A Comprehensive Checklist- Sleep Hygeine Tips

May 2, 2018

 Here's a compilation of all of the best sleep hygeine tips, starting with the simplest and getting more complex as your read:

 

Avoiding stimulants like caffeine and nicotine after 4pm.

 

Avoid using depressants like alcohol to help you fall asleep. They only help you feel sleepy, while simultaneously wrecking the quality of your sleep and making it harder for your to learn how to fall asleep without sedative help.

 

Some supplements such as Magnesium and the combination of Calcium and vitamin D have been proven to aid with sleep without any adverse side effects. St. John's Wort has also been proven to aid with sleep, but some researchers question if there might be adverse side effects.

 

Exercise 30 minutes per day- but know that as little as 10 minutes of aerobic (high heart rate) exercise has been proven to improve sleep quality. Important note: avoid doing this right before bed. Workout at least 3 hours before you go to sleep for best results.

 

Stretch- This is proven to aid in relaxation and blood flow, both of which will help you drift off. You can YouTube or Google specific yoga positions that are helpful to use in bed as you fall asleep.

 

Eat (and avoid) the right foods before bed- avoid foods that are rich, fatty, fried, spicy, citrus, or carbonated before bed… these are difficult for many to digest while sleeping. However, if you get hungry before bed, feel free to eat a snack of healthy fat (your brain eats ONLY healthy fats- did you know that?) with a little protein, which can help your body have the fuel for REM sleep. If you have special dietary concerns, like diabetes, consult with your doctor about how to manage your PM diet.

 

Control your physical environment.

  • The average person gets the best quality of sleep in a room between 60 and 68 degrees, with sheets and blankets to adjust the temperature.

  • Consider your pillow and mattress- if you wake up sore, this is a sign that your body is asking for a different setting.

  • Ensure that you are sleeping in darkness (you may use blackout curtains or a sleep mask to help with this) and waking up to adequate natural light- the human body relies on natural light to signal the natural release of melatonin at night as well as the cessation of this in the morning.

  • Find your preferred noise level- some like to sleep in complete silence- earplugs can help with this if you need help, and there are specific ones that are preferred when using them for sleep (see Google). Others like a low level of noise- a white noise machine, a fan, or other calming sounds tracks.

  • Find a new place for Fido- sleeping with your pets, while it may feel nice- is actually one of the WORST things you can do for your sleep. Pets often hog the bed or move around at some point during the night. Even if your pet sleeps like a log, if you are anything like me, you wake yourself on accident trying not to squish your pet as you turn over.

 

Electronics/ blue light- discontinue use of electronics at least one hour before bed. This is especially true for electronics that have blue light. However, just because your iPhone has a “night mode” to control blue light doesn’t mean that it gets to ignore the rule. Ideally, you would only view original Kindle devices (since there is no backlight) and other non-electronic devices before bed.

 

Take a shower or bath- another way to regulate your body temperature while sleeping is to take a shower or bath before bed. No matter the temperature of the water, this will cool your body temperature and prepare your body to become sleepy. It also doesn’t hurt that this activity is relaxing.

 

Determine if your lack of feeling rested is due to too much or too little sleep- It can be helpful to note that you may be sleepy if you aren’t sleeping enough, but you may also be sleepy if you sleep too much. Almost all people need between 7 and 10 hours of sleep per night (with an average of about 9 hours). This length is personal and will likely change over a person’s lifetime. You will know that you have hit your sweet spot when you find yourself being able to fall asleep in 15 minutes or less, becoming conscious for the first time right before your alarm goes off in the morning, and taking naps is more of your exception than your rule. If you are having trouble falling asleep or waking up before your alarm and trouble going back to sleep, it is likely that you are sleeping too much. If your alarm goes off and you are still having trouble feeling sleepy after 15 minutes out of bed and active (such as getting ready for work or school), you might be sleeping too little. Adjust your routine in 15 minute increments for best results. For instance, if I know I am sleeping too much, as evidenced by having trouble falling asleep and waking up and going back to sleep before my alarm goes off, I might move my alarm back 15 minutes every 3-5 days. This will be tough at first, but I will likely find myself falling asleep sooner (because I am more tired at night) and waking up less in the morning (because my body knows I am going to wake it up at a certain time).

