All you Moms out there probably know the importance of a good nights rest. Without it, we are more cranky, irritable, and our mental health suffers. There is something called “sleep hygiene” that I recommend to all of my patients, young and old, who are having trouble sleeping. This is usually the first step your doctor will recommend before reaching for the prescription pad or any further testing. For people with insomnia or sleep deprivation the best proven treatment is not with medication but actually specialized cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia. Sleep hygiene is a habit that you can start to form at night time to help the brain “shut off” so to speak. Because our brains are active and busy throughout the day, its hard for our brains just to turn off when we want them to.
Sleep hygiene is a set of behaviours you can implement at bedtime to help your brain shut off and get a good nights rest.
Parts of our society also contribute to peoples having difficulty sleeping – screens from iPads, iPhones, laptops, and TVs are a major contributor. These screens emit a type of light (blue light) that actually interferes with our hormones in our brain (melatonin) which disrupts our bodies sleep-wake rhythms. As a result, its more difficult to fall asleep at night.
What is sleep hygiene:
- Create a comfortable sleep environment that is quiet, clean, and dark! Make sure your room does not have light coming in during the time you are asleep.
- Don’t use your bed for anything but sleeping (sex is the only exception to this).
- Relax for 90 minutes before bed – no stressful conversations, intense tv shows, or working really hard.
- Never go to bed hungry – if you need to, have a snack.
- Go to bed at the same time every day, and wake up at the same time every day (this one is hard – especially when your on call over night at the hospital, but do it as much as possible because it is very important). Even if you get a crummy nights sleep the night before, still try to get out of the bed at the same time the next morning. Over time, with this your sleep will become more regular.
- Get active throughout the day. Try and get at least 30 minutes of heart pumping exercise. Preferably at the beginning of your day, but for sure no later than 2-3 hours before you go to bed as this will prevent you from winding down.
- Avoid alcohol – alcohol disrupts your restful stages of sleep, so although you might fall asleep easier and even sleep more, you will not spend your time sleeping in the restful stages which will make you much more tired the next day (anyone whose ever had a hangover probably has experienced this).
- Don’t smoke, but if you do try not to smoke several hours before bed. Nicotine stimulates the brain and can make it more difficult to sleep.
- Get as much natural sunlight throughout the day! This will help regulate your sleep-wake cycle. If you live in a part of the world that gets light at all hours (for example – Iceland in the summer time) – you will want to black out your house from light during the night and in the 2-3 hours before you wind down for bed.
- Go to your doctor and have them review your medications – some medications can prevent people from falling asleep (like thyroid medications, and medications for ADHD). Likewise, some medications can make people sleep throughout the day (like medications for the heart). Optimizing medications that are interfering with your sleep may will help.
- If you have difficulty with sleep, avoid napping throughout the day (unless you are a toddler). Napping throughout the day can throw off your sleep cycle making it more difficult to fall asleep, and stay asleep, at night.
Sleep hygiene is a process and you do need to be patient! Hang in there, be persistent and consistent with the changes you made!