What is ‘Sleep Hygiene’?
Sleep Hygiene can be defined as the practices and habits one can create to promote good sleep on a regular basis.
About Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene refers to the recommended environmental and behavioral practices designed to promote better quality sleep. It was in the late 1970s that this recommendation was first developed as a way of helping people suffering with mild-to-moderate insomnia.
People who present with insomnia, depression, and other conditions, are assessed by clinicians who offer recommendations based on their assessment. Recommendations for sleep hygiene tips include the following –
- Not exercising either mentally or physically too close to bedtime;
- Taking naps at appropriate times;
- Establishing a regular sleep schedule;
- Reducing worry;
- Getting out of bed if sleep doesn’t come;
- Limiting exposure to light prior to sleep;
- Using bed only for sex and sleep;
- Avoiding stimulant such as alcohol, caffeine and nicotine in the hours before bedtime;
- Creating a dark, comfortable, and peaceful sleep environment.
Depending on the individual, clinicians choose from recommendations to help improve sleep quality; in addition, counseling is offered as a form of patient education.
One of the recommendations for sleep hygiene relates to the timing of sleep, or allowing enough time for sleep. Adults who get less than seven or eight hours’ sleep can experience mental and physical health deficits, and that’s why this is one of the top sleep hygiene recommendations.
Generally, clinicians will advise that these hours of sleep must be achieved at night, and not through napping, because even though naps can be useful after sleep deprivation, naps under normal conditions may be detrimental to nighttime sleep. Interestingly, it’s been discovered that the negative effects of daytime naps on performance and sleep depend on timing and duration, with the least disruptive naps being midday naps. There’s also a lot of focus on the importance of having a regular sleep schedule and awakening at the same time every morning.
Exercise is an interesting topic, because it’s an activity that can either inhibit or facilitate sleep quality. It’s true that people who exercise regularly achieve better quality sleep than those who don’t exercise; however, exercising late in the day can delay the onset of sleep. It’s also believed that increasing exposure to natural and bright lights during the daytime, whilst avoiding bright lights before bedtime, can help achieve a sleep-wake schedule which aligns with nature’s daily light-dark cycle.
It’s recommended that the person engage in relaxing activities before bedtime, because activities that reduce cognitive activity and physiological arousal are more conducive to falling asleep. On the other hand, people who continue planning or working on important activities prior to bedtime, or even once in bed, may experience difficulty in falling asleep. That’s why good sleep hygiene means not worrying or thinking about emotionally upsetting issues prior to bedtime. If a person becomes frustrated while trying to fall asleep, they’re advised to get out of bed and do something relaxing, like reading, for a short period of time. When people experience difficulties falling asleep, it suggested that spending less time in bed results in a deeper and more continuous sleep; and that’s why clinicians often recommend that people who struggle to fall asleep not use their bed for any activities other than sleep or sex.
Foods and Other Substances
- It’s now known that a number of foods and other substances can disturb sleep due to their stimulant effects and/or the disruption they cause to the digestive system. These substances maintain wakefulness by activating neurobiological systems, and that’s why sleep hygiene specialists recommend the avoidance of substances such as –
- Alcohol; and Caffeine, including energy drinks, coffee, tea, soft drinks, chocolate, and some pain relievers.
- Clinicians will discourage the drinking of alcohol close to bedtime because, even though alcohol can initially induce sleepiness, the arousal created by metabolizing alcohol can significantly fragment and disrupt sleep.
- In addition, it’s believed that smoking before bed reduces sleep quality by reducing the amount of time spent in deep sleep, thus leading to nocturnal restlessness and sleep fragmentation.
- Interestingly, disrupted sleep has also been associated with both hunger, and the consumption of a large meal prior to bedtime (which requires a large effort to metabolize). It may be recommended by your clinician that you eat a light snack before bedtime.
- And finally, sleep interruptions can be prevented by limiting the intake of liquids before bedtime, resulting in less urinations.
The ideal sleep environment is cool, quiet, and very dark. It’s been shown that continuous sleep can be interrupted by an uncomfortable room temperature, light, and noises. Your sleep hygiene specialist may also recommend that you select a comfortable mattress, pillows, and bedding, in addition to removing a visible bedroom clock. This will prevent the sleeper from focusing on time passing whilst trying to fall asleep.