Are you part of the 1/3 of the population who don’t sleep well? Rather than jumping to sleeping pills or supplements, you can start with the basics – sleep hygiene.
Sleep hygiene originally did refer to cleanliness, but now the term refers to a set of rules and behaviors to get better sleep. “Inadequate Sleep Hygiene” is actually considered a medical diagnosis. Sleep doctors use the Sleep Hygiene Index for diagnosis. The higher your score, the more likely you have inadequate sleep hygiene. Check out your score here:
How much sleep do you actually need?
The National Sleep Foundation updated its sleep guidelines in 2015. These age groups need this amount of sleep:
- Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours
- Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
- Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
- Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours
- Elementary school age (6-13): 9-11 hours
- Teens (14-17): 8-10 hours
- Adults (18-64): 7-9 hours
- Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours
So note that adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Not a minute less! I find that most adults need a minimum of eight hours. Also, note that teens should not get less than eight hours!
The rules of sleep hygiene
These are research-based and they make a lot of sense. This is a great place to start if you have any sleep problems, before seeking out medications, supplements, or other interventions.
1. Keep a consistent sleep schedule
Get up at the same time every day, even on weekends or during vacations. This trains your brain to develop a regular circadian rhythm (24-hour body clock). It is fine to vary it by 20 minutes for a little sleep-in on non-work days.
2. Set an appropriate bedtime
Set your bedtime to get at least seven hours sleep, and if that’s not cutting it, or you know you need eight or nine hours, set your bedtime to get the amount of sleep that you need. This seems like such a no-brainer, but countless people have come to me seeking help for fatigue when they don’t give themselves enough time to sleep!
3. Don’t lie in bed awake
If you don’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed. If this happens during the night, do the same, even if it is more than one time per night. Sit in a chair in the dark until you feel sleepy. No screens (TV, phone, computer, etc.) or lights. A guided relaxation recording can work well.
4. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine
This can include a warm bath or shower. Meditate or have quiet time to wind down from the day. Get your mental clutter out by reflecting, journaling, or writing lists. Often events of the day spin around in your mind, or things to do tomorrow. You can write these down on a list, and tell yourself that you don’t need to look at the list or think about it until the following day.
5. Use your bed only for sleep and sex
When you read, look at your phone, or watch TV in bed, you associate it with wakefulness. When you go to bed, it should be when you are ready to sleep or make love.
6. Make your bedroom quiet, cool, comfortable and relaxing
Sleep is better when your room is cool rather than warm. You can keep a door or window cracked for circulation and to avoid stuffiness. Keep all lights off, including night lights, and lights from electronic devices. Sleep on a comfortable mattress. Turn off the extraneous noise. A white noise machine is fine. If your pets wake you up, keep them in another part of the house.
7. Turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime
Electronic devices emit blue light, and blue light stimulates the waking hormone cortisol while blocking the sleep hormone melatonin. Some people need to turn off electronic devices 1 to 2 hours before bedtime.
8. Don’t eat a large meal before bedtime
If you find that you are hungry at bedtime or during the night, you may need more food with dinner. Some people need more carbohydrates, which help make sleepy neurotransmitters like serotonin. Others need more protein and/or fat, to keep blood sugar regulated throughout the night. Some people do need a light snack before bed.
9. Exercise regularly, during the day, not at night
Exercise promotes continuous sleep. Avoid rigorous exercise in the evening. Rigorous exercise circulates neurotransmitters that can interfere with sleep.
10. Be careful with caffeine
The effects of caffeine may last for several hours after ingestion. Some people report that even a cup of green tea during the day will interfere with their sleep. Caffeine can fragment sleep, and cause difficulty initiating sleep. If you drink caffeine, do it before noon, as caffeine stimulates waking hormones and neurotransmitters. It’s pretty much a no-brainer to avoid caffeine if you have insomnia. Yet, many people with insomnia are addicted to caffeine to get through the day, and this is a vicious cycle. With insomnia, you may not recover if you don’t lose the caffeine. Seriously.
11. Nix fluids before bedtime
The last thing you want is your bladder waking you up continuously throughout the night. Try to get your fluids earlier in the day.
12. Avoid napping
When you take naps, it decreases the amount of sleep that you need at night – which may cause sleep fragmentation and difficulty initiating sleep and may lead to insomnia. Naps under 30 minutes may be fine. Set an alarm for daytime naps.
13. Don’t ingest substances that interfere with sleep
Cigarettes, alcohol, and some over-the-counter medications may disrupt your sleep. Women with menopausal insomnia can really notice the difference with these.
14. Hide the clock, if you are a clock watcher at night
If you have insomnia, it is not helpful to constantly look at the clock. This can exacerbate stress about not sleeping!
Beyond sleep hygiene
If your sleep isn’t perfect, get your sleep hygiene in order. If sleep is still problematic, you can learn more here about manipulating your circadian hormones, cortisol and melatonin. You can take the Dutch Adrenal test to find out if your cortisol rhythm and levels are off-kilter. Or, assess if there’s a sex hormone or melatonin issue with the Dutch Complete Hormone test. Lastly, it’s always a must to find out if you have sleep apnea.
I’d love to see your questions or input below.