Sleep Hygiene is a proven but extensive set of healthy habits and sleep-friendly tips to create the ideal environment for rest.
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BEST PRACTICES FOR QUALITY SLEEP:
Use Biological Cues: Do not try to sleep if you do not feel tired. Your sleep does not have to coincide with the clock. There is no need to create extra anxiety for yourself because you cannot sleep. In fact, it is more beneficial to get up and do something boring until you feel sleepy than it is to lie in bed tossing and turning for 20-30 minutes. Try to sleep prior to midnight, though.
Use Nature’s Cues: In short, sleep when the sun does. Natural light is an example of what scientists call an environmental cue. Environmental cues tip off our bodies and minds to follow patterns that have been evolutionarily beneficial to our species.
Avoid Napping: Try not to nap in the late afternoon or in the evening. Doing so may interfere with your ability to fall asleep later. Also, try to avoid taking excessively long naps.
Develop a Sleep Routine: Creating and maintaining a sleep routine will help your body wind down and prepare for sleep. A routine is equivalent to creating your own environment cues that your body and mind begin to recognize as time to sleep.
Go to bed and get up at the same time everyday, even on weekends. This is the foremost practice in developing a routine.
Take a warm bath 90 minutes prior to going to bed. Temperature plays a vital role; keep the room cool and the body warm.
Set the mood for sleep. Keep the room dark, quiet and cool. Unplug the phone and turn off the TV. If you like, provide yourself with background noise by using a fan or playing soft, relaxing music or ambient natural sounds.
Track Your Sleep: Make an effort to learn about sleep, collect sleep data, and take action to improve your sleep. Excessive daytime sleepiness, falling asleep frequently and at inappropriate times, as well as not being able to focus or enjoy your free time, are not normal symptoms of aging. Stress, excessive weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and other serious health concerns are related to sleep quality.
Additional Lifestyle &
Exercise can improve sleep onset and sleep quality by reducing stress, releasing sleep-inducing hormones, and creating changes in body temperature. Due to these changes in body temperature an ideal time to exercise is four to five hours before bedtime. This is because body temperature increases during exercise and remains elevated for two to four hours, after which point body temperature begins to fall. This drop in temperature creates the ideal conditions to fall asleep and stay asleep. As a result, do not exercise vigorously within three hours of bedtime because an elevated body temperature might leave you energized when you try to fall asleep. If you have concerns about your ability to exercise, first seek medical guidance.
Eating higher quality foods and staying on a consistent meal schedule can improve sleep and support your sleep schedule. Certain foods can irritate your stomach and also make your heart and mind race, making it difficult to sleep. Such foods include spicy, fatty, fried foods, foods that have artificial coloring, preservatives, or MSG, and excessive amounts of protein, tomatoes, chocolate, coffee, and alcohol. Also, avoiding large quantities of food at meals may help. If you eat a large meal too close to bedtime, your stomach will be digesting the food when you want to sleep, and an active stomach can make it difficult to sleep. If possible, have your last large meal at least four hours before bedtime. However, you should not go to bed hungry, as low blood sugar can contribute to early awakenings. If you would like to have a snack before bed, make it small and choose foods that are high in carbohydrates, such as a piece of whole grain bread or crackers. You might want to include some protein, such as a piece of cheese or a small glass of milk. Eating ice cream or drinking too much milk too close to bedtime can be especially problematic for adults, as adults often have less tolerance for digesting lactose, and your body’s reaction could wake you up and keep you awake in the middle of the night. Take your time while eating, chewing your food as completely as possible and swallow what is in your mouth before putting in the next mouthful of food. This will aid digestion and de-stress your life.
It is good to awaken gently. Perhaps get an alarm with a CD player, so you can awaken to your favorite soothing music. Some people lose sleep when they have a flight or an important meeting in the morning. If you are frequently anxious about a malfunctioning alarm or power outages, some people find it comforting to set a second alarm, one that is battery powered, set for a few minutes later. This eases your mind and helps you sleep with confidence.
Our body’s sleep-wake mechanism is also affected by our exposure to natural light. Receiving more sunlight during the day can help your body shift into sleep at night. Go outside more, even if it is just for a brief walk. If you have difficulty falling asleep try getting more exposure to sunlight soon after you awaken. If you wake up too early in the morning, expose yourself to sunlight later in the day by taking a late afternoon walk.
