Inadequate sleep hygiene is a sleep disorder primarily caused by bad sleeping habits. It is often corrected by making a few simple changes to your routine and daily practices leading up to your bedtime. If not looked after in this way though, it can lead to, or continue to produce side effects common with many other sleeping disorders, which can be harmful to quality of life.
The first category is related to falling asleep. Any form of stimulant, like caffeine, close to bedtime, can interfere with sleep. Caffeine stays in the system for an average duration of 3-5 hours, and could remain for as long as 12 hours. Most people are aware of this, but think that it won’t affect them.
Having a regular routine before bed can greatly increase the effectiveness of falling asleep. There should be a relaxing activity such as reading, listening to relaxing music, meditating or bathing. Exercising just before bed is not recommended as it increases body temperature and mental alertness. Exercising should be done during the middle of the day. Having an active and healthy lifestyle will also aid in good sleep behaviour. On top of the routine, you should also have a regular bedtime. This will become ingrained in your internal clock, and should facilitate sleep when combined with other quality sleep hygiene methods.
Poor sleep can also be caused by the mind being too active and not ‘shutting down’. This is commonly caused by stress, anxiety, fear or excitement. If you find yourself regularly having trouble falling asleep despite practicing many other good sleeping habits, you may need to develop mind tricks or exercises to help take your mind off others things, and prepare it to shut down for sleep. You will also find that after getting in a routine, sleep will naturally come much easier, even without the practice of these exercises. For more serious mental issues that are not easily resolved and are preventing you from falling asleep, you should consult your doctor, a sleep specialist or a therapist.
The second category relates to staying asleep. While you may think this is out of your control, there are things that can be done to improve this function.
Avoiding alcohol or drugs near bedtime will improve your quality of sleep. While these are often viewed as sedatives and it may be true that they will promote initially falling asleep, they often cause nighttime disturbances and awakenings, leading to poor quality sleep.
Sleeping in a comfortable environment will promote quality sleep. This includes a mattress and pillow that are comfortable and right for you, as well as sleeping in an environment that has the proper darkness, sound and temperature levels. This can vary by individual. Some people may actually sleep better with low playing music left on, or with lights on, but in general you should sleep in a dark, quiet and cool environment. A temperature below standard room temperature is encouraged, as being under blankets will increase your body temperature. Too cool of an environment can make it difficult to sleep though, as any exposed skin will become clammy, and pillows may become too cool to rest your face on, leading to awakenings.
The effects of poor sleeping hygiene can be felt in many ways during our daily lives, and are just as potent as other sleep disorders. This can include, but is not limited 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.
Needless to say, these are potentially very harmful, and should be investigated by using the aforementioned steps. For further advice, you should consult your doctor or a sleep specialist. They will investigate your sleeping history, and may instruct you to keep a sleep diary over the course of a week or more to help accurately pinpoint where the problems may lie, and what can be done to resolve it.
In cases when the sleeping problems persist, a doctor may prescribe a sleeping medication. These may offer some benefit, but are not without theirown associated risks, which should be discussed with your doctor.
If it’s suspected that you may in fact have a sleeping disorder separate from inadequate sleep hygiene, you may need to undergo a sleep test to see if something else is at the root of your sleeping ailments.
Reviewed September, 2007