For most people that suffer with insomnia, “Sleep Hygiene” will be a new foundation they incorporate into their lives. And for good reason.
The idea behind Sleep Hygiene is to retrain your brain to know when and how to sleep (CBT). And the way to do that is to remove any potential sleep obstacles, and then establish a pattern for sleep that your brain will understand – basically building a habit.
Whether you are consciously aware of it or not (likely not), your brain will pick up on all these changes you’re making. And if you make them for long enough, it will start to expect them, and react accordingly. This is building sleep as a habit. Follow these guidelines as best as you can:
- As we mentioned back in Journaling, keep a journal. A scrap of paper or a spreadsheet, it doesn’t really matter. Just as long as you record what you’re doing, and what effect it has on your sleep. Otherwise you can’t tell what’s working and what’s not.
- Further to the journal, try to make only one change at a time. Give it a week or two, and see if it’s made a difference. If it hasn’t then try another change. The journal can help you discern what and when you changed.
- Get up and out of bed at the same time every day. Weekends included. This might seem silly, but it’s one of the most basic ways of reprogramming your brain. If you feel you have to sleep in on the weekend, make sure it’s no more than an extra hour in bed (your brain will likely grant you this much latitude). If you go to bed extra late one night – get up at the regular time the next morning regardless.
- Just like getting up at the same time, go to bed at the same time every night. This one is a bit tougher to manage, but do it if you can. Train your brain to expect bedtime.
- Your bed should be for sleeping and sex only. Your brain should associate the bed with only these two things. No reading, no watching TV, no working on that report, no surfing the Internet on your iPad, nothing. It’s into bed and lights out. This is another integral part to CBT and reprogramming. Bed means sleep.
- Make your bedroom a place of refuge. We sleep best when the room is cool, and we’re warm under a blanket. We sleep easiest when it’s dark and quiet. We quiet our minds when the room is orderly and there’s not a lot of junk lying around. So make your room this way. Make it cool, dark, quiet and neat. Do whatever it takes – a white noise generator for a noisy street, tinfoil on the windows to block out light from a street lamp, and earplugs to block out noise from outside.
- Remove the clock – or at least turn it toward the wall. There’s nothing more frustrating than to glance at a clock at 3am, and worry about your sleep. Make it impossible for you to do. If you need the alarm to wake up, face the clock away from your line of sight at night.
- Avoid any strong artificial light within an hour of going to bed. This means no TV, no Smart-phone, no Computer, no iPad, nothing. These devices all produce blue light, and that triggers your brain to think that it’s morning-time, not nighttime. If you have to read before bed, chose something that’s not back-lit (a B&W eBook or an old-fashioned book works well). Turn the lights down lower throughout the house, too.
- Further to the electronic appliances (TV’s and computers of all types), in addition to the unwanted light they produce, they cause unwanted brain activity – the kind that you don’t want when you’re getting ready for bed.
- Get some exercise every day – 30 minutes or so should do it. This may mean a walk or a bike-ride, but your body craves movement, so move! More exercise is linked to better quality sleep. Avoid vigorous exercise too late in the day – your body temperature rise will make it harder to fall asleep.
- Avoid anything confrontational at night. Bedtime is the wrong time to have an argument with your boss or your wife (which may be the same person!). The extra emotion and anxiety you bring to bed with you is almost guaranteed to effect your sleep.
- Make your bedroom a no pets zone. Whether you realize it or not, a pet on the bed, or in the room anywhere, can be very disruptive. Even when you think they have no affect on your sleep, they probably do. Pet dander can cause allergies, and their movement at night can wake you up – even if you’re not aware of it. See if there is some way to make them comfortable elsewhere in the house where you cannot hear them as they move around during the night.
- Try a hot bath before bed. Paradoxically, the rise in your body temperature from the bath will amplify you body’s natural lowering of body temperature at bedtime. Time it so the bath is about 1.5 – 2 hours before actual bedtime.
- Establish a night-time routine so that you can teach your brain to “expect” sleep. Note that turning off the TV and computer should be part of this routine. Again with the brain – the intent is to teach it that there’s a ritual of sorts that we go through every night, so it can associate this ritual with going to sleep. Make sure that part of your routine includes turning down the lights as you approach bedtime – it’s night!
- Get some sunlight in the morning – wake up and open the drapes or blinds and stand there for a few minutes. Eat your breakfast by a window that gets direct sunlight. If it’s dark and gloomy where you are, invest in (or make) a light-box. Note that your average living room’s light level is about 50 LUX. The average office can be up to 300 LUX. Sunlight can be up to 130,000 LUX!