Sleep hygiene refers to habits, behaviors, and strategies that people can use to make it easier to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up refreshed without using medication. Sleep hygiene doesn't just start at bedtime but includes changes people can make in their entire lifestyle throughout the day to get better sleep at night.
It can help to think about not just the quantity of sleep – how many hours of sleep you get in a night – but also the quality. People often ask how many hours of sleep a person needs at night, but there is no one-size-fits-all answer to that. The amount of sleep a person needs varies from person to person and usually changes over time as they age. The right amount of sleep is the amount of sleep it takes for that person to wake up feeling rested and not feel tired during the day.
First, look at your sleep pattern
Some people toss and turn for hours, but once they fall asleep, they sleep fine for the rest of the night. Other people fall asleep okay but wake up in the middle of the night and can't fall back asleep. We call the first type "initial insomnia" because it is the initial part of sleep that is the problem, and the second type "terminal insomnia" because it is the end part of sleep that is the problem.
The first type, initial insomnia, is usually reasonably straightforward to deal with. However, the second type, terminal insomnia, can be more complicated and can sometimes be due to underlying medical or psychological conditions.
So how do you start treating insomnia?
You can break down treatment for insomnia into drug and non-drug treatments. Studies have shown that if non-drug treatment doesn't work, medications for insomnia usually do. However, if a person takes medication for insomnia, and that doesn't work, non-drug treatments are less likely to work later. For this reason, we almost always recommend trying non-drug treatment first. Which brings us back to sleep hygiene…
Steps to good sleep hygiene
Good sleep habits should start first thing in the morning. When it is time to wake up, wake up! Get out of bed, move around, and start gradually exposing yourself to natural sunlight. Then, try incorporating these suggestions into your regular routine:
- Schedule regular sleep hours – go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time every day
- Don't lay around in bed before bedtime or after wake time. Try not to spend unnecessary time in the bedroom.
- Get regular exercise every day but avoid doing anything strenuous in the evening before bed.
- Limit caffeine to the morning. Watch for hidden sources of caffeine, such as soft drinks and dark chocolate.
- As the day goes on, gradually reduce your passive interactions (television, computer/internet) in favor of active interactions that engage your brain (conversation, reading).
- When it is time for bed, make sure the room is quiet and dark, and the temperature is relatively cool. Then… relax. If you don't fall asleep in a reasonable amount of time, that's okay. Just get out of bed, do something else for a little while, and then try again.
- If you can't fall asleep because you have too many things to think about, try writing them down before bed. It may help to keep a small list by the bed – if you suddenly think of something, write it down in a brief note, then you can set it aside, knowing you won't forget about it when you wake up the next morning.
If you have tried all the basics and still are having trouble sleeping, feel free to come into Academic Medical Associates for a consultation. We can help evaluate the problem and talk about some more detailed strategies to help you get good sleep.