Sleep Hygiene: When It Matters (and When It Doesn’t)

 

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If you’re having trouble sleeping, sleep hygiene is the first place to look.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you getting daily exercise?  (Anything that moves your body and raises your heart rate counts here.)
  • Do you drink caffeine?  Is it possible it could be making sleep more difficult?  (Caffeine can stay in the body for up to 6 hours, long after you’ve stopped feeling its effects.)
  • Do you get much sunlight?  (If not, you might try resetting your circadian rhythm by exposing yourself to sunlight early in the day if you have trouble falling asleep at bedtime or late in the afternoon if you tend to wake up in the middle of the night.)
  • Do you do things in bed other than sleep or sex?  (You want to associate your bed with sleep and rest, so anything you do in it should be relaxing.)
  • Are naps or sleeping in late getting in the way of falling asleep at night? 
  • Does the idea of going to bed make you anxious?  (If so, try getting out of bed when you can’t sleep and find yourself becoming more wakeful instead of more sleepy.  Do something enjoyable—read, do yoga, take a bath, work on a puzzle, play a game, call a friend, listen to music, etc.—until you feel sleepy again.  Do this as many times as necessary.)

Sorting through these factors (collectively called “sleep hygiene”) is helpful, especially in the beginning.  If you’re drinking three espressos after dinner every night, you may not need to look any further for the source of your sleeping woes.  If your sleeplessness is relatively new, getting out of bed when you can’t sleep and doing something you enjoy can help you stay relaxed about it and prevent you from developing bad habits and thinking patterns that will make it worse.  Hygiene, however, is rarely the main explanation for persistent trouble sleeping.  If you’ve addressed most of the above issues and are still having trouble sleeping, it’s unlikely that drinking your last cup of tea at noon instead of 2pm is going to solve your problem.  If your sleep hygiene is good and you still have trouble sleeping, then check out the next post in this series.

Or write me at me@meredithwalters.com and request the full article.

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