Sleep Hygiene

September brings the opportunity for more structure in our lives as school starts again. Getting back on a schedule regarding our sleep can be a welcome relief. Parents might especially be grateful to help get their kids back on track again if children have stayed up late into the night and slept all morning to make up for it. Sleep is essential in making our lives more manageable and often with summer comes a more lax attitude about sleep hygiene. But during sleep, our body repairs itself both physically and mentally. So sleep patterns are very essential to the well-being of our daily life. With the start of school it is good to review this.

To ensure good sleep, set up good sleep hygiene. This will set up patterns that tell you, your body, and your mind that it is time to sleep. Here are some essential points to consider.

Make sure that you have enough time in bed free from interruptions and demands. Most adults need 7.5 – 8 hours of sleep. Teenagers and children require even more sleep. If you are a night shift worker, this also pertains to you. Your sleep is just as essential as anyone’s, so don’t cut yourself short just because you sleep during the day.

Keep your schedule for sleep regular. By keeping a schedule both for bedtime and waking up, you set the biological clock in your brain. This helps control ability to sleep and your alertness when you get up. Don’t deviate from this schedule on weekends.

Avoid going to bed after midnight unless you work the night shift. People often will get their “second wind” after midnight and this may prevent you from settling down and going to sleep.

Avoid exercising before retiring. (Exercising several hours before bedtime can actually enhance your sleep.)

Avoid napping or dozing off while watching television or reading. These brief sleep episodes can impede your sleeping later.

If you are lying in bed worrying about problems, try giving yourself some worry time during the day, dumping the worries onto a note so you can put them out of your mind, or do some good self-talk, reassuring yourself that these difficulties can be resolved the next day.

Use your bed only for sleep and sex. This associates your bed with sleeping and sets the tone for relaxation as you lie in your bed.

Avoid large meals and excessive fluid intake late at night.

Snacks should be small, non-spicy foods with sedating potential. This would include foods that are high in tryptophan, an amino acid and a building block of proteins. These foods tend to increase sleepiness. Apples have also been reported to increase sleep.

Caffeine and smoking increase sleep difficulties, both in falling asleep and staying asleep, so limit these items later in the day.

Consider a warm bath just prior to bedtime. It can increase your body’s relaxation, be calming, and prepare you for sleep.

Use relaxing, quiet music that will induce sleep. This also sets the tone for relaxing and drifting off to sleep.

Make sure your bedroom is conducive to good sleep.  This would include having a dark room. Darkness tells your brain it is time to sleep and releases melatonin into your system. This is the hormone that makes you sleepy. Nightlights and T.V.’s will impede the release of this hormone and should not be used in adult or children’s bedrooms.

Make sure you have a quiet environment. If noise bothers you, use a low-level noise such as a fan to help block the outside noises.

Have a cool environment as this will enhance sleep.

Make sure that you have a firm and comfortable mattress.

If you have allergies to dust, dust mites, or other common features of a bedroom, take steps to create a relatively allergen-free bedroom. This would mean replacement of old pillows and carpeting, cleaning of duct work and furnace filters, use of an air filter and keeping pets out of the bedroom.

Don’t sleep too long. Avoid oversleeping and lying in bed too long as this tends to be fragmented and un-refreshing sleep that may leave you feeling worse. And this may interfere with the next night of sleep. Some people may require nine hours of sleep, but generally, in adults, longer requirements in the absence of illnesses are unusual. If you need a nap, take it early in the afternoon and restrict it to less than one hour in most cases.

Every person’s sleep pattern is unique. However, if you are having sleep problems that are new to you, this may signal a medical condition such as anxiety, depression or other disorders. It is important to get a proper diagnosis and treatment of the underlying cause for the chronic sleep disruption. Try introducing a good pattern of sleep hygiene to see if this helps your sleep patterns. If not, then measures should be taken to get to the core issue of why your sleep is disrupted.


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  • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
    Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner

  • Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.


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