5 Must-Know Tips for Better Sleep Hygiene and Wellness
Short-term sleep problems are common. Most of us can relate to having nights where sleep just won't come. Here's some basic advice on how to significantly cut down on those sleepless nights.
1. Get out of bed at the same time each morning.
Your body needs sleep like it needs food and water. The longer you go without food and water, the more your body will crave it. Sleep works precisely the same way—the longer you are awake, the stronger your drive for sleep will get.
Your body also requires consistency. Getting up at the same time each day trains your body to know when it is time to sleep and when it is time to be awake. This reliability increases the efficiency and depth of your sleep, creating a more restful and restorative pattern.
2. Don't go to bed until you are sleepy, and get out if you can't sleep. Use the bed and bedroom for sleeping only.
When you toss and turn in bed and can't fall asleep, you get stressed and frustrated. Experience this enough, and your mind will learn to associate the bed and bedroom with these emotions.
You can avoid this by making sure you are sleepy when you get to bed, thus associating the bed with sleep. If you have been trying to sleep for a while and find yourself getting frustrated, get out of bed and do something else before trying again. Use this time to promote a sense of rest, whether you are in bed or not.
3. Avoid daytime naps
Every minute you are awake, you build your sleep drive. If you nap, your drive becomes weaker, and it will be harder for you to fall asleep in the evening. Short naps under 20 minutes can be OK for some, depending on whether it disrupts your night of sleep. Experiment with this and see what works for you.
4. Avoid caffeine
Caffeine is excellent for waking you up in the morning, but if you drink coffee in the afternoon, your ability to fall asleep will be significantly reduced. This is caused by the way caffeine blocks a sleep-promoting hormone in your brain called adenosine. People's sensitivity to caffeine varies, and some get rid of the caffeine faster than others. Additionally, adenosine builds up in our bodies over time so even small amounts of caffeine on a daily basis can interfere with sleep.
5. Don't drink before bed
Alcohol might help you fall asleep faster, but research has shown that alcohol affects your sleep quality by suppressing REM sleep. Alcohol also has the negative effect that will make you sleep lighter as the body is working to process alcohol when it should be resting.
When sleep hygiene isn't enough
When people really struggle with sleep and have done so for a while, sleep hygiene advice is not enough. If you have already employed many of the steps described here with little success, the American Academy for Sleep Medicine, The American College of Physicians, and the European Sleep Research Society recommend cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). Read more about CBT-I.
Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom is a licensed clinical psychologist with a specialty practice in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Areas of expertise include insomnia and other sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression.
Dr. Ehrnstrom is not a medical provider and is not providing any recommendations regarding medications. Rather, she is sharing and reviewing the research as it relates to education when learning how best to treat insomnia.