Having a hard time getting to sleep, staying asleep, and/or getting enough sleep? You are not alone. According to the CDC, approximately 50 – 70 million adults struggle with sleep and wakefulness disorders. Lack of sufficient sleep can impact our ability to function during the day, including our ability to concentrate, complete daily tasks, and regulate our emotions and behaviors.
As showering, brushing our teeth, and washing our hands are vital to our physical hygiene, sleep hygiene techniques are vital for our sleep. Establishing sleep hygiene routine can help us get to sleep more quickly, remain asleep throughout the night, and have better quality sleep. Below are some tips to help you establish a sleep hygiene routine.
1) Start A Scheduled Routine
With our busy schedules, it can be very difficult to stick to a routine. However, there are two ways you can initiate your sleep hygiene routine. Using both tends to work best, but try what is most realistic for you.
a) Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time- Our bodies establish a schedule, which is why if you tend to wake up for work at the same time each day, you may find you even wake up at, or near, your weekday wakeup time when you want to sleep in on the weekends (as annoying as that is!). In the same way, it can be easier to fall asleep if your body is used to falling asleep at, or around, the same time each day.
b) Establish routine pre-sleep activities – While going to sleep at the same time each night trains our bodies, having pre-sleep activities trains our brain to know when it nearing time to sleep. Decide on activities or tasks you intend to complete each night before bed, and try to follow in that order. Do you shower and brush your teeth before bed? How about using a lotion with a calming scent, such as lavender? Perhaps drinking a hot cup of camomile tea helps. Before bed, will you watch television, or read? Usually electronic screen use is discouraged, but for some people it really helps. Try different activities and tasks each night to find the routine that fits you best, and has the best result.
2) A Hot Bath or Shower Before Bed
Do you ever find that it’s easier to fall asleep when you feel cool? Maybe having a fan facing your bed, or keeping a window open? As our bodies cool down, it is easier to fall asleep. A way to warm up your body to start this process is taking a hot shower or bath approximately 90 minutes before bed. The process of your body cooling down can help you to fall asleep faster. If this technique does not seem to fit but you would like to try something similar, try a hot foot soak or drinking a hot, non-caffeinated beverage.
Admit it, you knew this was coming. Many of us avoid exercise, whether we feel like we’re too busy, too drained, or just don’t like it. Believe me, I get this, as I just started engaging in a regular exercise routine again myself. We all know it’s good for us and that there are a lot of benefits. But does exercise help with sleep or hurt it?
According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, exercise may not impact sleep for approximately four months, and even then there may not be a difference in sleep quality, yet sleeping well results in higher quality exercise, which assists with overall health benefits. But if you’re here for ways to help with sleep, and this study shows exercise may not impact sleep, then why am I writing about it?
Dr Baron, one of the physicians behind the study, was interviewed by the New York Times, and reported one of the reasons exercise may not impact people with insomnia is due to the difference in their stress system versus those without insomnia. However, she later notes that regular exercise helps with management of stress system when exercise is regularly maintained over time. Managing our stress system not only helps with sleep, but management of symptoms (anxiety especially), emotional regulation, and so many other areas of our day to day functioning. I highly recommend reading the interview with Dr. Baron. Just remember – exercising once is not going to resolve your stress and sleep habits. Regular, maintained exercise is required.
4) Maintain Your Sleep Environment
Where we sleep is just as important as how we sleep. Make sure your environment is dark, cool and comfortable when you go to sleep. Avoid screens when possible, or at least make sure a sleep timer is set on your device so your screen shuts off after a certain amount of time. Do you find that white noise helps? If you are unable to invest in a white noise machine but have internet access, there are apps, mp3 downloads, and cds available. Finally, other than sexual activities, use your bed only for sleep. This will help your body and mind adjust to the idea that when you are in this space, it is for the purpose of sleep.
5) What To Do When You Still Cannot Sleep
Even when we prepare ourselves and have really good sleep hygiene habits, it can still be difficult to sleep. If you find yourself waking in the middle of the night, or unable to fall asleep for an hour or longer, get up and do something else, such as reading or watching a boring television show (infomercials can be great for this). Try to not condemn or stress yourself for not being able to sleep, especially if you have something important the next day. In most cases, you would sleep if you could, so don’t judge yourself. Attempt to return to bed when you feel sleepy, and repeat if you are still struggling. If this becomes a pattern, speak with your primary care physician and/or mental health provider.
Not all of these tips will work for everyone. Try as many as you can and develop a plan that works best for you!