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Sleep Hygiene

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Avril Swan, MD

If your physician tells you that you need to improve your sleep hygiene, don’t take it as a personal insult. Sleep hygiene has nothing to do with cleanliness. Instead, it is the term that physicians and sleep specialists use to describe sleep habits. Many sleep problems are due to suboptimal sleep hygiene. Here is a list of some simple things that you can do to optimize the quality and quantity of your sleep.

Good Sleep Hygiene Practices

  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day
  • Make sure that your bedroom is dark, quiet, and an optimal temperature.
  • Use the bed only for sleep and sex. No eating, no TV,  no computer games or iphones.
  • For some people reading delays sleep, for others it brings it on quickly. Know your relationship between reading and sleep and use the relationship to your advantage.
  • Don’t eat big meals or exercise within 2 hours of bedtime.
  • Avoid caffeine within 8 hours of bedtime
  • Limit alcohol to 1 drink with dinner. Even this may be too much for some and cause waking during the night.
  • Avoid stressful activity such as work or watching the news an hour before bed.
  • Establish bedtime rituals. For instance:  read a book, take a shower, meditate, and then go to bed.

If you find yourself waking in the middle of the  night with your mind racing, try not to lay there and clock watch. Watching the minutes tick by helplessly leads to a vicious cycle that results in more worry because you aren’t getting back to sleep. Instead, get up, move to another room and do some relaxation exercises. When you are feeling tired go back and try again. Sometimes moving to another sleep space can help, especially if a partner is tossing, turning, or snoring.

Like any change of habit,  improving sleep hygiene takes commitment and practice. Is it worth the trouble? Yes. Lack of sleep isn’t just a quality of life issue.  Poor sleep quantity and quality has been correlated with increased inflammation and risk of chronic disease, increased risk of obesity, and increased risk of mental illness. Children and adolescents with suboptimal sleep are more likely to have problems in school and social relationships. We have all heard that driving after sleep deprivation is equivalent to having a dangerous blood alcohol level.

If you are having trouble with insomnia or daytime fatigue and you have tried the above strategies, please seek help from your primary care doctor. There are many options and alternatives once we have an understanding of what is causing the problem.

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