Tips To Improve Your Sleep Hygiene

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Most people don’t think about sleep hygiene (the activities in which you engage prior to sleep). But if you've found yourself tossing and turning all night, exhausted the next day, always yawning and sluggish, the bad news is that there may be myriad reasons why your sleep might be out of whack. However, the good news is that there are many ways to get your sleep health on the right track. 

Sleep professionals agree unanimously that we can’t compensate for lost sleep. We can’t pull an all-nighter tonight and "catch up" by sleeping late tomorrow. Research shows that extra sleep has little effect on the cognitive damage already done. Sleep deprivation impacts productivity, cognitive processing, and social awareness, and that damage is cumulative. So, instead of feeling energized, the extra snoozing leaves us sluggish, often noticeably. It's been called “social jetlag.”  

While most people do know that getting a good night’s sleep is important for one's overall health, most don’t have a routine or practices to guarantee they get the most out of sleep time. These steps, some behavioral, some physiological releases, and some mental energy work, are known as sleep hygiene. They can range from establishing a regular sleep schedule to avoiding caffeinated beverages in the evening to baths and herbs. And best of all, they're within our reach.

And, even though some people can function with less-than-ideal sleep habits, they won't reap the benefits of those who keep good sleep hygiene. Research has shown that those who follow good sleep hygiene enjoy many benefits, including improved moods, decreased stress levels, and better cognitive function.  

One important note is that sometimes people can suffer from sleep disorders like sleep apnea and be unaware of them. If you find yourself plagued with daytime fatigue, constantly yawning, losing focus, or forgetful despite sleeping for 7 to 9 hours, you may not be getting quality sleep. If you feel you may have a sleep disorder, talk to your doctor about your symptoms.

In a recent blog postDr. Nikola Djordjevic, MD, commented, “There are numerous ways in which you can improve your sleeping routine, including fixing the bedtime to a specific hour, getting some daily exercise, and avoiding foods that are difficult to digest at least 3 hours before bedtime.”

Before opting for melatonin supplements or over-the-counter medications to ease sleep troubles, consider some of our better sleep tips below:

Keep Your Bedroom Dark
Our brain is conditioned to sleep when it’s dark because our circadian rhythm regulates the body’s internal clock. Circadian rhythm is influenced by natural light. Bright lights prevent the secretion of the sleep hormone melatonin. Insufficient or delayed onset of melatonin disrupts sleep. Keeping our bedroom dark promotes melatonin secretion, necessary for a good night’s sleep.

Limit Exposure to Blue Light Before Bedtime
Avoid screen time at least 1 hour before bedtime. Stay away from blue light sources such as TVs, laptops, tablets, e-readers, cell phones, and other electronic devices. Blue lights make your brain believe it’s daytime, preventing melatonin secretion and delaying sleep.

Set Your Bedroom Temperature To Maximum Cozy
Our body temperature fluctuates throughout the day. It peaks in the afternoon and gradually drops at night. Setting your bedroom temperature comfortably cool (68 degrees comes up most commonly, though it varies by person) keeps it in sync with your body temperature at night and prevents sleep disruption.

Avoid Clutter in Your Bedroom
Sleeping in a messy bedroom can increase anxiety, disrupting sleep. According to a 2015 study conducted by New York’s St. Lawrence University, people who have more clutter in their bedrooms take longer to fall asleep than those with neat and tidy rooms.

Take a Warm Bath or Shower Before Going to Bed
Taking a warm bath or shower before bed causes your body to heat up, and once you step out of the bathroom, your body naturally cools down. This process of cooling can help to prepare your body for sleep.

Practice some relaxation techniques before bed
There are a whole bunch of ways to help you clear your mind and prepare for sleep - phone apps, music or scenic audio, meditation, etc. It could be a good time to hone or just pick up a meditation practice.  Or, maybe just download a relaxation app.

Follow a Sleep Routine or Pattern
Follow a relaxing set of activities 30 to 45 minutes before sleep every night. The ritual can include brushing teeth, reading a book, writing a daily diary, or doing breathing exercises, and having an herbal tea. These daily routines signal your brain it’s time to sleep, and repeating these every night creates a Pavlovian response-- your brain will realize it's time to wind down.
Avoid Stimulants In the Late Afternoon
Caffeine is a stimulant that keeps you awake, which is why it works best as a breakfast drink. Drinking caffeinated beverages after 2 pm can make it harder to fall asleep at night. And, remember, sodas and teas have caffeine, too. Other things that contain stimulants and might affect our ability to sleep including cigarettes and certain medications. If you believe that a medication might be affecting your ability to sleep, please consult your doctor.
Avoid a Heavy Dinner
You need more time to digest a spicy or large meal. Undigested food can trigger acid reflux, causing sleep disruptions. It’s best to eat a light meal 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. This gives enough time for your body to digest and for your metabolism to slow down.
Avoid Alcohol
If you drink in the evening, do not drink heavily (always a good rule), and try to have your last sip at least 2-3 hours prior to sleep. Alcohol is one of the most frequent and common sleep-disruptors and disturbs the architecture of sleep similary to sleep apnea. You will not reach the deep REM sleep that is the most restorative.
Exercise in the Morning
Exercise energizes you immediately and promotes good health. It helps your circadian clock to stay consistent and helps to build up enough sleep drive (a “hunger” for sleep) by night. Avoid strenuous exercises right before bedtime because it’s difficult to get sleep when you feel too stimulated.
While sleep may seem like something we can push off to make time for other things, going without it can have long-term impacts on our health. When developing a sleep schedule, consider your age, your immediate sleep environment, lifestyle habits, and any medical conditions to determine how many hours of sleep you should get each night. We understand that implementing sleep-healthy habits and integrating them into our lives can be extremely daunting. Hopefully, though, this post has given you a good place to start.
Dr. Mark L. Meyer Dr. Meyer graduated from Haverford College with a Bachelor of Science, High Honors, in cellular and molecular biology, Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude. He attended the Yale University School of Medicine, where he also completed a categorical residency in Internal Medicine, served for one year as an Emergency Department attending physician, and held the title of Clinical Instructor in the Department of Surgery. During this time, Dr. Meyer obtained a J.D. from the Yale Law School, concentrating on medical ethics, scientific research law, and FDA law. He then completed a fellowship in Cardiovascular Diseases at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where he obtained Level 3 Nuclear Cardiology training.

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