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Sleep Hygiene

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Sleep Improvement Suggestions

If you awaken at 3 am, it may seem impossible to fall back asleep, but there are ways you can improve the quality and longevity of your sleep. Following healthy sleep habits can make the difference between restlessness and restful slumber. Researchers have identified a variety of practices and habits—known as “sleep hygiene"—that can help anyone maximize the hours they spend sleeping, even those whose sleep is affected by insomnia,  jet lag, or shift work.

You may feel that you have tried a number of approaches to enhance your sleep, but sleep hygiene seems to be the best way to improve the sleep you need in this high stress world. The following are research-supported suggestions for healthful refreshing sleep that fall under four categories:
•    Common social or recreational drugs like nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol
Circadian rhythm, or 24-hour cycle
•    Aging
•    Psychological stressors -- factors that cause difficulty falling asleep and disturb the quality of your sleep

1. Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, Nicotine, and Other Sleep Interfering Chemicals
Caffeinated products decrease a person’s quality of sleep.

As any coffee lover knows, caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake. So avoid caffeine (found in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola, and some pain relievers) for four to six hours before bedtime. Similarly, smokers should refrain from using tobacco products too close to bedtime.
Although alcohol may help bring on sleep, after a few hours it acts as a stimulant, increasing the number of awakenings and generally decreasing the quality of sleep later in the night. It is therefore best to limit alcohol consumption to one to two drinks per day, or less, and to avoid drinking within three hours of bedtime.

2. Make Your Bedroom into a Sleep-Inducing Environment
A quiet, dark, and cool environment can help promote sound slumber. Why do you think bats congregate in caves for their daytime sleep? To achieve such an environment, lower the volume of outside noise with earplugs or a "white noise" appliance. Use heavy curtains, blackout shades, or an eye mask to block light, a powerful cue that tells the brain that it's time to wake up. Keep the temperature comfortably cool—between 60 and 75°F—and the room well ventilated. And make sure your bedroom is equipped with a comfortable mattress and pillows. (Remember that most mattresses wear out after ten years.)

Also, if a pet regularly wakes you during the night, you may want to consider keeping it out of your bedroom.

It may help to limit your bedroom activities to sleep and sex only. Keeping computers, TVs, and work materials out of the room will strengthen the mental association between your bedroom and sleep.

3. Establish a Soothing Pre-Sleep Routine
Light reading before bed is a good way to prepare yourself for sleep.

Ease the transition from wake time to sleep time with a period of relaxing activities an hour or so before bed. Take a bath (the rise, then fall in body temperature promotes drowsiness), read a book, watch television, or practice relaxation exercises.

Avoid stressful, stimulating activities, doing work, discussing emotional issues. Physically and psychologically stressful activities can cause the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which is associated with increasing alertness.

If you tend to take your problems to bed, try writing them down—and then putting them aside.

4. Limit Sleeping To When You Are Truly Tired
Struggling to fall sleep just leads to frustration. If you’re not asleep after 20 minutes, one option is to get out of bed, go to another room, and do something relaxing, like reading or listening to music until you are tired enough to sleep.

Another is to use self hypnosis to lull yourself back to sleep. Try to avoid the urge to get out of bed to go to the bathroom unless you feel it is necessary for concern of starting a pattern of getting up nightly at the same time.  

5. Avoid Clock Watching
Staring at a clock in your bedroom, either when you are trying to fall asleep or when you wake in the middle of the night, can actually increase stress, making it harder to fall asleep. Turn your clock’s face away from you.

if you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep in about 20 minutes, get up and engage in a quiet, restful activity such as reading or listening to music. And keep the lights dim; bright light can stimulate your internal clock. When your eyelids are drooping and you are ready to sleep, return to bed.

6.  Use Light to Your Advantage
Natural light keeps your internal clock on a healthy sleep-wake cycle. So let in the light first thing in the morning and get out of the office for a sun break during the day.

7. Maintain A Consistent Sleep Schedule
Having a regular sleep schedule helps to ensure better quality and consistent sleep.

Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day sets the body’s "internal clock" to expect sleep at a certain time night after night. Try to stick as closely as possible to your routine on weekends to avoid a Monday morning sleep hangover. Waking up at the same time each day is the very best way to set your clock, and even if you did not sleep well the night before, the extra sleep drive will help you consolidate sleep the following night.

8.  Nap Early, Not Late
Many people make naps a regular part of their day. However, for those who find falling asleep or staying asleep through the night problematic, afternoon napping may be one of the culprits. This is because late-day naps decrease sleep drive.

If you must nap, it’s better to keep it short and before 5 p.m.

9. Eat Evening Meals Before 7 pm and Avoid Night Snacks
Eating a pepperoni pizza at 10 p.m. may be a recipe for insomnia.

Finish dinner several hours before bedtime. Avoid foods that cause indigestion and large meals.

If you get hungry at night, snack on foods that (in your experience) won't disturb our sleep, perhaps dairy foods and carbohydrates.

10.  Balance Fluid Intake
Drink enough fluid at night to keep from waking up thirsty—but not so much and so close to bedtime that you will be awakened by the need for a trip to the bathroom.

11. Exercise Early And Regularly
Exercise helps promote restful sleep if it is done several hours before you go to bed.

Exercise can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly—as long as it's done at the right time. Exercise stimulates the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which helps activate the alerting mechanism in the brain. This is fine, unless you're trying to fall asleep.

Try to finish exercising at least three hours before bed or work out earlier in the day.

12. Being Consistent and Following Through
Some of these tips will be easier to include in your daily and nightly routine than others. However, if you stick with them, your chances of achieving restful sleep will improve. That said, not all sleep problems are so easily treated and could signify the presence of a sleep disorder such as apnea, restless legs syndrome, narcolepsy, or another clinical sleep problem.

If your sleep difficulties don’t improve through good sleep hygiene, you may want to consult your physician or a sleep specialist.

13. Aging
Aging also plays a role in sleep and sleep hygiene.

After the age of 40 our sleep patterns change, and we have many more nocturnal awakenings than in our younger years. These awakenings not only directly affect the quality of our sleep, but they also interact with any other condition that may cause arousals or awakenings, like the withdrawal syndrome that occurs after drinking alcohol close to bedtime. The more awakenings we have at night, the more likely we will awaken feeling unrefreshed and unrestored.

14. Psychological Stressors

Psychological stressors like deadlines, exams, marital conflict, and job crises may prevent us from falling asleep or wake us from sleep throughout the night. It takes time to "turn off" all the noise from the day.

No way around it. If you work right up to the time you turn out the lights, or are reviewing all the day's events and planning tomorrow (sound familiar?), you simply cannot just "flip a switch" and drop off to a blissful night's sleep.