Sleep Hygiene is, like any other “hygiene”, about consistency. In this case, the consistency we are shooting for is steady sleep. It is not easy, and for some of us, it takes specialists, medications, and machinery. The inability to both sleep or stay awake can have complicated neurological or behavioral issues at their root. Medications, pain, and depression are common Chronically Awesome reasons we cannot sleep. Then we are fatigued. Poor habits we talk about below are behavioral issues we need to change as a part of what we are referring to as “Sleep Hygiene”.
Sleep is an important part of our everyday health. Our ability to remember and learn is impacted by sleep. According to Harvard School of Medicine, sleep plays a vital role in the functioning of our metabolism and our immune system. People with sleep disorders have a higher rate of heart disease.
Dr. Alon Avidan.
Dr. Avidan is a professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and an expert on the topic of sleep disorders. Dr. Avidan is also the director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center. When I spoke with Dr. Avidan about sleep hygiene, he had several important steps that, when practiced regularly, and turned into consistent habits, could help you get a better nights sleep. Here is a series of videos followed by specific pointers that are the basis of good sleep hygiene.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine too close to bedtime, as they disrupt sleep architecture and lead to fragmented sleep.
- Use light exposure to your advantage. Light is the most important circadian cue, so it’s critical to limit exposure to bright light during the evening. This means no computers, TVs or tablets at least two hours before bedtime. And get plenty of sun exposure in the morning, so you’ll feel alert during the day and be sleepy by nightfall.
- Avoid excessive naps, except for a brief 15- to 20-minute snooze between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., if you need it. Excessive napping may take away the drive for sleep at night.
- Create a peaceful sleeping space. Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, well-ventilated and at a comfortable, slightly cooler temperature throughout the night.
- Create a consistent and relaxing bedtime routine, such as reading a pleasant book or listening to soothing music.
You are scoffing at the idea of falling asleep without the television, or not taking that last peak at the email or tablet just before bed aren’t you? As Dr. Avidan alluded to,the problem with electronics is the light. Our circadian rhythm requires properly timed exposure of our eyes to the light.
Mariana Figueiro of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute found that the light emitted from a tablet can disrupt the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Over time and the brighter the light more you will disrupt your circadian rhythm. This is the same when using a laptop or television but it is not as severe because both are typically farther away from your eyes. They also found that on the “bright side” this blue-white wavelength can kickstart you in the morning.
If you are having trouble waking, it could be that your eyes are not getting their morning dose of sunlight that tells your brain that it is time to wake up. At some point or another, good or bad, the rhythm is going to get you. By exposing your eyes to sunlight, or yes NOW looking at your tablet you can help kickstart that rhythm.
There has been a good deal of recent research about napping. We LOVE to nap! Because we are often not getting a restful night’s sleep due to pain, mood, or certain medications a nap is often unavoidable. The good news is: naps are good. They are “in”. The not so good news? Dr. Avidon told me that 15-20 minutes between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. is all we get.
Why so restrictive? If you take a nap that extends into the 30-minute area you are passing the first two waves of sleep. Waking after that will be difficult and you will wake fatigued. Keeping your nap shorter will allow you to wake more refreshed. If you want a little extra boost you can try this caffeine trick: caffeine takes about 30 minutes to take effect in your body. If you drink a cup of coffee before your nap you will get the double whammy of your coffee and your nap.
If you are having enough trouble sleeping that your doctor prescribes a sleep aid you may notice that you will be given a limited supply. After studying the result of years of dependence issues on sleep medications, doctors have begun seeing the benefit of simply breaking the cycle of sleeplessness with small quantities of nonbenzodiazepine medications like Lunesta and Ambien while the patient has an opportunity to develop a sleep hygiene routine.
If you have ever heard stories from people who have done highly unusual things while taking sleep medications, you might find yourself inclined to agree that these sleep medications are only a stop-gap. Unless you and your doctor believe you have a more serious sleep disorder, developing a good sleep routine is far better than waking up to discover you bought a dozen pairs of the same shoes online “in your sleep”.
In a future article, we will discuss sleep disorders. Even if you are living with parasomnias, sleep apnea, or other sleep disorders, sleep hygiene is important. Get started now on your sleep hygiene regimen and contact your doctor about getting a sleep study.
Night Night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite!
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