Sleep Hygiene Techniques

Troy Todd, PhD, BCN

1. Go To Bed Only When You Are Sleepy: There is no reason to go to bed if you are not sleepy. Going to bed too early encourages you to ponder the events of the day, think of the next day’s schedule, or worry about your inability to fall to sleep. These behaviors tend to perpetuate insomnia. To prevent this, delay your bedtime until you are sleepy. Remember to stick to your scheduled arising time regardless of the time you go to bed.

2. Use Relaxation Exercises such as deep breathing to enhance physical and mental readiness to sleep.

3. When You Can’t Fall Asleep Or Go Back To Sleep In About 15 Minutes, get out of bed and leave the bedroom and engage in relaxing activities (such as reading or watching mildly interesting stories… do not engage in difficult problem solving). Return to bed only when you are sleepy. Repeat this as often as necessary throughout the night. The object is for you to reconnect your bed with sleeping rather than frustration. It may be difficulty at first to follow this instruction, but it allows you to become accustomed to sleeping when you are in bed.

4. Use The Bed Or Bedroom For Sleep And Sex Only: do not watch TV, listen to music, eat, read, or argue in your bedroom. Just as you may associate the kitchen with eating, this guideline will help you associate sleep with your bedroom. Follow this during the day and at night. You may have to move the TV from your bedroom.

5. Avoid Caffeine Before Bedtime: Caffeine disturbs sleep, even in people who do not think they experience a stimulation effect. Remember that tea, chocolate, many sodas, coffee, and energy drinks have caffeine.

6. Avoid Nicotine Before Bedtime: Many people feel smoking/dipping is relaxing, but actually nicotine is a stimulant that may make it harder to sleep. If you must smoke/dip at night, be sure not to do it close to bedtime.

7. Avoid Alcohol Before Bedtime: Although alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, as it is metabolized, sleep becomes lighter and fragmented. You do not have to stop alcohol completely, but do not drink close to bedtime.

8. Sleep Medications Are Effective Only Temporarily: Sleep medications lose their effectiveness in about two to four weeks when taken regularly. They can make sleep problems worse over time, and lead users to think they “need” them in order to sleep.

9. Engage In Regular Exercise: 40 minutes each day of sweat-causing activity. This helps your mind and body feel relaxed and tires your body, which is particularly necessary if you sit a lot during the day. Generally, it is not a good idea to exercise before bedtime.

10. Regulate The Bedroom Environment For The Best Sleep: Strive for moderate temperature, quiet, comfortable, and dark as possible. Be sure to have the right amount of covers and bed clothing… getting too hot or cold can lead to early wakening. Be sure your mattress, pillow, bed clothing, and covers have the right texture, firmness, weight, and do not pinch. Pay particular attention to eliminate even subtle noises; especially those that are unpredictable or remind your of the need for action. These could include a computer left on, a toilet running, or a pet rustling. If you cannot control the noise, use earplugs…the wax-like ones are the most comfortable and will be more likely to stay in your ears during the night. Keep your bedroom as dark as possible (even small lights, like those on a smoke detector could be relevant), perhaps using a sleeping mask to give the experience of darkness if it cannot be achieved in the room.

11. Keep clocks out of sight to avoid clock-watching that can lead to worry about lack of sleep.

12. Encourage The Best Eating Behaviors: A light bedtime snack can promote sleep. Avoid caffeinated foods, peanuts, beans, fruits, vegetables, or heavy greasy foods, or anything you know might upset your stomach. If you wake during the night, do not to snack; digestion is an active process that must be shut down before you can sleep.

13. Avoid Naps: this increases lighter, restless sleep, difficulty falling asleep, and early morning awakening. If you have to nap, do so before 3 pm and limit it to 15-30 minutes.

14. Create And Use a Pre-Bedtime Routine: this should be at least an hour long and allow you to properly unwind. (e.g., read a moderately engaging book, take a bath but avoid hot baths as anything that raises your body temperature just before bedtime may interfere with sleep, journal, etc.) Using this regularly will help remind your mind and body when it is time to go to sleep.

15. Keep A Regular Sleep Schedule: Try to maintain the same schedule on weekends as well as weekdays. This regulates your sleep-wake cycle. Excessive time in bed can lead to associating your bedroom with arousal and frustration.

For Greater Success:

-Find and plan non-stimulating activities to engage in when out of bed during the night.

-Identify cues to determine sleepiness and time to return to bed.

-Use an alarm clock to maintain regular arising time.

-Find invigorating activities to fight the urge to take a nap before bedtime.

-Secure support from your family in changing your habits.