Sleep hygiene refers to a set of recommended practices and habits that help to promote good sleep. Following the recommendations can help people maximize the hours they spend asleep, even in cases of jet lag, shift work or insomnia.
Having good quality sleep is essential for maintaining both physical and mental health and can improve performance at work or school, as well as the overall quality of life. People of any age can benefit from healthy sleeping habits and quality sleep.
Signs of poor sleep hygiene
The most obvious signs that someone has poor sleep hygiene are frequently disrupted sleep and drowsiness and/or lack of alertness throughout the day. People may also take a long time to fall asleep.
Just following a few simple rules can make the difference between a restless and a restful sleep. People who find they are tossing and turning a lot at night while they try to sleep may benefit from following the rules below:
- Set a regular bedtime: Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. The bedtime and wake-up time should not vary by more than twenty minutes from day to day.
- Make bedtime relaxing: Regularly engaging in a relaxing activity before bedtime helps the body to recognize that it is time for bed. Take a warm shower, read a book, meditate or carry out light stretching exercises before going to bed and try to avoid any emotional upsets.
- Limit or avoid napping in the day time: Although a quick nap for 20 minutes or so can lift the mood and increase performance levels during the daytime, naps do not make up for poor quality sleep during the night. Each person needs a certain amount of sleep and napping may decrease the “sleep debt” that is required to trigger sleep onset.
- Don’t stay in bed after 5 to 10 minutes of sleeplessness: If you find your mind “racing” or you are worrying about not managing to sleep, it is better to get out of bed and sit down in a comfortable chair to do some uiet repetitive activity, preferably in the dark. The mind should not be stimulated so it is not wise to use the TV or internet at this time.
- Avoid caffeine: The stimulant effect of caffeine can last for several hours after it is ingested and can lead to fragmented sleep, as well as difficulty getting to sleep. This also applies to nicotine.
- Avoid excess alcohol: Moderation is the key when it comes to alcohol. Although a small amount of alcohol may help people fall asleep, an excess of alcohol too near to bedtime can cause sleep disturbances later in the night when the body starts to process the alcohol.
- Avoid certain foods: Foods rich in fat or spices can trigger indigestion in some people, which can lead to heartburn while they are trying to sleep. This also applies to citrus fruits and carbonated drinks.
- Ensure adequate exposure to daylight: Exposure to sunlight in the day time and a dark environment at night time helps to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle. This is especially important for people who spend most of their time indoors and do not go out regularly.
- Exercise regularly: Exercise moderately and regularly, but do it earlier on in the day (before 2pm), since exercise promotes continuous sleep. Do not exercise strenuously before going to bed, since this can trigger the release of endorphins that interfere with a person’s ability to fall asleep. Just 10 minutes of aerobic exercise including walking can help improve a person’s quality of sleep.
- Ensure the bedroom is quiet and comfortable: The bedroom should be a comfortable temperature; TV, mobile phones and bright lamps should be off; pets that wake you up should be kept out of the bedroom and the room should be dark. The mattress and pillows should also be comfortable. It may be helpful to use blackout curtains, ear plugs, and eye shades.
Reviewed by Liji Thomas, MD