Ten tips to improve sleep hygiene

This weekend, many people were able to get an extra hour of shut eye thanks to daylight savings time. If your like me, it leaves you daydreaming about what it'd be like if you had an extra hour every night... ah, yes, that would be nice.  

Sleep is important and poor sleep has been linked to problems with learning, memory, hormones that affect our appetite, metabolism, cardiovascular health (e.g., high blood pressure, irregular heart beat), immune system function, and even safety (e.g., driving accidents, medical mishaps).

Proper sleep habits are essential for any healthy lifestyle. Here are some suggestions that I often give my clients who have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep:

  1. Avoid caffeine for at least 6 hours before bedtime.
  2. Avoid alcohol, nicotine, and street drugs before going to sleep and through the night.
  3. Avoid bright lights (think TV, computer, cell phone) before going to sleep because they stimulate the brain.
  4. Avoid exercising or eating a heavy meal shortly before bedtime.
  5. Avoid napping during the day.
  6. Make your bedroom as comfortable as possible: adjust temperature and lighting so they do not disturb your sleep, and minimize noise as much as possible. Use an eye mask and earplugs if necessary.
  7. Only use your bed for sleeping and sexual activity, not for working, reading, or watching TV. This allows your brain to associate your bed with sleep and not with other activities.
  8. If you have trouble falling asleep or if you wake up in the middle of the night and can't fall back to sleep, get out of bed and do something soothing until you feel tired enough to go back to sleep. Don't lie in bed thinking about other things; this will only make you feel more aggravated and make it more difficult to get back to sleep.
  9. Create a bedtime routine. Use relaxation methods before going to bed in order to calm your body and mind: take a bath, drink "sleepy time" or chamomile tea, meditate, pray, journal, use paced breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and so on.
  10. Create a sleep schedule and stick to it. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. This creates a sleep cycle that your body can predict.

If you try these tips out and your sleep problems persist - if you can't stay awake during the day, if you can't fall asleep and/or stay asleep, or if you're feeling depressed, contact a medical professional for help.