The Skinny on Sleep

Maverick Fire

How is your sleep? Do you wake up tired? Have problems going to sleep? Wake up in the middle of the night? Take a gander at the sleep practices listed below and see what you can implement to improve your sleep.

Sleep Hygiene:

Sleep hygiene is a variety of different practices that are necessary to have normal, quality nighttime sleep and full daytime alertness. Sleep hygiene can be compared to any other type of hygiene, like dental hygiene, you brush your teeth at least twice per day as well as use mouth wash and floss daily to take care of your teeth and have optimal dental health. Like dental hygiene, there are things that can be done every day to achieve optimal sleep.

Sleep Hygiene Practices:
  • The most important sleep hygiene measure is to maintain a regular sleep and wake pattern seven days a week.
  • Avoid napping during the day; it can disturb the normal pattern of sleep and wakefulness. If you are still able to sleep well at night, a 30-45 minute nap during the afternoon is fine.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol too close to bedtime. While alcohol is known to speed the onset of sleep, it disrupts sleep in the second half as the body begins to metabolize the alcohol, causing arousal. This is the reason that you feel exhausted the next day if you imbibed a little too much the night before. Stop drinking caffeine and/or alcohol 4-6 hours before bed time.
  • Exercise can promote good sleep. Vigorous exercise should occur in the morning or late afternoon. Try not to do vigorous exercise within 2 hours of going to bed as this can disrupt sleep. A relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep. There are actually specific yoga positions that help promote sleep.
  • Food can be disruptive right before sleep; stay away from large meals close to bedtime.  And, remember, chocolate has caffeine. Avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods 4-6 hours before bedtime. These can affect your ability to stay asleep. However, warm milk and/or foods containing tryptophan can help with the onset of sleep.
  • Ensure adequate exposure to natural light. Light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
  • Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine. Pre-sleep rituals, such as a warm bath or a few minutes of reading, can help you sleep. Use deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation to help you relax to get you ready for sleep.
  • Relax your mind. Try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations and activities before trying to go to sleep. If you run through all of the things you need to do the next day while laying in bed, you will have a harder time falling asleep.  Dedicate a few minutes, before going to bed, to create a to-do list for the next day so you can ease your anxiety about forgetting to do something.
  • Still having a hard time pushing stressful thoughts away?  Use distraction techniques such as imagining a peaceful scene (lake, ocean, mountains, forest) including all of the senses you may experience there (what does it look like? smell like? feel like? sound like?) or imagine watching a clock countdown from 100 on a curtain backdrop.  Incorporate deep breathing into these exercises.
Sleeping Environment:
  • Use comfortable and clean bedding.
  • Find a comfortable temperature setting for sleeping and keep the room well ventilated. If your bedroom is too cold or too hot, it can keep you awake. A cool bedroom is often the most conducive to sleep. Recommended sleeping temperature is 62-68 degrees F. Remember to turn that thermostat down as you go to bed each night (or buy a programmable thermostat. . . you will save money and the environment too!)
  • Block out all distracting noise, and eliminate as much light as possible. Use a sleep machine (or sleep application on your phone). Turn off your phone or turn it on to “airplane mode” or “do not disturb”. Sleep in the absolute dark, if possible, or use a sleep mask.
  • Associate your bed with sleep. Do not work in bed.  Don’t stay sit in bed and use your tablet, phone or laptop.  Turn off your electronics about an hour before you plan to go to sleep.
  • Your television, tablets and phones will keep you up and will cause you to have less restful sleep when you are actually able to fall asleep. This is because these electronics are very engaging, you use multiple senses when using these devices.  The radio is a less engaging medium than TV, phones and tablets and may help some people fall asleep.  If you must have a TV in your bedroom, set strict boundaries as to when it is on and when it is off.  Give yourself ample time to reset after the TV is turned off before you plan to go to sleep.
  • Use scents to help you sleep. Lavender, Chamomile, Bergamot, Jasmine, Rose and Sandalwood are all scents that have been associated with assisting with the on-set of sleep.  Feel free to buy lotions or fragrances at most beauty stores containing these scents or buy essential oils and make your own sprays, lotions, etc.
What if I wake up during the night?

Most people wake up one or two times a night for various reasons. If you find that you get up in the middle of night and cannot get back to sleep within 15-20 minutes, then do not remain in the bed “trying hard” to sleep. Get out of bed. Leave the bedroom. Read, have a light snack, do some quiet activity, listen to the radio or take a bath. You will generally find that you can get back to sleep 20 minutes or so later. Do not perform challenging or engaging activity such as office work, housework, working out, etc. Do not watch television, use your phone or tablet.

How do I know the best sleep hygiene routine for me?

If you’re taking too long to fall asleep, or awakening during the night, you should consider revising your bedtime habits. Most important for everyone is to maintain a regular sleep-wake schedule throughout the week and consider how much time you spend in bed, which could be too much or too little.


The National Sleep Foundation

University of Maryland Medical Center


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