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What Is Sleep Hygiene?

What Is Sleep Hygiene?

Insomnia is a very common disorder affecting almost one in every ten adults. It is estimated that in the US alone, close to 50 million people may have chronic insomnia. Difficulty getting a good night’s sleep is more common for women compared to men. Also, as people age, the rates of insomnia also increase.

Common Symptoms of Insomnia

The following symptoms are usually present in people with insomnia:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Waking up frequently in the middle of the night and having great difficulty falling back to sleep
  • Not feeling refreshed after sleeping
  • Frequently waking too early in the morning
  • Always feeling tired and exhausted

Problems associated with insomnia

Insomnia may be a short term or long term problem, but in both cases, it can severely affect a person's quality of life. Not being able to sleep well can lead to many problems, including:
  • Heart disease
  • Difficulty concentrating at work or school
  • Difficulty with interpersonal and interprofessional relationships
  • Constant fatigue
  • Constant day time napping
  • Irritability
  • Mood changes

What causes insomnia?

There are many causes of insomnia that include:

  • Stress
  • Job loss
  • Loss of a family member
  • Use of medications
  • Illness
  • Moving
  • Pain
  • Mental or physical illness
  • Lack of exercise
  • Environmental factors such as extremes of temperature, too much light or noise
  • Constant travel and having difficulty adjusting to the regular sleep-wake cycle

How is insomnia treated?

Despite the fact that insomnia affects millions of people and can adversely affect the quality of life, there is no good treatment available.

Medicines that are currently available may be effective in some patients, but they are associated with significant adverse effects. Many patients become physically dependent on these drugs and often become addicted to them. Most of these prescription medications have significant side effects and can be very expensive. Several types of behavioral therapies are also used to treat insomnia, but these therapies are by no means cheap, and require many sessions and usually only work in a few people whose insomnia is primarily due to stress.

Also, most of the therapies that are currently available for insomnia only work for a short time, and the development of tolerance is quite common. Therefore, more and more experts are now recommending a new approach to treating insomnia - by developing good sleep hygiene.

Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene is a change in lifestyle that helps promote good sleeping habits, which eventually results in a good night's sleep. Developing sleep hygiene is not a one-shot deal but requires a commitment to make changes in your lifestyle. There are numerous benefits of maintaining good sleep hygiene, but the most important benefit is that one can get a good night's sleep without the use of medications or other sleeping aids.

In addition, good sleep hygiene is also much more cost effective and safe compared to other therapies for insomnia.

Here are some tips for developing good sleep hygiene:

1. Fix a proper sleep time: Having a proper sleep routine can really help improve your overall sleep pattern. Start by going to sleep and getting up at the same time. You should set up your own body's sleep schedule. Keep a wake-up alarm so that you can establish a routine. This way, your sleep time will become a habit and will occur every day, even weekends and holidays. Once you develop a routine of going to sleep and getting up at the same time, you will note that the sleep you get is more restful. You will feel fresh and alert in the morning.

2. Look forward to sleep: People who find it difficult to sleep or spend their nights tossing and turning begin to hate the idea of sleeping altogether as it becomes so challenging for them. This negative view of sleep can make people dread the idea of going to bed even if they are tired. This can be a major mistake and can actually make your sleep pattern worse. Just like you need food to stop your hunger pangs, your brain needs sleep to re-energize itself. Therefore, make sure you have a positive outlook towards sleep. While your body may be physically resting during sleep, the brain is busy rejuvenating and refurbishing all the supplies for your daily needs. Once you focus on your sleep hygiene, you will see that your sleep will automatically improve and you won’t toss and turn the whole night.

3. Avoid afternoon naps. Do not get in the habit of taking afternoon naps as this can disrupt your sleep-wake cycle. If you must take a nap in the day time, make sure it is no more than 30 minutes. Avoid napping in the afternoon or evening. The longer the nap, the more likely you will have a hard time falling asleep. We know the theory that napping for 10 minutes during the day can be really helpful, but if you have difficulty sleeping at night, that is the problem you need to fix first. Once your sleep is normalized, you can take a 10-minute nap in the early afternoon. But till that happens, try to sleep during the night only.

what is sleep hygiene4. Make your bedroom nice and cozy: Your bedroom should be a place to sleep. One very common reason why people can't sleep is because the bedroom is full of distractions like the TV, radio, computer, food, clutter, too much furniture, etc. Get rid of all these things from your bedroom. Keep it nice, simple, and spacious. This is a place where you come to sleep, not to eat or watch TV. The fewer the distractions in your bedroom, the better sleep you will get. If there is light penetrating through the windows, install curtains. Keep the room temperature a little on the cool side; if it’s too hot or too cold, you might find it difficult to sleep. Finally, limit the amount of noise both from inside and outside the bedroom. If you cannot eliminate the noise, use earplugs, or have a fan running to muffle the noise. Do not ruin your sleep by using your cell phone when you get into bed. There is no need to update your social media status at that time or reply to emails or messages when it’s supposed to be your sleep time. The world will not end. Sleep comes first. Unless you are a surgeon or a law enforcement officer, there is no reason to have a cellphone in the bedroom. These devices are always ringing at odd times and can prevent sleep. In addition, the blue light emitted from cell phones can alter the sleep-wake cycle.

