Preparing for sleep requires much more than setting the alarm clock and turning out the lights. From the time you wake up in the morning to the moment you lie down to sleep at night, your activities are impacting the quality of your sleep. Take a look at your daily routines, and think about how you might incorporate the following suggestions to create an improved sleep hygiene regimen.
Your daily activities
Good sleep begins long before your head reaches the pillow. Your daily habits and activities can affect how well you’ll sleep at night. Here are some suggestions for how you can modify your daily routine to help you sleep better at night.
- Get outside during daylight hours. Spending time in sunlight helps stabilize your body’s sleep and wake cycles.
- Exercise during the day. (It’s best to avoid exercise or other vigorous activities within four hours of bedtime, as such activities can make it harder to sleep.)
- Maintain a regular meal schedule.
- Avoid naps during the day.
- Limit your intake of caffeine, including coffee, tea, cola and chocolate.
- Don’t smoke or use tobacco, as nicotine is a stimulant that can keep you awake.
Your evening and bedtime routine
Having an evening routine and a set bedtime will help your body get used to a sleeping schedule. You may want to ask others in your household to help you establish a regular bedtime routine.
- Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning. Keep the same routine, even on the weekend.
- Allow at least one hour to unwind before bedtime. Create a relaxing pre-bed routine, perhaps listening to soothing music, reading a book, drinking a cup of non-caffeinated tea or warm milk, or having a light carbohydrate snack. It’s also helpful if your pre-bed routine takes place in dim light.
- Consider setting aside a “worry time” one-to-two hours before you go to bed. Allow yourself to think about things that might be concerning you during this time, possibly even writing them down. This will help you to set those concerns aside when bedtime arrives. Containing your worries in this way may help you avoid going over them again and again while trying to sleep.
- Try using relaxation techniques shortly before bedtime (See managing stress for some proven techniques).
- Avoid energizing or stressful activities in the evening.
- Avoid eating heavy or spicy meals four to six hours before bedtime.
- If you tend to wake during the night to use the bathroom, avoid drinking liquids after 6 p.m.
- Don’t take medicine that may keep you awake, or make you feel hyper or energized, right before bed. (Your doctor can tell you whether your medication can have this effect, and if you can take it earlier in the day.)
- Don’t drink alcohol before bedtime. Although alcohol is often associated with relaxation, it can actually disrupt your sleeping pattern, causing you to wake up more frequently during the night.
Your sleeping area
Where you sleep can affect how well you sleep. Too much noise, light, or activity in your bedroom can make sleeping harder. Here are some tips for creating a quiet, comfortable sleeping area:
- Sleep only in the bedroom, not in other rooms in the house.
- Reserve the bedroom only for sleep and sex; take television and other activities into another room.
- Avoid noise (such as television, radio or computer) at bedtime.
- Keep the bedroom at a comfortable temperature (ideally, slightly cool), and well ventilated.
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress.
- Keep the bedroom as dark as possible. Use curtains or binds to block out light.
- If a nightlight is required to light the way to a hall or bathroom, consider a red bulb, which has been shown to be less disruptive to sleep.
- Consider using a “white noise” machine to block out noise that might otherwise awaken you.
- If light and noise continue to bother you, use a sleep mask and earplugs.
If you can't fall asleep or stay asleep
Despite your best efforts to establish a relaxing routine and create a comfortable environment for sleep, there will be times when it will be hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. Here are a few techniques to try when your sleep is interrupted:
- Get out of bed, go to another room and do a quiet – or even a boring – activity until you begin to feel very sleepy, then return to bed
- Try a relaxation technique to target and reduce tensions, either psychological or physical that might be inhibiting your ability to sleep well. One example is progressive muscle relaxation, which addresses muscle tension. See managing stress for a complete description of this technique.
- To relieve psychological tension, meditation and imagery training may be helpful. See managing stress for more about these techniques.
- If your sleeping troubles are persistent or are caused by physical pain, if you frequently feel anxious at night, or if you are having bad dreams or nightmares, speak with your doctor.