomnia and deep sleep.

The effectiveness of sleep hygiene can be seen in the fact that it is part of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) in the treatment of sleeping disorders like insomnia. If you implement the above sleep hygiene information to the letter and you still have sleep problems, see a doctor. While most sleeping problems can be solved easily using the above information, some may be linked to underlying medical conditions that need highly specialized treatment.

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