Tips to help you boost your sleep hygiene
“What?! It’s 2:15 am and I went to bed at 10:30 pm.” Sound familiar? If so, you’re among the nearly one-third of Americans that lie awake at least a few nights each week. Oftentimes, improving your sleep hygiene and making simple lifestyle changes can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
What is sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is a variety of habits and practices that are conducive to improved sleep quality on a regular basis. An absence of good sleep hygiene may lead to low energy and overall tiredness, lack of motivation and drive to get things done, mood changes, poor decisions, memory problems, trouble concentrating and headaches. Research shows that habitual poor sleep hygiene also increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
Having trouble falling asleep?
Here are some things you can do before bedtime to help you improve your sleep hygiene:
Dim the lights in your home an hour or so before bedtime. Bright lights can interfere with production of melatonin – a naturally occurring hormone that is key to our sleep. Melatonin affects our body clocks (or circadian rhythm) and research shows that regularly exposing yourself to bright lighting in the late evening disrupts melatonin signalling and could therefore potentially impact sleep.
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Avoiding all screens, including your phone, tablet, laptop and television is another helpful step. Just like bright lighting, the light from these devices stimulates your brain and will keep you awake for much longer.
Go to bed only when you're sleepy. If you aren't sleepy at bedtime, select something relaxing that will help you wind down like reading, stretching or a hot bath or shower.
If you find yourself laying in bed trying to fall asleep for more than 20 minutes, get out of bed and go elsewhere, perhaps a comfortable chair in your bedroom or living room. Sometimes a change of environment is enough to take your mind off of trying to fall asleep.
Wake up at the same time every day. If you experience increased awake time during the night, resist the urge to sleep in. It’s also important to know that daytime napping can throw off your sleep cycle.
Having trouble staying asleep?
Equally frustrating as having trouble falling asleep is having trouble staying asleep. Want to get back to sleep and save some money? Skip the infomercials on TV. As it is with getting to sleep initially you should refrain from looking at any screens (phone, tablet, laptop and tv) as they suppress melatonin production in the brain, making it more difficult for you to fall back asleep. Pull out that old term paper and read a few pages…that should have you sleeping in no time.
And just like when you can’t fall asleep, laying there thinking about it can make it harder to return to sleep. So if 20 minutes goes by, try what the experts suggest – get up and move to a comfortable location outside the bedroom. It may also be helpful to put your bedroom clock out of sight to help relieve clock-watching stress, which can add to your frustration.
Eat a healthy diet and avoid large meals before bedtime. Wait two to three hours after your last meal before going to bed. This allows digestion to occur and the contents of your stomach to move into your small intestine, helping to prevent heartburn and reflux which can wake you up.
Good sleep hygiene aside, if your inability to stay asleep is becoming more and more frequent, you may have sleep apnea. Of the 54 million people in the United States thought to be living with sleep apnea, it is estimated that about 80 percent do not have a formal diagnosis. Sleep apnea happens when a person lies down to sleep and the muscles in the throat relax. This may lead to a shift in the tongue and soft palate, causing the airway to narrow so much that it briefly closes off partially or completely. This disrupts breathing and may reduce the level of oxygen in the blood.
Drops in oxygen levels alert the brain that something isn’t working as it should. As oxygen level continues to drop, the sleeper wakes themself up, tensing the muscles of the airway to re-establish breathing.
If you suspect you may have sleep apnea, make an appointment to see a sleep doctor.
Ed Pienkosz is an experienced healthcare and behavior change professional with a focus on improving the quality of life through awareness, education and empowerment. He has more than 30 years of professional experience in healthcare and wellness including Population Health, Chronic Disease management and prevention, and quality of life improvement. Ed holds a Master’s of Science in Exercise Physiology and is a member of the International Consortium for Health & Wellness Coaching.