By now, it’s pretty common knowledge that the quantity and quality of sleep is a critical ingredient in one’s recipe for health. What isn’t so commonly understood is that there are some basic steps that we can all take to support a good night’s sleep. While some people may need to address additional issues like hormonal or nervous system imbalances, everybody can benefit from following good sleep hygiene practices.
Let’s review some of those basic steps:
Cool it in the bedroom – As it happens, your body’s temperature regulation centers are intimately connected to sleep regulation. The science tells us that sleeping in a cool environment supports the natural lowering of body temperature throughout the night. Sleeping in a warm environment not only contributes to wakefulness but can also adversely affect the normal stages of sleep resulting in a less restful sleep. So what’s the best temperature? Studies suggest somewhere between 60 -67 degrees F.
Avoid eating before bedtime – Ideally, there should be a minimum of 2 hours between your last meal/snack and hitting the pillow. Your body can either continue to work to digest your food or it can start to switch gears to relaxation mode, but it can’t do both simultaneously. One or the other functions will suffer.
Create a restful atmosphere in the bedroom - Avoid watching TV, reading in bed or working on your laptop. Potentially stressful activities like reviewing finances, having difficult conversations or tackling work-related material are best done in another part of the home other than the bedroom. Keep the bedroom reserved for sex and sleep.
Go dark – Shut down all your devices a minimum of two hours before your desired bedtime, including watching television. The blue light emitted from these devices stimulate the center in the brain associated with wakefulness, attention and reaction times, interfere with the body’s normal circadian rhythm and reduces melatonin production. And remember that the light emitted by most clocks, radios and alarms are guilty of this same blue light emission.
Change the lighting in your bedroom – In an effort to be more energy-efficient and “green”, we may have inadvertently done ourselves a disservice in the rest and relaxation department. The more energy-efficient light bulbs (halogen, compact fluorescent bulbs and LEDs) are actually quite unhelpful in supporting our restorative sleep because they emit that very bright “blue” light described above. For a better night’s sleep, choose the old-fashion inexpensive incandescent light bulbs that last about 1000 hours. For a few dollars more you can also use bulbs that emit red wavelength (not necessarily red color) in the bedroom and the nightlights throughout the house.
Obey the twenty minute rule – If you’ve been unable to fall asleep within twenty minutes of your head hitting the pillow, don’t toss and turn or keep checking the clock. This can just raise your anxiety level making it even more difficult to slip into a sleep state. Get out of bed, leave the bedroom and find something really dull and boring to do. Once you start feeling sleepy, return to bed.
Maintain regular hours and routines – By maintaining a routine, we can train our physiology to behave differently. Understandably this can be challenging for shift workers, students who are cramming and parents with infants and young children. Much of our physiology is dependent upon a circadian rhythm that functions optimally when we can cater to it. Developing routines that support normal circadian rhythms might be boring but we reap the rewards when we interfere as little as possible with the body’s inherent wisdom.
Avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine before bedtime – All three of these substances have a stimulatory effect on the nervous system making it difficult for our natural rest and relaxation cycles to kick in.
Create some bedtime rituals – Non-stimulating activities that calm your spirit and mood can help you switch gears into “rest” mode. Light stretching, a hot bath and listening to soothing music are some tools to signal your body that it’s time to switch from an “action figure” to “refueling mode”. Before bedtime is a great time to listen to a progressive relaxation tape or use any of the many available apps providing relaxation tools, such as guided imagery.
How sound is your sleep?
Use this SLEEP QUESTIONNAIRE to find out what might make the difference for you.