Sleep hygiene may sound like an odd phrase to you. But it’s now a common expression among health care providers, one that underscores how – much like hand-washing, brushing your teeth, and other routines – sleep practices are critical to your well-being.
Unfortunately, sleep disorders are all too common and sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. But, rest assured, sleep hygiene is something you can learn and that can often result in better sleep.
So what exactly is sleep hygiene? Sleep hygiene is a set of habits that promote quality sleep. This includes:
• creating a bedroom environment that is comfortable with limited disruptions
• maintaining a regular sleep schedule
• practicing techniques for relaxation prior to bed
•· avoiding things that will disrupt the quality of your sleep
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that an average adult should strive for seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Of course, every individual is different. Age, for example, plays a factor in how much sleep you need. As you get older, you require less sleep.
The most common signs of not getting enough sleep appear during your waking hours. They include excessive daytime sleepiness, lack of energy, reduced concentration, delayed thinking, and mood changes such as irritability and anxiety.
The good and the bad for better sleep
One of the most important things you can do to sleep better is to maintain a consistent routine before bed. This will help your brain process that you are preparing for sleep. Here are a few suggestions:
• Begin winding down about 30 minutes prior to bedtime by doing things that will relax your body.
• Consider listening to peaceful music, stretching, meditating, or doing breathing exercises.
• Drink caffeine-free teas that promote sleep, such as chamomile.
• If you need a small snack before bedtime, cherries, bananas, and walnuts provide a natural source of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep.
There are also things you should avoid before going to bed. Some have become increasingly common due to technology. Try NOT to:
• Stimulate your brain with TVs, phones, tablets, laptops and watching television in the 30 minutes prior to going to bed.
• Drink beverages with caffeine in the afternoon or evening.
• Consume alcohol in the evening. While alcohol may help you fall asleep, your quality of sleep will not be as good.
If you wake up in the middle of the night and are unable to fall back asleep after 20 minutes, leave bed and try to do something calming. Try reading, stretching, or meditating before returning to bed and trying to fall asleep again.
Can over-the-counter drugs help?
Over-the-counter sleep aids like melatonin can be useful when used short term. The most common side effects include headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Melatonin can interact with various medications and is not recommended for long-term use.
This holds true for many over-the-counter sleep aids. Many of these medications contain antihistamines, which could actually make you feel groggy the next day. Like melatonin, they are not for long-term use.
You should see a doctor if your inability to sleep is affecting your ability to function for your daily activities. If you are suffering from insomnia, a good thing to do before seeing your doctor is to keep a sleep diary for about 10 days. Include details such as when you go to bed, when you fall asleep, and when and how often you wake up. Also note napping patterns, exercise habits, and consumption of alcohol and caffeine.
These details will help your doctor identify if sleep can be improved by making changes to sleep hygiene or if it requires further investigation. Your primary care provider can also refer you to other specialists if necessary.
Archen Krupadev, MD, is an internal medicine physician with Lifespan Physician Group Primary Care in its Newport location. Health Matters appears monthly on newportri.com and in The Daily News.