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Good sleep habits

Published in Sleep Medicine, For the Health of It Author: Troy Payne, MD, FAASM

Spring cleaning always makes me feel better. It is nice to get the screened porch clean and ready for lazy Sunday afternoons reading the newspaper. That garage needs sweeping out and the bicycles need to be tuned up for summer.

Sometimes we need to tune up our sleep habits. Have you been feeling more tired? Taking energy drinks to get going? Have you gained weight and slacked off on exercise? Find yourself yawning more and more? Exercise, nutrition and sleep are all important. Science is showing us that when we do these things poorly it affects our health. Inadequate sleep habits cause insufficient sleep, insomnia and an increased risk of diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. Grabbing a sleeping pill is usually not the answer. Working on your sleep habits is a good way to feel better and have more energy.

These tips may be helpful:

  1. Do not go to bed unless you are sleepy. Have some down time to put away all the electronic screens that surround our lives these days. The blue light they emit keeps us awake too late. Read a book or browse a magazine. Find something relaxing and non-stimulating. An evening ritual such reading can help prepare you for sleep. A light bedtime snack is OK.
  2. Look at your bedroom and straighten it up. It is harder to sleep in a cluttered bedroom. Your bedroom should be quiet, dark and a little bit cool. A comfortable bed and an inviting bedroom go a long way to helping you fall asleep.
  3. If you do not fall asleep in about 20 minutes, get out of bed. You cannot make yourself go to sleep. Getting frustrated or angry about insomnia makes it worse. Find something relaxing to do and then go back to bed again.
  4. Keep a regular schedule. Getting up one day at 5 am and the next at noon almost guarantees you will get an insufficient amount of sleep some nights. The best way to find your ideal bedtime is to keep your wake up time the same every day.
  5. Exercise is great but do not do it right before bedtime. Give yourself time to cool off and settle down if you do exercise in the evening. It has been shown that aerobic exercise helps depression and insomnia.
  6. Do not watch the clock at night. This becomes a bad habit and is hard to break. Turn the clock away from you or put a T-shirt over it.
  7. Do not watch television or play on your phone or laptop in bed. Remember, no screen time near bedtime. Your bed should be for bedtime activities only.
  8. Avoid caffeine in the evening. Half the caffeine you ingest is still in you six hours later. Also, avoid alcohol right before bedtime as it makes gastroesophageal reflux worse, decreases deep sleep and delays Rapid Eye Movement (REM/dream) sleep. Avoid cigarettes as nicotine disturbs sleep.
  9. Find a time each day/week to set down and go over the things that are bothering you. Pay the bills, plan your week, think about important relationships and the positive things you are going to do to make life better. You may want to journal or talk to a partner about your thoughts. Do this long before bedtime. If you find yourself thinking about these things in the middle of the night tell yourself “No, I have a time to do this earlier and I am not going to do this in the middle of the night anymore.” If you cannot stop thinking about things in the middle of the night then consider seeing a sleep psychologist. About 80 percent of people with insomnia say they sleep much better after working with a good sleep psychologist.