Sleep hygiene is often neglected by chronic insomniacs. Good sleep hygiene can improve the ease of falling asleep and improve the restful quality of sleep which in turn increases energy levels, helps weight loss, improves mental clarity, improves attention and improves mood. Instead of goodsleep hygiene, most people turn to sleep pills as the answer but they are a temporary solution with a plethora of problems associated with taking them. Although sleeping pills can improve the subjective feeling of sleep, in reality they interfere with the restful, stage 3 slow wave sleep and ultimately cause problems with energy and mental clarity the following day. They can also be addictive and difficult to get off of when wanting to stop. Here are some basic steps to take to ensure you are following good sleep hygiene:
1-Cut out caffeine entirely. Many physicians recommend not drinking caffeine after 3pm, however caffeine has a long-half life and can disrupt sleep even if used in the early morning. My patients do not like when I suggest this but all of them enjoy a much better quality of sleep and ease of falling asleep within a few weeks of eliminating caffeine. Also things like green tea, ginseng or any other “energy” booster (energy drinks etc).
2.Exercise 3-4 hours before bed. Getting a cardio workout in for 20-30 minutes of moderate-high intensity can wear you out physically and improve ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Immediately following exercise, endorphins and energy levels are elevated for 1-3 hours which is why it is important to do this a few hours before bed rather than immediately before bed.
3.Keep a set bedtime and wake-time. Aim for 7-8 hours. Be consistent during the week and on weekends. This is the most common mistake my patients make. Many sleep in on the weekends which ultimately disrupt the entire sleep-wake cycle for the rest of the week leading to difficultly with sleep all week. While it is true that you do “catch-up” on sleep to some extent by sleeping for long periods of time, the need to catch-up would be eliminated if someone can sleep consistently every night which by following these tips can be possible.
4.Use your bedroom ONLY for sleep. This is one of the hardest tips to follow but again one of the most effective for improving sleep hygiene. No reading, watching TV, or eating. The only other activity allowed is sex but aside from that it is sleeping only. The reason behind this is psychological in that if a lot of time is spent in bed doing activity other than sleep, your brain associates the bed with activity rather than sleep. On the other hand if you only see and feel your bed when you go to sleep, your mind conditions itself to shutting down and sleeping when you climb into bed.
5.Get 15 minutes of sun in the morning or early afternoon without sunglasses on. Direct sunlight is absorbed through the eye and feeds your pineal gland which regulates your circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is what regulates our sleep-wake cycle and dictates at which time you tend to get tired and what time you naturally wake-up. Feeding the pineal gland with plenty of sun allows your body to naturally become more tired at a reasonable time and helps with falling asleep more consistently.
These examples of good sleep hygiene are the perfect first step to address insomnia but there are a couple of other helpful, natural steps to take. First is eating a banana or two during the evening. Potassium, which bananas are full of, helps regulate many physiological functions including mood and sleep. Second, one of the oldest tricks is to drink warm milk before bed. Actually cold milk will do and there is evidence that milk indeed does have sleep induction properties. For my patients I recommend a banana and glass of milk an hour before their bedtime in addition to working on their sleep hygiene. The vast majority of my patients who follow these steps avoid having to ever take sleeping pills and end up with more energy, improved moods, improved attention and focus and improved ability to lose weight.
Michael Yasinski M.D