Setting the Stage for Good Sleep

Setting the Stage for Good Sleep

by Alicia Polk, PLPC, LPC, BC-TMH, GC-C

In the same way we have personal hygiene and we do things like shower, wash our hair, and put on deodorant, we also have what is called sleep hygiene.

So what is sleep hygiene? It’s the collection of behaviors you do which can either hurt or help your chances of getting good quality sleep. An example of poor sleep hygiene would be drinking a Red Bull 2 or 3 hours before you want to go to sleep for the night. Making sure the room where you sleep is dark, cool, comfortable, and quiet is an example of good hygiene because those conditions promote good sleep.

Good sleep hygiene which promotes sleep:

  • Get up at the same time each day.
    When your bedtime and wake up times change by more than an hour you are effectively giving yourself jet lag. Additionally, the body resets its body clock upon wake up time each day, which will impact when your body later releases melatonin for you to go to sleep on time that night.

 

  • Exercise regularly.
    You will hear conflicting advice about how close to bedtime you can exercise. For some people, late evening exercise will energize them and keep them from falling asleep when they need to but for others this will not be an issue. Track your results and see if you can determine how late is too late for you if your schedule only permits evening exercise.

 

  • Avoid caffeine the second half of the day.
    Caffeine blocks the receptors in the brain from filling up with adenosine. Adenosine is a neurochemical which causes us to feel sleepy. (And exercise is one way to create more adenosine!)

 

  •  Avoid alcohol in the evening.
    Alcohol does actually help people to fall asleep more quickly, but it’s at a price. Using alcohol to fall asleep is a huge risk factor for developing alcoholism because, over time, it takes more and more alcohol to feel sleepy. Additionally, because of the way the body metabolizes alcohol, it begins to act as a stimulant the second half of the night, disrupting your sleep. And if that’s not enough, it also affects your sleep architecture and how much time you spend in the various stages of sleep. REM sleep (dream sleep) is suppressed.

 

  • Limit smoking in the evening.
    Nicotine is a stimulant which means it will have an energizing effect. So how much is too much? Once again, this varies from individual to individual. You will have to track your smoking and how easily you fall asleep and how well you stay asleep to determine how late you can smoke before it interferes with your sleep.

 

  •  Don’t keep a TV on while sleeping.
    Although you may not consciously register the talking or noise from the TV while you are sleeping, part of your brain is very much on alert and listening to the TV, trying to make sense of what it’s hearing and making sure it doesn’t represent danger. As a result, your sleep is disturbed and more fragmented. This means less good quality sleep, particularly of the most restorative phase: deep sleep.

 

  • Develop a routine
    Have you ever seen a video of a dog or cat that hears the electric can opener and gets all excited because that noise means they might get some yummy canned food? That’s an example of conditioning. We can use conditioning to our own benefit by creating a bedtime routine. Over time, your brain will come to realize “Oh, hey, this means it’s time to go to sleep.” Your routine could be as simple as laying out tomorrow’s clothes, putting on your pajamas, and brushing your teeth before getting into bed and going to sleep.

If you struggle with insomnia, it’s important for you to know that good sleep hygiene practices are considered “necessary but not sufficient” for treating insomnia. What this means is that even if you have the very best sleep hygiene in the world, it’s not very likely to fix your insomnia on its own. However, having bad sleep hygiene practices can make your insomnia worse. The good news for those who struggle with insomnia is that there is a highly effectiveand brief therapy for it and you can get a head start by implementing good sleep hygiene practices.

About the Author:

Alicia Polk is a board-certified licensed professional counselor who specializes in helping
people overcome their sleep problems. She is also a certified grief counselor.

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