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Can't Sleep? Bad Sleep Hygiene Habits Might Be To Blame

October 10, 2017

Can't Sleep? Bad Sleep Hygiene Habits Might Be To Blame

Good hygiene habits — think brushing your teeth or washing your hands — are an essential part to your day. You already are most likely practicing good hygiene on a daily basis. You might not know how important hygiene habits are to getting a good night sleep.

Sleep hygiene is different than what you might think, although it is nice to go to bed with your teeth brushed and your body clean. Sleep hygiene instead refers to healthy sleep habits that can improve how you fall asleep and stay asleep.

Problems with sleeping are fairly common. One in four people report experiencing sleep difficulties, which include trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, early morning waking, sleeping too often, or restless and unsatisfying sleep.

The biggest culprits behind poor sleep are sleep disorders and poor sleep habits. If you are experiencing snoring or pauses in breathing while you sleep you need to make an appointment with your physician first to rule out dangerous sleep disorders such as sleep apnea. The good news is that poor sleep habits can be fixed so you can get back to getting quality and restorative sleep.

Getting enough sleep

Not being able to fall asleep, frequent sleep disturbances, and daytime sleepiness are all signs that you are practicing poor sleep hygiene. You should consider looking into your sleep nightly sleep routing if sleep disorders aren’t the cause of your nighttime sleep woes. Revising your bedtime routine and sleep habits could make the difference between a good night’s sleep and a night of misery. The first step in creating good sleep hygiene habits is to evaluate how much sleep you are getting. The average adult needs to be getting between seven to nine hours of sleep per night.

Not getting in enough sleep can lead to sleep debt. Sleep debt occurs much in the same way financial debt occurs. If you don’t have enough sleep each night, your body will “overdraw” from your energy reserves leading to mental and physical fatigue. Too many individuals make getting enough sleep a priority. Squeezing in more hours of work, socializing, or even managing the house become more important than hitting the pillow. Track the amount of hours you sleep over a two-week period. Consider cutting back on extra activities if you are consistently falling short of sleep each night. If you are still struggling, consider scheduling your sleep time just like you would any other important task. There are some barriers to getting enough sleep that can’t be avoided. Some of these barriers include parenting young children who still wake frequently through the night or complicated work schedules. In such cases, make sure you can squeeze in a nap to make up for the sleep lost during the night.

Avoiding stimulants

What you do during the day and before bed is an important part of your sleep hygiene habits. Simulants like coffee and energy drinks can give you the extra kick you need during the day to overcome the fact that you are sleeping well, but you may be creating a vicious cycle. Too much caffeine can interfere with your body’s signals that it’s time to fall asleep. You then fail to get enough sleep needing even more caffeine the next day to overcome the drowsiness from not sleeping. Part of your sleep hygiene routine should be limiting or eliminating caffeine from your daily routine. Nicotine can also affect your body’s ability to sleep so avoid smoking close to bedtime by causing you to be to jittery. Alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, drinking it to close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep during the night as your body begins to process the alcohol. Try to avoid smoking or drinking right before bed.

Other stimulants — bright alarm clocks, external lights, and blue lights from electronic — can mess up your natural sleep/wake cycle. There are ways to combat lights that mess up your body’s attempt to sleep. Cover up your bright alarm clock or invest in one with dim lighting. Dark curtains can block out the light coming from outside your bedroom. Avoiding the light from your electronic devices is as simple as not turning them on.

Watching television or being on an electronic device right before bedtime can stimulate your brain and block the signals that it’s time to sleep. It’s best to steer clear of stimulating media for at least 30 minutes before you plan to sleep.

Try and stay clear of eating any food right before bedtime that can be disruptive to your sleep. If you are prone to indigestion, try to avoid heavy or rich foods, fatty or fried foods, spicy dishes, citrus fruits, and carbonated drinks. Painful indigestion or heartburn can disrupt your sleep. If you are hungry before bed, try eating light cheese and crackers, sliced turkey, or bananas, or drink a warm glass of milk.

Daytime sleep hygiene

What you do during the day has a great effect on how you sleep at night. One of the best ways to get good sleep is to get moving during the day. Exercise gets your body ready for quality sleep. Even just ten minutes of aerobic exercise, such as walking or riding a bike, can improve your sleep. Shoot for at least 30 minutes of exercise three times a week. The best time to get moving is late afternoon or early evening. Strenuous exercise should be avoided right before you go to sleep as a lot of activity sends the signal that it isn’t time to sleep. Early morning exercise does wonders for your health but won’t help with your sleep.

Limit your daytime naps to 20-30 minute. A short nap can help improve your mood, alertness, and performance. Too much daytime napping can lead you to not feel sleepy when you need to be sleeping. Spending time outside can also help you with sleep. Exposure to natural light during the day as well as darkness at night helps your body maintain a natural circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle). Staying cooped up inside all day can send mixed signals to your body about when you should be sleeping and when you should be awake.

Bedtime Routine

A regular and relaxing bedtime routine should be part of your sleep hygiene habits. A regular nightly routine signals to your mind and your body that it is time to sleep. Chose to do something that is relaxing to you about 90 minutes before you plan to go to sleep. Make sure that you follow your routine every night so it becomes a habit.

Your routine could include taking a warm bath, meditation, listening to calm music, reading a book (not on a device), or going for a short walk. Make brushing your teeth, washing your face, and putting on your pajamas part of your routine. Try to go to bed at a similar time each night as well as waking up at the same time each morning. Regular sleep hours means that your body will learn to regulate your circadian rhythm better.

Go to bed when your body signals sleepiness. Trying to push past your body’s initial desire to sleep can actually make it harder for you to fall asleep. Also, sleep only when you feel sleepy. Don’t force yourself to sleep if you aren’t ready, as this will make you feel frustrated and delay sleep even more.

Get out of bed if you can’t fall asleep after 20 to 30 minutes of trying. Do something boring such as reading an appliance manual or try something relaxing such as drinking a cup of warm milk or listening to calming music. Go back to bed when you start to feel sleepy.

Another barrier to good sleep hygiene is worrying while you try to fall asleep. As odd as it sounds, try to schedule some worry time earlier in the evening. You can write down what’s worrying you and try to think of solutions before you try to sleep. 

Julia Higginson

Updated October 10th 2017


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