Slowing Down Before Bed
For those who find sleep to be elusive, careful attention needs to be paid to the things you do within the hours before you intend to sleep. It is important that your body and mind are calm as you prepare for sleep. Without a calm mind and body most attempts to sleep will be in vain. In the event that you are still feeling very active when it is time for sleep, sit on the side of your bed for a few minutes with your eyes closed and listen to relaxing music or a guided meditation. Begin to rest in that feeling and it helps your body and mind begin to become calmer and quieter.
Light and Melatonin Production
At nighttime our bodies produce the hormone melatonin—a hormone essential for sleep. Melatonin production naturally decreases during daylight of the next day, helping you feel awake. However, artificial light in the evening can shut down your body’s melatonin production, making sleep more difficult. It has been found that it is only a certain frequency of blue in light that affects melatonin production. There are manufacturers that make amber-colored glasses that filter out this frequency of blue light, but allow all other light in. These glasses allow you to read and carry on normal activities in the evening, but prevent blue light from shutting-down your melatonin production. People report it is very helpful to wear blue light blocking glasses one to three hours before bedtime.
Using a computer as bedtime approaches can be overly stimulating in a way that some people describe as feeling “wired,” with their minds “buzzing.” If possible, stop using your computer at least an hour before bedtime. Some people believe that computers with cathode-ray screens generate an electromagnetic field that can accentuate this “wired” feeling. Flat panel liquid crystal display (LCD) screens do not generate as strong of an electromagnetic field. Many people report that switching to an LCD screen helps them feel calmer. Also, the use of amber-colored glasses described above may provide an additional benefit in preventing the “wired” feeling.
If you wear clothing while you sleep, wear clothing that is loose and comfortable. Ideally your clothing should be made from breathable, natural fabrics like cotton or silk, rather than synthetic fabrics such as polyester. This can help your body feel more comfortable and relaxed, which can help you sleep. If you commonly experience hot flashes, there are nightclothes made of material that wicks sweat away from your body, leaving you feeling cool, dry and more comfortable.
If reading helps you relax, you may have previously read until you fell asleep. Read until the moment you notice that you are just beginning to feel sleepy. Then stop reading and use a meditation or breathing technique to drift into sleep.
Request that the other people in your house are quiet around bedtime. Consider placing rugs on wooden floors to reduce the sound of footsteps. Heavy drapes also can absorb noise. “White noise” is a neutral sound that masks other potentially bothersome sounds. You can create this by running a fan, air conditioner, or humidifier. Small devices that generate white noise can be purchased at electronics stores or recordings can be found on YouTube. Earplugs also may decrease your sensitivity to sound. If you are comfortable turning off your phone ringer, doing so may help ensure a quiet sleep environment.
As you approach bedtime, do not watch violent or agitating television programs, which may include the evening news. If you need to see a particular show, you might record it for viewing at a different time. It is optimal to avoid watching television in bed. Many television screens flicker many times a second. Due to these factors, for some people, watching television can activate the brain, making it more difficult to sleep. Discover what is true for you and perhaps reduce or eliminate watching television close to bedtime.
Using Your Bed for Sleep
Try to associate your bed solely with sleeping, relaxing, and lovemaking. Do not use your bed for watching violent or agitating television programs, using a computer, working, paying bills, or reading disturbing material.
Turn the clock face away from you so that you would have to move to be able to see it. If you previously had a habit of looking at the clock, turning the clock face away from you helps you let go of that. Many digital clocks have red numbers and red is the color associated with danger, which is not conducive to sleep. Find a retailer that carries a large enough selection of clocks that you can find one with blue numbers, which are more calming. Many clocks also come with dimmer switches so you can dim the brightness of the numbers. Do this in the dark so you can set it to the dimmest visible setting.
Fluids and Bladder Control
Water plays a critical role in a healthy lifestyle. A good reminder to drink plenty of water is having a full glass of water visible while you work and refilling the glass as soon as it is empty. However, drink only minimally in the hours before bed and during the middle of the night, as frequent urinations through the night can severely decrease the quality of your sleep. If you typically get thirsty in the middle of the night, put a glass of water by your bed so you do not have to get out of bed, and drink as little as you can to quench your thirst. Rolling the water around your mouth can help you feel less need to drink.
Although alcohol initially may make you drowsy, it can prevent you from entering deep, restorative sleep. When its sedating properties wear off, the rebound effect can awaken you in the middle of the night and make it more difficult to fall back to sleep. Reduce the amount of alcohol you consume, and never use alcohol as a sleeping aid, as this habit can lead to alcoholism and dangerous health consequences.
Try to reduce or eliminate your use of nicotine. Although nicotine can create sensations of relaxation, it also can act as a stimulant that makes your heart beat faster, which can make sleep difficult. At the very least, do not smoke near bedtime.