Helpful Hints to Help You Sleep
Poor sleep habits (referred to as hygiene) are among the most common problems encountered in our society. We stay up too late and get up too early. We interrupt our sleep with drugs, chemicals and work, and we overstimulate ourselves with late-night activities such as television. Below are some essentials of good sleep habits. Many of these points will seem like common sense. But it is surprising how many of these important points are ignored by many of us.
Improve Your Personal Habits
These make a big difference – so please don’t ignore them.
- Fix a bedtime and an awakening time
Do not be one of those people who allows bedtime and awakening time to drift. The body “gets used” to falling asleep at a certain time, but only if this is relatively fixed. Even if you are retired or not working, this is an essential component of good sleeping habits.
- Avoid napping during the day
If you nap throughout the day, it is no wonder that you will not be able to sleep at night. The late afternoon for most people is a “sleepy time.” Many people will take a nap at that time. This is generally not a bad thing to do, provided you limit the nap to 30-45 minutes and can sleep well at night.
- Avoid alcohol 4-6 hours before bedtime
Many people believe that alcohol helps them sleep. While alcohol has an immediate sleep-inducing effect, a few hours later as the alcohol levels in your blood start to fall, there is a stimulant or wake-up effect.
- Avoid caffeine 4-6 hours before bedtime
This includes caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea and many sodas like Coca-Cola, as well as chocolate, so be careful.
- Avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods 4-6 hours before bedtime
These can affect your ability to stay asleep.
- Exercise regularly, but not right before bed
Regular exercise, particularly in the afternoon, can help deepen sleep. Strenuous exercise within the 2 hours before bedtime, however, can decrease your ability to fall asleep. In general, don’t exercise after 9pm.
Improve Your Sleeping Environment
- Use comfortable bedding
Uncomfortable bedding can prevent good sleep. Evaluate whether or not this is a source of your problem, and make appropriate changes.
- Find a comfortable temperature setting for sleeping and keep the room well ventilated
If your bedroom is too cold or too hot, it can keep you awake. A cool (not cold) bedroom is often the most conducive to sleep.
- Block out all distracting noise
And eliminate as much light as possible.
- Reserve the bed for sleep and sex.
Don’t use the bed as an office, workroom or recreation room. Let your body “know” that the bed is associated with sleeping. If you have a computer or TV in there – take them out! Make your bedroom comfy, cosy and sleepy. Use warm colours for wallpaper and bedding – like gentle reds and purples and avoid cold colours like blue or green.
Getting Ready For Bed
- Try a light snack before bed
Warm milk and foods high in the amino acid tryptophan, such as bananas, may help you to sleep.
- Practice relaxation techniques before bed
Such as yoga, deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness and/or Autogenic Training. These will help relieve anxiety and reduce muscle tension.
- Don’t take your worries to bed
Leave your worries about job, school, daily life, etc., behind when you go to bed. Some people find it useful to assign a “worry period” during the evening or late afternoon to deal with these issues.
- Establish a pre-sleep ritual
Pre-sleep rituals, such as a warm bath or a few minutes of reading, can help you sleep. Other examples include getting into your cosy sleeping gear 10-30 minutes before sleep.
- Get into your favorite sleeping position
If you don’t fall asleep within 15-30 minutes, get up, go into another room, and read until sleepy. Don’t stay in bed wishing for sleep to come! Get yourself into a natural sleepy state again.
Getting Up in the Middle of the Night
Most people wake up one or two times a night for various reasons. If you find that you get up in the middle of night and cannot get back to sleep within 15-20 minutes, then do not remain in the bed “trying hard” to sleep. Get out of bed. Leave the bedroom. Read, have a light snack, do some quiet activity, or take a bath. You will generally find that you can get back to sleep 20 minutes or so later. Do not perform challenging or engaging activity such as office work, housework, etc. Do not watch television.
A Word About Television
Many people fall asleep with the television on in their room. Watching television before bedtime is often a bad idea. Television is a very engaging medium that tends to keep people up. We generally recommend that the television not be in the bedroom. At the appropriate bedtime, the TV should be turned off and the patient should go to bed. Some people find that the radio helps them go to sleep. Since radio is a less engaging medium than TV, this is probably a good idea.
- Several physical factors are known to upset sleep
These include arthritis, acid reflux with heartburn, menstruation, headaches and hot flashes.
- Psychological and mental health problems like depression, anxiety and stress are often associated with sleeping difficulty
In many cases, difficulty staying asleep may be the only presenting sign of depression. A doctor should be consulted about these issues to help determine the problem and the best treatment.
- Many medications can cause sleeplessness as a side effect
Ask your doctor or pharmacist if medications you are taking can lead to sleeplessness. For example, the anti-depressant, Fluoxetine (also called Prozac), can keep you awake at night if you don’t take it in the morning!
- To help overall improvement in sleep patterns, your doctor may prescribe sleep medications for short-term relief of a sleep problem
The decision to take sleeping aids is a medical one to be made in the context of your overall health picture. However, if a doctor gives you these sleep medications, it is likely that they will be only for a short time – like 1 or 2 weeks. Some patients love them BUT they are often addictive which means that you can get hooked on them. Please do not ask your doctor for more and more sleeping tablets – they are not meant to be put on your repeat medication list. Sleeping tablets are okay for short periods of time (1-2 weeks) but bad for long periods. Often, people can sort their own sleep out using the non-medical methods suggested above. Remember, doctors want to help you get good sleep, but they’re often reluctant about sleeping tablets because they’re only thinking about you – they don’t want to turn you into an addict.
- Always follow the advice of your physician and other healthcare professionals
The goal is to rediscover how to sleep naturally.