No, this isn't about how clean you are when you go to sleep. Sorry. Sleep hygiene is the term used for healthy sleeping habits. These healthy sleep habits are intended to give you the best opportunity to maximize your sleep results.
Good sleep requires rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. We require certain amounts of REM sleep in order to function normally.
Most sufferers of bad sleep are not aware of it. They have gotten acclimated to not feeling well and may think that the way they feel is normal. All the while, sleep is causing them difficulty.
If you are not getting enough REM sleep you may experience any of the following:
If you feel you are having sleep issues, or if you have any of the above symptoms, especially accompanied by snoring, waking up gasping for air, trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up in the morning, you should visit your primary care physician and ask about getting a sleep study. A sleep study will tell you the quality of your sleep and how much time you spent in REM.
Without a sleep study, there are many things you can do to naturally improve your brains ability to fall into sleep and stay asleep.
Follow these steps for the greatest chance for restful sleep:
The temperature of your sleep environment is very important. Studies show that a temperature between 66-68 is optimal for restful sleep. If you are too warm you might not wake up to notice but it still impacted the quality of sleep.
Make sure that your sleep environment is free from lights. This includes the light from alarm clocks, street lamps, or the sun.
If you sleep next to an alarm, flip it so that the light doesn't shine out from it. Invest in some curtains to keep street light to a minimum.
THE BED IS FOR SLEEP
Don't use your bed for anything except sleep and sex. Using the bed for anything else will train your brain that the bed isn't necessarily for sleeping. This can make it more difficult to slow down your thoughts and trigger your brains natural sleep routine.
Once you lay down to go to sleep don't look at what time it is. Knowing how long you have laid in bed or knowing that you only have so much more time to sleep causes anxiety. Once the anxiety and frustration of not being able to sleep yet another night sets in, falling asleep is going to be twice as hard.
If you roll around for what feels like twenty minutes or so, get up without looking at the time. When you return to bed do so without checking the time.
If you have rolled around for what feels like twenty minutes get out of bed. Laying there any longer will only cause further aggravation.
Get up and do something that is constructive but not too difficult. Reading is a great option but try and stay away from TV's or other electronics. When the feeling of tiredness returns go back and lay down.
The brain's natural sleep-wake cycle revolves around ques from the sun. The brain doesn't know the difference between the sun and most of your electronic devices such as TV's, computers or phones.
The light from these devices simulates the sun to your natural cycle and keeps your brain from producing melatonin and other sleep inducing chemicals.
Stay away from these kinds of devices for at least thirty minutes prior to starting your bedtime routine.
We can condition our brains to start to feel sleepy and to slow down brain activity. To condition yourself, start to keep the same routine for 30 minutes prior to going to bed. This could include setting out clothes for the next day, using the bathroom and brushing your teeth.
Whatever your routine is, keep it the same everyday and then go right to bed.
KEEP TO A SCHEDULE
Your sleep-wake cycle gets used to time of day. Keeping your sleep to a specific schedule helps your brain to know when it is supposed to sleep and when it is supposed to wake up.
Try to go to bed and wake up everyday at about the same time. After a few weeks of keeping to a schedule you should start to notice you feel more rested.
SCHEDULE WORRY TIME
Schedule time to worry about things. This will keep you from doing the worrying once you lay down in bed.
If you haven't spent enough time worrying and thinking about life your brain will take up the first chance it can get to do this. This is especially true if you are too busy during your day to stop and really think about important events and upcoming tasks in your life. Your brain is going to take time to worry about things – if you haven't slowed down and done it before bed time it's going to happen when you lay down.
A healthy diet, free from caffeine, can help you to get the REM sleep that you deserve. Even hours after the effects of caffeine have worn off it will still impact your ability to fall into REM sleep. Avoid caffeinated beverages, especially after 4pm.
In addition to impacting your REM sleep, caffeine also increases anxiety. Anxiety in turn can increase the amount of worry that you do when you lay down for bed.
It is also important to have all of the vitamins and minerals that your body craves. Try to eat portions of healthy greens and fresh fruits. If your diet is lacking, try a multivitamin.
THE SLEEP MINDSET
Do you remember the last time you got to take a half a day? When you crawl home and curl up under those soft and warm sheets – can you remember that wonderful feeling of bliss? Its a feeling that seems as tho you would pay almost any price to stay in bed.
Practice this mindset by trying to lay down in the middle of a very tired day. Take note of the way you think and the way you are aware of the way it feels to lay down. How do the sheets feel? How does it feel to lay your head down on your pillow? How does it feel to finally close your eyes and forget about all of your work?
Bring this mindset with you when you go to bed at night and you will have much more success falling asleep. For some reason, night time becomes stressful instead of blissful because we forget how wonderful it really feels to have time to rest.
I STILL CANT SLEEP
If you have been working on a healthy sleep hygiene but am still having trouble sleeping - consider trying a melatonin supplement. Melatonin is a chemical that is naturally produced in your body and it triggers your brain to begin the sleep cycle. Consult your physician if you have any questions about melatonin
Written by Brad Messenger, LMSW.