Sleep 101: Sleep Hygiene
One of the first questions you must answer when you have any kind of insomnia issue is: Am I practicing good sleep hygiene? Sleep hygiene is a term covering all the aspects of protecting and enabling good sleep, and it’s as important to an insomniac as brushing and flossing is to dental health. Check the list below and descriptions to determine of you could be taking better care of your sleep.
Elements of Sleep Hygiene
Temperature: Is your room too hot or cold?
Disturbances: Do children, pets, a snoring or fidgety spouse, barking dogs, partying neighbors, or other kinds of noise or motion wake you up once or more in the night?
Comfort: Is your bed or your pillow not right for you? Are your sheets scratchy or do you wake up numb or in pain due to a hard or overly soft mattress?
Light: Does your room have too much light? Sources could be streetlights or sunlight from outside or light sources inside such as an alarm clock or a night light.
Multi-tasking: Do you bring non-sleep activities into your bedroom sanctuary, thus putting yourself into a wakeful state in bed? Examples: checking email on your laptop in bed, watching TV in bed, planning your tasks for work tomorrow.
Activity: Do you exercise or otherwise get yourself energized within two hours of bedtime?
Food: Do you eat dinner within two hours of bed or have rich foods for dinner that cause heartburn or indigestion during the night?
Hydration: Do you over-hydrate close to bedtime, resulting in trips to the bathroom in the night?
Alcohol: Do you need to reduce your alcohol intake due to the sleep disturbances it causes, or reduce alcohol within two hours of bedtime?
Caffeine: Do you drink more than the equivalent of one cup of coffee per day? Do you consume any caffeinated items within four hours of bedtime?
Medications: Do you take medications that cause alertness, anxiety or sleeplessness? If so, can these be taken early in your day?
Exercise: Do you get at least 20 minutes of exercise each day? Do you get strenuous exercise at least three times each week?
Relaxation: Do you take time to relax, breathe freely, enjoy looking at a beautiful scene, listening to music or just sitting in peaceful silence each day?
Schedule: Do you vary your bedtime and wakeup times each day rather than treating your body to a regular sleep schedule?
Circadian rhythms: Do you stay up later than 10 p.m. most nights?
Many of these areas combine to prevent good sleep, although any one problem in this list could be the sole cause of ongoing insomnia. If your room consistently gets too hot and stuffy around 3 a.m., your sleep will suffer, either by becoming less relaxing or by ending when you wake up overheated.
If you said yes to any of the questions above – good news! You may be able to solve your sleep problems just by changing some habits. Choose one or two that seem like the worst culprits and adjust your habits. Then see if that helps. If so, you can continue “cleaning up” your sleep hygiene until insomnia no longer bothers you.
If, however, your sleep hygiene is impeccable, if you said “no way!” to every item in the list above, and you still aren’t getting the sleep you need, you will need to do some more digging to determine what interferes with your needed sleep.
But don’t worry – this website is here to help people like you!
Your Sleeping Sanctuary
For those who have suffered from insomnia for more than a few nights in a row, you want to make sure your sleep space is a magical place of relaxation and happy dreams. You want worries and disturbances to stay outside the sacred sleep space in your bedroom.
Establishing an insurmountable barrier between the bad outside your room and the magic world inside makes all the difference. You become your own army defending the castle when you absolutely refuse any sleep-killers into your sacred space.
The sleep-killers are all of the disturbances and bad habits described in this article on sleep hygiene. However, you can go beyond defending the castle from these annoyances by turning the castle itself into your dream space. The question is, what does that look like for you?
Perhaps you would like drapes around your bed, making your sleep experience extra cozy and dark. You could decorate your room entirely blue – a cool, soothing color. You could install special lights under your bed, to give the effect of having a flying bed. You might affix glow-in-the-dark stars to your ceiling and watch them until you can’t keep your eyes open any longer.
Some people turn their bedrooms into pages from a storybook like Where the Wild Things Are.
Imagine trees on the walls around your bed – you could fall asleep in a deep forest each night. Perhaps an adjustable bed with vibration settings would help rock you to sleep in your cradle each night.
Lie in bed one night and think about what relaxes you. What imagery comforts you – is it a tropical beach? A snow-covered mountain cabin with a glowing fireplace? Is it a hot tub? A campfire, a hammock, or a spa? Is it a purring kitten or some other kind of animal? A sunset? A city view from a high-rise? Christmas lights? A candle? Is it an outdoor scene or a relaxing man-made environment? Once you find your relaxing imagery, tap into it while you design your bedroom sanctuary.
See these bedroom lighting ideas for inspiration.
How have you turned your bedroom into a magical space? Share your creative ideas below.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
If you frequently feel tired during the day, doze off during meetings or get drowsy behind the wheel, you may not be getting enough sleep. Of course you have to know how much sleep your body needs before you know if you are getting enough. According to the National Sleep Foundation, most adults need 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep per night. Younger adults generally require slightly more, and as we age, studies show we need just as much sleep; we just don't tend to get it.
These averages can vary for individuals and even will vary for one person in different life stages, activity and stress levels. Just like you want to read the owner’s manual for your new car to find out all the cool features and maintenance requirements, you need to read the manual for your body. Every body is different, so what works for one body may be disastrous for another.
When the doctor delivers a fresh newborn, unfortunately he does not also deliver the accompanying manual wrapped up with the swaddled babe. The poor child will have to spend a lifetime learning how this inherited piece of machinery functions and building the care manual alone. The parents may say things like, “Be careful – diabetes runs in our family” or “You may develop sleep apnea thanks to your father's genes” and so on. Those tips help start the process of building a Body Owner’s Manual, but most of the information will come from trial and error and observation.
When it comes to sleep requirements, you can figure out what your body needs by performing an experiment. Below are two ways you might test this.
Go on vacation and perform this test when you don’t have to get up at any specific time. Go to
bed when you feel like it, then see what time you wake up feeling rested and ready to go. After at least three nights, average the number of hours you slept.
Again while on vacation, go to bed at 9 or 10 p.m. each night. Choose one and stick with it for at least three nights. Sleep until you naturally awaken and feel rested. Average the number of hours for the three nights.
Once you know your sleep number (in hours per night, that is), you will then know when you feel tired day after day whether sleep deficit is to blame. If you cannot get enough sleep due to insomnia, you can then take steps to get your body’s required number of hours each night.
Need help with chronic insomnia? See the many resources on the DREAMSLEEP website.
We are here to help!