Healthy Sleep Habits

What Are The Rules of Good Sleep Hygiene?

1. Curtail time in bed. The longer you stay in bed, the more fragmented your sleep becomes. The less time you stay in bed, the more consolidated you sleep. Therefore 8 hours of sleep out of 8.5 hours in bed is more efficient than 8 hours of sleep out of 10 hours in bed.

2. Get up at the same time each day. Our bodies are controlled by circadian rhythms. The circadian rhythm needs one stable point around which it can stabilize. Since you cannot control what time you fall asleep, the only time you can control is what time you wake up. Therefore it is extremely important for insomniacs to get up at the same time each day (including weekends) and to avoid “sleeping in.”

3. Avoid the bedroom clock. The first thing you do when you wake up in the middle of the night is look at your clock. The time pressure contributes to poor sleep. In addition, the acts of opening your eyes to see the clock and lifting your head to read the time wake you up even more. What difference does it make if it is 1:00am or 3:00 am? Turn your clock around or move it to the other side of the room where you won’t be tempted to look. If you wake up in the middle of the night, keep your eyes closed, and you will be more likely to go right back to sleep.

4. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco. Caffeine has been shown to disrupt sleep, even in individuals who don’t think it affects them. The effect of caffeine remains in the body on average from 3 to 5 hours. Remember that caffeine is not just in coffee, but also in tea, chocolate, and many sodas (note that a soda does not have to be brown to be full of caffeine – read the labels.) For individuals with insomnia, it is best to avoid all caffeine after lunchtime.

And if you need one more reason to stop smoking, tobacco (nicotine) also has been shown to disturb sleep. Nicotine can have an arousing effect and therefore it makes it more difficult to sleep. Insomniacs often use alcohol to help them fall asleep. One old wives’ tale suggests having a glass of sherry before bed to promote sleep. In fact, this is just an old wives’ tale. Alcohol makes you sleepy initially but several hours later when the alcohol wears off, it can cause you to wake up (insomnia). Therefore, if you drink alcohol with dinner, you may be sleepy right after dinner, but several hours later, when it is time for bed, you may be wide awake. If you drink alcohol right before bedtime you may fall asleep quicker, but several hours later, at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, you may wake up again and have difficulty going back to sleep.

5. Exercise. Keeping generally fit will promote sleep. Exercising right before bedtime may make sleep more difficult, because one of our circadian rhythms is the body temperature cycle. When our body temperature drops, we become sleepy. Exercising increases our body temperature. It then takes about 6 hours for the body temperature to begin to drop; at that point it will be easier to fall asleep. Therefore, exercising about 6 hours before bedtime promotes sleep.

6. Eat a light snack. Going to bed with an empty, hungry stomach makes it more difficult to sleep. Eating a light snack, particularly one with tryptophan, helps promote sleep. Tryptophan is a naturally produced amino acid with sleep-promoting properties and can be found in products such as milk, cheese, bananas, fish, and turkey. (Why do you think you are so tired after your Thanksgiving meal?). Therefore, a glass of warm milk at bedtime may be quite conducive to sleep.

7. Adjust sleeping environment. The sleep environment should be relaxing, comfortable, and conducive to sleep. If the bedroom is too noisy, consider moving to a quieter room in the house or using earplugs. If there is too much light, try dark curtains or eye shades.

8. Do not worry right before bed. Generally, in our busy schedules, the first time we have to sit quietly and think about our day is when we get into bed. This is the wrong time to start worrying. Plan a quiet time earlier in the evening that will allow you time to think, plan and “worry” away from your bedroom, thus interfering less with sleep. If you find it helpful to write things down, this is the time to make lists of all the different options you have for the things you are worrying about.

Poor sleep hygiene...
means poor sleep habits. Bad sleep habits generally result from irregular sleep schedules, excessive daytime napping, overuse of alcohol and caffeine, poor sleep environments, or anxiety at bedtime. Learning appropriate sleep hygiene rules can treat both psychophysiologic insomnia and poor sleep hygiene. In fact, good sleep hygiene is the cornerstone of all insomnia treatments.

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The information provided above is for educational purposes only.  Please do not use this information to diagnose yourself.  If you have further questions or concerns about this topic or any others, please contact a Campus Health Service provider at (520) 621-9202.