 

Maintain a sleep schedule- Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each night. If you’d like to sleep in on the weekends or holidays, limit this to an extra hour. Settle into your routine about an hour before bed, whether you want to read, stretch, pray, meditate, do some tidying… whatever you like. Added tip: create a 5-10 minute routine in the morning that helps you get up- read through inspirational quotes, check your schedule for the upcoming day, pray, stretch, etc.

 

Daytime naps: 20-45 minutes max. This time limit will allow the nap to energize you without you falling into deep sleep and making you feel sleepy upon waking. Limit naps to before 4pm.

 

Make your bed a sleep cue for your body- it's very helpful to reserve your bed for two things- sleeping and sex. If you are having trouble falling asleep, get out of bed, go to another room, and do something relaxing (but boring enough) for a few minutes. Then return to bed to try again when you feel a little sleepier. If you have trouble falling asleep, MAKE SURE to get up on time!! While you may be exhausted the first couple of days, your body will begin to learn that it HAS to get up at a certain time, and therefore, can’t afford to stay up at night.

 

Personalize your alarm- there are tons of options- some that require solving a math problem, some that require you to get up and chase it around to turn it off, some that wake you up using increasing volume or increasing soft/natural light. You can also make it impossible to reach your alarm while you are still in bed- simply plug it in across the room. Most experts would recommend that you avoid using your phone for your alarm to avoid receiving phone calls, texts, alerts, etc., and also to prevent using your phone to read the news right before you go to sleep or right after you wake up (there are other choices of wake up routines that are MUCH better for your mental health!) However, if you have the willpower, you can simply put your phone on airplane mode before you go to sleep. I am not the emergency contact of anyone living outside my home, so this option works well for me, as I have no use for an incoming emergency phone call during the night. However, if you do have this need, you can put your iPhone on do-not-disturb and either add favorites or turn on the function that allows calls to come through if the same number calls you more than once within a 5 minute span. DO NOT use snooze to get 15 more minutes of sleep- it will only make you more sleepy. The only helpful way to use the snooze function is to press snooze upon waking and only turn your alarm completely off when you are physically out of bed. This can help prevent any accidental falling back asleep incidents.

 

Don’t watch the clock- doing this while trying to fall asleep can have the opposite effect you desire.

 

Figure out how to coax yourself out of bed- A few months ago, I had trouble getting out of bed for three days in a row. It was winter and I didn’t want to get out of my warm bed. So, I decided to lay out my clothes for the next day right beside my bed. The next morning, I literally got dressed under my covers while my husband laughed at my ridiculous strategy for helping myself get out of bed. It totally worked by the way. I’ve known others who put their breakfast by their bed (think electric hot water pot and oatmeal, or fruit, or milk in a thermos and cereal), or threw their covers off their bed when their alarm went off- whatever worked for them to get up and out of bed.

 

Practice relaxation! Guided meditations and other forms of meditation can help you learn to focus your attention or calm down your mind, which is necessary for falling asleep.

 

Keep a notepad on your nightstand. When my mind is still running at night, two questions can help me calm my mind down- "Is it true? Is it necessary to think about now?" Almost always, I answer at least one question "no" and can then decide to think about it later. However, when I remember something important that I can't afford to forget, I write it on my notepad to see tomorrow morning and can then let it go from my mind.

 

Set aside a specific "worry time" to think about all of the things that keep your mind racing as you are trying to fall asleep. If you schedule time to think about the things that are on your mind during the day, they won't be so intrusive at night. And, you can always remind yourself that you can think about whatever it is during your next worry session.

 

If you have come to the end of this list and implemented everything on the list for 2- 4 weeks, it is time to schedule an appointment with a primary care physician. You may be suffering from medical conditions, such as sleep apnea, that may be discovered via a sleep study.

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