For most people, falling asleep and staying asleep are parts of a natural process. Good sleepers are likely to have developed certain lifestyle and dietary habits that promote sound sleep. These habits or behaviors- known as sleep hygiene-can have positive effects on sleep before, during, and after time spent in bed. Sleep hygiene is mostly a matter of common sense, but the techniques suggested in this booklet may help you sleep better on a regular basis.
How Does Stress Affect My Sleep?
Many sleep problems are directly caused by stress. if you sometimes have trouble sleeping because of stress, you may start to develop certain strategies such as regular napping, excessive use of caffeine, use of alcoholic beverages at bedtime, working at night, or sleeping at irregular times to help you cope with a disturbed sleep schedule. Yet once you have eliminated that stress, your coping strategy may have already become a habit, sometimes causing sleep problems to continue. You may find yourself in a cycle of repeated difficulty falling asleep; tension and a fear of sleeplessness can result. Your bedroom, for instance, may become associated with unsuccessful attempts to sleep and with tension and anxiety. This may lead you to sleep on a sofa or in a chair because you are no longer able to sleep in your bedroom. This phenomenon, termed conditioning, may respond to the advice that follows.
How Does Diet Affect My Sleep?
Caffeine stimulates the brain and interferes with sleep. Coffee, tea, colas, cocoa, chocolate, and some prescription and nonprescriptive drugs, including some common pain relievers, contain caffeine. Although moderate daytime use of caffeine usually does not interfere with sleep at night, heavy or regular use during the day can lead to withdrawal symptoms and to sleep problems at night. if you suffer from insomnia, you should not drink more than two caffeinated beverages a day and you should not have any caffeinated substances after noon.
Nicotine is another stimulating drug that interferes with sleep, and nicotine withdrawal can also disrupt sleep throughout the night. Cigarettes and some drugs contain substantial quantities of nicotine. Smokers who break the habit, once they overcome the withdrawal effects of the drug, can expect to fall asleep faster and wake up less during the night.
One of the effects of alcohol is a slowing of brain activity. When taken at bedtime, alcohol may help induce sleep at first, but will disrupt sleep later in the night. If you have a “nightcap” before bed, you may have awakenings during the night, nightmares, and suffer early morning headaches. For more sound sleep, you should avoid alcoholic beverages within four to six hours of bedtime.
Eating a full meal shortly before bedtime can interfere with the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep, as can heavy meals eaten at any time of day or foods that cause stomach upset. A light snack at bedtime, however, can promote sleep. Milk and other dairy products consumed with carbohydrates like crackers, are especially good as bedtime snacks.
What Other Factors Affect My Sleep?
A comfortable bed in a dark, quiet room is the best setting for a good night’s sleep. Some people seem to adjust easily to changes in sleep environment, but others (such as insomniacs and the elderly) can be easily disturbed by small changes in sleep surroundings. if you find light a problem, try using blackout curtains or spot lighting. if noise keeps you awake, try using background sound (“white noise”) or earplugs.
Sometimes, even the bedroom clock can keep you from sleeping. The more you know what time it is and how much time you may have already lost or how much time you still have to sleep in the morning, the worse you’ll sleep. Many people have found it is better to set an alarm clock for when to get up, and then hide the alarm clock in a dresser drawer across the room. Sleeping without time pressure is much easier than counting the minutes lost or those you have left.
Regular exercise helps people sleep better; the benefits of exercise on sleep, however, depend on the time of day you exercise and on your overall fitness level. If you are physically fit, you should avoid exercising within six hours of your bedtime. Exercise in the morning is not likely to affect, your sleep at night, but the same amount of exercise, if done too close to your bedtime, can disrupt your sleep.
On the other hand, too little exercise and limited daytime activities can also lead to sleeplessness at night. Boredom during the day (for example, after retirement) seems to be as detrimental to sound sleep as excessive stress. if you have a tendency toward insomnia, exercise and other types of daytime activity may help you sleep better. Consult your healthcare provider before beginning an exercise program.
What Can I Do To Sleep Better?
Distract Your Mind
Lying in bed frustrated because you cannot fall asleep, and trying harder and harder to fall asleep, will never help you sleep. if you have trouble sleeping, try distracting your mind by reading, watching a videotape (not television, because that gives you the time), listening to a book on tape, etc. For some people, it is good to do this in bed; other people find a different room better.
Curtail Time In Bed
Most insomniacs stay in bed longer than they should. This makes sleep more shallow and riddled with awakenings. Many people find that consistently cutting of time spent in bed helps them sleep more soundly and leads to a more refreshing sleep. The same is true regarding napping. Whereas a short (i.e. less than 30 min.) nap in the early afternoon may be refreshing, longer naps, and naps just before bedtime, may take away from the quality and quantity of nighttime sleep. This in turn may lead to the desire for more napping and set up a pattern of disturbed sleep at night.
As mentioned earlier, the stress that stems from common life situations often contributes to sleep problems. A relaxing activity around bedtime can help relieve tension and encourage sleep. Taking some time to think clearly about your problems and propose a few solutions can have a positive effect on your sleep quality. Talking with a trusted friend or colleague to “air out” troubling issues also can be helpful. Relaxation exercises, meditation, biofeedback, and hypnosis are sometimes good methods for controlling sleep problems. These techniques should be learned from a psychologist, physician, or other healthcare professional.
Designating ”Worry Time”
Another technique that can be helpful is to designate a particular time for worry. This time is dedicated to sorting out problems and coming up with possible solutions. Set aside 30 minutes in the evening to sit alone and undisturbed. Try writing down problems in a list. Write your more serious worries on 3 x 5 cards, where you write one worry as it comes to mind (one per card). When you have all of your worries written down, sort the cards into three to five piles, according to the priority of each worry. Next, look at each card and formulate a possible solution to that worry. While not all worries will have easy solutions, even small progress in remedying a worry can yield helpful results. The morning after recording your worries, review the worry cards and begin to work on resolving the worries you’ve identified.