This post originally appeared in the LINQ magazine, which is a publication of the PCSO in Lexington, KY.
Feeling spent during the day? Overwhelmed? Anxious? Are there times when you simply feel like you you are at the end your rope? We sometimes focus on what we can do differently during the day time to deal with these feelings, but have you stopped to think about how you might change the night time routine to create a different experience throughout the day?
While the word “hygiene” conjures up images of hand-washing and teeth-brushing, sleep hygiene is different. Sleep hygiene encompasses the habits that you create each evening to optimize sleep. Don’t stress - it doesn’t take much effort and just one or two changes can create a difference in your waking hours. Just a few simple changes can make the difference between a good night’s sleep and night spent tossing and turning. These are also the changes that can also result in creating more productive days.
Turn Your Bedroom into a True Sleep Environment
A quiet, dark, and cool environment can help promote quality slumber. To achieve such an environment, lower the volume of outside noise with earplugs or a "white noise" machine. Use heavy curtains, blackout shades, or an eye mask to block light. These steps are a powerful cue that tells the brain that it's time to rest. Keep the temperature comfortably cool—between 60 and 75°F—and the room well ventilated. And make sure your bedroom is equipped with a comfortable mattress and pillows. When I am a working with clients who struggle with sleep in the evening I remind them that the bedroom should be reserved for two events; sleep and romance. When we lay in bed reading, watching youtube, and engaging in other events we become distracted from the sleep environment and we end up creating a space where the mind doesn’t know what to expect. Keep the bedroom for specific events and you can create an environment conducive to relaxation and rest.
Establish a Simple Pre-Sleep Routine
Ease the transition from wake time to sleep time with a period of relaxing activities an hour or so before bed. Take a bath (the rise, then fall in body temperature encourages restful sensations), read a book (but not in bed), watch television, or practice relaxation exercises. Avoid stressful, stimulating activities—doing work, discussing emotional issues, or engaging in heated conversations. Physically and psychologically stressful activities can cause the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which is associated with increasing alertness. If you tend to take your problems to bed, try writing them down—and then putting them aside. Keep a journal of the stressful events of the day, outside of the bedroom so that you can leave them separate from the restfulness of your sleep environment.
Keep Your Internal Clock On Track with a Consistent Schedule
Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day (even weekends and days off) sets the body’s "internal clock" to expect sleep at a certain time night after night. Try to stick closely to your routine on weekends to avoid a Monday morning sleep hangover. Waking up at the same time each day is the very best way to set your internal clock. Even if you did not sleep well the night before, the extra drive for sleep will help you consolidate sleep the following night and fall asleep more easily.
Let's Get Physical During The Day—At The Right Time
Exercising during the daytime creates better sleep at night. But keep this in mind: Exercising too close to bedtime may keep you awake and make it hard to settle into sleep. Most people do best with a workout at least 2 hours before bed, if possible, or at least swap out cardio for something more relaxing, like yoga, if you do decide to work out in the later evening hours and closer to bedtime.
Stay Away From Stimulants at Night
Caffeine and nicotine are chemicals that are designed to keep you awake and alert, so drinking tea or coffee or eating chocolate (all of which contain caffeine), or using anything containing tobacco or nicotine should be avoided for six hours before you plan to sleep. Even alcohol, which initially makes you feel sleepy, makes it harder to get high-quality sleep. So plan to skip more than a single glass of liquor, wine, or beer in the hours before bed.
Don’t Watch The Clock
Staring at a clock in your bedroom, either when you are trying to fall asleep or when you wake up in the middle of the night, can actually increase stress, making it harder to fall asleep. Turn your clock’s face away from you. If you can’t fall asleep, or wake up in the middle of the night and can’t sleep in about 20 minutes, get up and engage in a quiet, restful activity such as reading or listening to music. And keep the lights dim; bright light can stimulate your internal clock. When your eyelids are drooping and you are ready to sleep, return to bed. Do not stay awake in bed for more than 20 minutes.
Take the time to work on each of these skills to improve your own sleep hygiene. Each change creates a better potential that you will wake up rested and alert, ready to have energy for the day and avoid the midday crash or mood swings.
David Pascale Hague is a licensed Psychologist in Lexington KY. David is a Licensed Psychologist and the owner of Clarity Counseling Services. If you need support please find a licensed mental health provider in your area, or give David a call at 859-429-1362