5. Find the right mattress and pillow: This may seem trivial but can have a significant impact on the quality of your sleep. Make sure your bed is comfortable and the right size. You should have a pillow and mattress that are comfortable to sleep on. There are many options available these days. Choose one that suits your needs.

6. Don't eat before bedtime: One major reason why some people can’t sleep is because they eat a heavy meal just before bedtime. Keep in mind that any food that you consume has to be digested, absorbed, and broken down. If you eat too late at night, your intestine will remain active. In addition, there is a good chance that eating a heavy meal and then lying down soon after can result in reflux of acids, which can cause coughing and interrupt your sleep. Make sure that the last meal of the day is a few hours before sleep. If you are really very hungry, have a light snack. Similarly, avoid drinking stimulants like coffee and alcohol just before bedtime. These beverages are notorious for keeping people awake. In fact, the less coffee and alcohol you drink, the better it is for your overall health — the best beverage to quench thirst before bedtime is water.

7. Become physically active: To develop good sleep hygiene, it is very important to be physically active during the day. If you have an office job where you sit on your desk the whole day, join a gym. Buy a treadmill. Or go for a swim. Whatever you do, make sure you have a daily exercise routine. This doesn't mean running a marathon every weekend but simply regular exercise. You may want to walk for 45-60 minutes every day, swim, bicycle, do some gardening or join a fitness club. This physical activity should be undertaken early in the day or at least 3-4 hours prior to bedtime. Following the physical activity, take a shower. You will see how good you feel, and you automatically be inclined to sleep.

8. Read or relax: One of the best ways to have a great sleep is to read a book just before bedtime. Some people may want to listen to light music or perform some type of relaxing activity like yoga. Do this for about 30 minutes before bedtime, and you will see how easy it is to go to sleep once you put your head on the pillow.

9. Get rid of stress: We know this is easier said than done, but it is a fact that many people can’t fall asleep because of negative thoughts, worries, or having distracting thoughts. To relax your mind, try some stress relieving activities before bedtime like yoga or deep breathing. if you are worried about something that won't let you sleep, make a list of things that you need to do in the morning that could potentially solve that problem. But resolve it in your head and do not take these worries to bed or you won’t be able to sleep.

10. Don’t force sleep: If for some reason, you can't fall asleep or do not feel sleepy, do not force yourself into sleep. If after 20 minutes, you are still struggling to sleep, get up, and do an activity that is relaxing, like reading or listening to music. However avoid drinking any beverage because this will induce the urge to urinate a few hours later, and totally ruin your sleep. Do not watch the clock frequently. If the clock is distracting, turn it around.

11. Treat the pain, if any: Pain is one condition that will prevent sleep. If you are having acute pain such as a headache, joint pain, or pain because of an injury, take an over the counter pain medicine before bedtime. If the pain persists and prevents sleep, you may need to see your healthcare provider to determine the cause. You may need a prescription strength pain killer. But the important thing is to resolve this; otherwise, you will not be able to sleep properly, and the pain will likely bother you during the day as well.

12. Manage any chronic conditions: If you have any chronic medical disorder like diabetes or high blood pressure, make sure that these disorders are well controlled, that you remain compliant with the medications and follow up regularly with your healthcare provider. Maintaining good health is very important for good sleep.

13. Manage a snoring partner: Some people are unable to sleep because their partner snores. Obviously, you cannot end relationships because of this, but you will have to find a solution because you also need sleep to survive. You can try earplugs; or a fan sound. If that doesn’t work, you could always sleep in different rooms if you really have very disturbed sleep.

14. Do not sleep with children or pets: If you have pets and little children, have them sleep in a different room. In most cases, children and pets tend to have a different sleep-wake cycle and by sleeping in one room, you will not only disrupt your night but theirs too. It is thus recommended that children should always sleep in their room, and pets should also have their own personal sleeping space.

Developing good sleep hygiene is not as difficult as it seems. It only involves certain changes in your lifestyle – changes that will actually make you healthier and more alert. Do not try to incorporate all the above ideas overnight. Start slow, and as you improve your sleep hygiene, you will start to sleep better.

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