The importance of “sleep hygiene”
A good night’s sleep is essential for physiological functions including:
- Allowing the nervous system to recover
- Having sufficient energy and alertness for function
- Memory clarity
- Immune system function
- An efficient cardiovascular system
- Endocrine/hormone systems that regulate metabolism working well
Individuals who suffer from insomnia are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease, weight gain, and type II diabetes. Headaches and chronic pain may also be aggravated.
The amount, quality and timing of sleep are all determined by many everyday activities and attitudes.
Tips to help
The aim of sleep hygiene is to translate biology into practical advice
- Change the room environment – so that the bed is comfortable and the room is warm, quiet and dark;
- A comfortable mattress, and bedding that prevents tossing and turning during the night
- The bedroom should be as dark as possible. Heavy, thick, and dark curtains can assist with blocking out streetlight and noise.
- Temperatures below or above 18°C can cause awakening. The idealambient temperature is 18°C.
- Remove any disruptive items from the bedroom e.g. clocks, mobile phones, and radios.
- Do not allow children and pets in your bed as this can result in fragmented and less restful sleep.
The brain can associate areas (i.e. the bedroom) with activities (i.e. sleeping). This association needs to be reinforced.
- Don’t use the bedroom as the lounge room. Leave knitting, reading, computer work, watching television, and making phone calls outside
- Use your bedroom only for intimacy and sleeping
- Retrain the body’s circadian rhythms after bouts of insomnia
- Moderate-intensity physical activity of about 30 minutes during the day can be very effective at alleviating insomnia.
- But don’t exercise within 3 hours of going to bed, as exercise increases alertness during and for 3 hours after
- Prepare for teh evening by winding down or taking a warm bath
- Have regular times for meals and going to bed
- Avoid napping
- Reduce caffeine and other stimulants late in the day
- Change the timing of drinks or diuretics to reduce the need for night-time urination
- Exposure to natural light during the day helps melatonin production and synchronising circadian rhythms.
- Regiment times for going to bed, waking up, and getting out of bed to tune your “body clock” to the sleep-wake cycle.
- “Morning people” can sleep longer – go to bed earlier, while “night people” – sleep later into the morning.
- A warm bath prior to bedtime causes the body’s temperature to rise and then fall stimulating rest.
Meditation and progressive muscle relaxation techniques can assist with relieving muscle tension, anxiety and stress, as these can prevent the onset of sleep. Or maybe write down your thoughts, concerns and “to do” lists, prior to going to bed. Yoga, Pilates, and deep-breathing exercises are also good rituals prior to bed, as these activities relax both body and mind.
- A diary can help you gain greater insight into your cycles but should only be kept for a short period (1-2 weeks).
- Avoid using alcohol as it increases the need for night-time urination, causes fragmented sleep and an earlier morning wake-up. It also exacerbates snoring and apnoea.
- Avoid high protein foods in the evenings as they contain the amino acid tyrosine that promotes wakefulness.
- Hunger can keep one awake so eat an adequate meal in the evening. Large meals can cause reflux and heartburn that can drive wakefulness.
- Smokers sleep less well due to nicotine effects. Quitting smoking helps.