Contributed by Tara Pandiscia, PT, DPT
Good sleep is important for both physical and mental health, improving productivity, and overall quality of life. Everyone, from children to older adults, can benefit from better sleep. Sleep health is connected to proper immune function, tissue healing, pain modulation, cardiovascular health, cognitive function, learning, and memory. Just like we brush our teeth each morning and night for oral hygiene, establishing better sleep hygiene habits and routines can help to improve your sleep quality. If you are having sleep difficulties, here are some tips to help improve your sleep hygiene.
Establish a consistent sleep schedule. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time (or as close to it as possible) every day. If you have an iPhone you can set a bedtime and wake-up alert to help keep you on schedule or use a sleep app such as sleep cycle.
Dark for sleep, light for waking up. Keep your room as dark as possible for sleeping by using blackout curtains, a sleep mask, and removing/turning off electronics with light sources. When you first wake up, expose yourself to bright light to help wake up faster - open the curtains, turn on the lights, or try a light-based alarm clock like Hatch that uses gradually increasing light that simulates a sunrise to wake you.
Adjust your diet. Avoid caffeine and other stimulants afternoon. The half-life of caffeine is 7 hours - meaning it can interrupt your sleep long after that cup of coffee you had in the afternoon. Also, avoiding alcohol for 2-3 hours before bed can help. Even though some people report feeling more relaxed after consuming alcohol, it can cause you to wake up more during the night or wake up early.
Exercise regularly, but not at nighttime. Regular moderate to vigorous-intensity exercise can improve your sleep overall but should be done earlier in the day. Within 2-3 hours of bedtime, intense exercise stimulates your body and brain and can keep you awake.
Reserve your bedroom for sleep and sex only to train your brain that the bed is for sleeping. Watching TV, working, or eating should be done outside of the bedroom. If you are in bed and having trouble falling asleep for more than 20 minutes, get up and leave the room until you feel sleepy or engage in relaxation techniques (such as meditation or breathing practices) until you are able to fall asleep.
Make your bedroom comfortable. Find a comfortable temperature - too warm or too cold can keep you awake. Decrease noise, use earplugs or use white noise. And make sure your pillows and mattress are comfortable for you.
Avoid using light-emitting electronics at least 30 minutes before bed (TV, computer, smartphone, etc). The blue light that they emit can disrupt sleep by suppressing melatonin production.
If you are still having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor or dentist. Insomnia, sleep apnea, snoring, teeth clenching/grinding, and other sleep-related disorders are treatable.
Reference: “Sleep Health Promotion: Practical Information for Physical Therapists” Siengsukon et al
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