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Sleep Hygiene

Photo by: CarbonNYC

People have different reasons for not getting enough sleep – stress with school, family problems, or work-related issues. Other times, lack of sleep is caused by a sleep disorder, which breaks and disrupts sleep in many ways. And it has significant negative effects on one’s quality of life and health. Sleep deprivation can also put one at risk for serious medical problems. Identifying the causes of sleeplessness and subsequently implementing lifestyle changes will help protect you from daytime exhaustion and health problems.

A lot of times people experience the after effects of sleep loss such as exhaustion, lack of concentration, forgetfulness, clumsiness, and irritability. A person’s overall functioning and feeling during the day reflect how well a person slept the night before. In the same light, some remedies for sleep problems result from one’s daily lifestyle choices and they can make a huge difference in the quality of sleep.

Sleep Hygiene Practices

The following sleep habits, also named sleep hygiene can help optimize one’s nightly rest in order to be productive, focused, refreshed, emotionally stable, and physically energetic throughout the next day:

  • No napping during the day as this disturbs the normal sleep pattern (possibly except up to 1 hour siesta after lunch).
  • No stimulants (caffeine, nicotine, etc.), or alcohol. These should not be taken close to sleeping time.
  • No heavy meals before bedtime.
  • Not sleep with an empty stomach.
  • No heavy exercising before bedtime. Usual energetic exercises should be completed at least 4-6 hours before bedtime.
  • Remove anything that adds to light and noise in the bedroom at night. Keeping the room dim, quiet, with comfortable room temperature and with relaxing music can set the right mood for sleeping.
  • Practice relaxation exercises like yoga, meditation, deep breathing, light stretching or a winding down routine before going to sleep.
  • Avoid stressful activities and conversations before going to bed. The subconscious might pick up on these thoughts and cause sleep disruption.
  • Keeping a regular bedtime and wake up time every day including weekends and holidays.
  • Use the bed ONLY for sex and sleep and not for other activities like watching TV, reading, surfing internet, listening to the radio, texting, etc.

Keeping a Sleep Diary

Some sleep specialists also recommend keeping a sleep diary where all sleep habits and patterns will be recorded. The diary should contain the following information:

  • What time you go to bed?
  • What time you wake up?
  • What time you wake up during the night, how many times, how long does it take to fall back asleep?
  • How much alcohol, caffeine, and cigarette were consumed and at what times?
  • What time you had your meal, what food you ate and beverages you drank?
  • Any emotion or stress experienced during the day, and what time?
  • Any drugs or medicine taken and what time they were taken?

The sleep diary may contain more than the information listed above. Any information that might be associated with having sleep problems should be included. This will help the doctor or the sleep specialist to identify the possible triggers to the sleep problem.

Sleep Hygiene for Travelers

A common problem of frequent travelers is jet lag. The change in time zones causes disruption in the body’s biological clock and the difficulties in adjusting to the new time zone results to sleep disturbance. There are ways to minimize the effects of jet lag on one’s sleeping pattern:

  • Condition the mind and body to the change in time zone when you make the trip by adjusting your sleeping and waking up schedule according to the time zone of your destination a week or so before the scheduled travel date.
  • Adjusting your watch to destination time as soon as you board the plane.
  • If possible, select a flight that arrives in the destination early evening.
  • Do not take alcohol or caffeine for 3 – 4 hours before bedtime at your destination.
  • No heavy exercising before bedtime.
  • Use earplugs and blindfolds to mask outside noise and lighting while sleeping.
  • Don’t stay indoors most of the time as this worsens the jet lag.
  • Make arrangements with the hotel for voice mail services and let them handle all your calls.
  • Request wake-up calls from the hotel staff.
  • Some people find use of melatonin to induce sleep helpful.

A change in the environment, i.e., time zone, requires the body and mind some time to adjust. By allowing the mind and body to prepare early for such anticipated change, the adjustments will be less when you are actually in the new time zone area.

Sleep Hygiene for Older Adults

As people age, there are normal changes in the sleeping patterns – sleeping and waking up earlier, and feeling rested even with less deep sleep. However, if less sleep becomes disturbing and disruptive to daily functions, it is not any more a normal part of aging. And just as good sleep is important to younger people, so it is as equally important to senior people as it helps maintain good concentration and memory function, refreshes the immune system, and allows the body to recover from the effects of cell damage that happened during the day. The following sleep hygiene tips can help alleviate age-related sleep problems to have better sleep at night:

  • Limit caffeine intake late in the day. Avoid caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolate.
  • Don’t take alcoholic beverages before sleeping because alcohol disrupts sleep.
  • Keep stomach satisfied before sleeping. Light snacks like crackers, cereal, and warm milk may help having a good night sleep.
  • Do not eat big meals or spicy foods before bedtime. Spicy food can cause indigestion and stomach discomfort. The best is eating dinner at least three hours before sleeping.
  • Reduce intake of liquid before sleeping to minimize middle of night bathroom visits. Drinking liquid should be limited an hour and a half before sleeping.

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