Sleep hygiene is a term used to describe a set of guidelines and suggestions to promote healthy sleep. Sleep is one of the first issues I try to get people to take a look at when they report struggling with anxiety, fatigue, a lack of motivation, and irritability, just to name a few symptoms. When we are chronically tired we are left more vulnerable to our emotions and spiraling anxious thoughts. Getting good sleep is one of the tools you have to deal with a whole host of mental health struggles, and it’s a way we can take care of ourselves and our bodies.
Sleep hygiene strategies are a good place to start when trying to regain quality sleep. If it’s been a chronic or disruptive issue, you could also benefit from speaking with a physician to rule out physical health issues such as sleep apnea that may be contributing to your struggles with sleep.
Sleep hygiene recommendations:
1. Maintain a regular sleep/wake cycle. Our bodies respond well to rhythms and we can train our body’s clock to be sleep and alert at the appropriate times. So try to go to bed and get out of bed at the same time regardless of how you slept or what you have going on for the day.
2. Get regular exercise (but not too close to bed time). It can lead to deeper sleep at night.
3. Avoid bright lights at night (including screens). They cue your body that it’s still time to be awake.
4. Avoid heavy meals right before bed, as it could lead to heartburn or indigestion.
5. Enhance your environment. Make your bedroom quiet, dark, comfortable, and cool. Maybe try a white noise machine or blackout curtains if needed.
6. Make your bed just for sleep (and sex). Try to not have work-related things by your bed or spend time watching tv on your bed.
7. Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol before bed. Yes alcohol can make you sleepy, but once it’s through your system it wakes you back up leading to fragmented sleep.
8. Practice a relaxing bedtime routine. This signals to your body that it’s time to relax.
9. Remove the clock. Try to avoid watching the clock at night. It reminds you that you’re not sleeping, which increases arousal and frustration.
10. Get out of bed when unable to sleep. If you’re lying awake for more than 20 minutes or so, try getting up and going to another room and then returning when you feel sleeping. It’s like hitting a reset button. The goal is to associate your bed with falling asleep.
Other things like “worry time” and deep breathing can be helpful. Try setting aside a time during the day to wrestle with worries instead of having them hit you at night. Or write them down before bed and tell yourself that you will deal with them in the morning.
Stay consistent with these recommendations and see how your sleep changes. Ok, goodnight.
Information from 10-Minute CBT: Integrating CBT Strategies into Your Practice by Otto, Simon, Olatunji, Sung, and Pollack.