Helpful Hints to Improve Your Sleep Hygiene


Information from the Alfred Sleep Disorders Centre, Alfred Hospital, Melbourne

Sleep hygiene is a term used to describe your sleep habits. Below are a few suggestions which some people have found to be useful in improving their sleep hygiene, thereby enabling them to feel more alert while awake.

  1. Have medical problems which might interfere with sleep such as asthma, heart burn, angina, arthritis, pain or breathlessness under optimal control.

  2. Reduce stimulants (tea, coffee, chocolate, cigarettes) which prevent quality deep sleep.

  3. Reduce sedatives (alcohol and some medications) which can impair one’s ability to have quality deep sleep. You should seek advice from your doctor before stopping ‘prescribed’ medications.

  4. Reduce factors which might arouse you from sleep: external noise, uncomfortable bed or extremes of temperature. Ear plugs are OK to use.

  5. Get plenty of morning sunlight. This will help regulate your sleep-wake cycle.

  6. Attempt to exercise (ideally to a level which causes you to perspire) daily at least 4-6 hours before bed time.

  7. Have a hot shower or bath before bed. Our body temperature peaks in the daytime and falls during sleep. We tend to fall asleep as our body temperature begins to fall.

  8. Avoid large meals before bed time. A drink high in carbohydrates (Ovaltine which has malt) with milk (which contains tryptophan) may help induce sleep, whereas high protein foods may induce wakefulness.

  9. Get out of bed at a regular fixed time each day.

  10. Go to bed only for rest/sleep/intimacy. Avoid reminiscing about the day’s events or watching TV. Have a ritual such as reading before bed.

  11. Hide bedroom clock.

  12. Avoid napping during the daytime.

  13. If you cannot fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something different to change your thoughts from sleep.

Ed: Not all of these hints are relevant for everyone. Choose and adapt the hints which are most appropriate for your situation.

Insomnia occurs when the body is in a state of muscular and mental alertness. Over-activity during the day (business, social or intellectual over-activity) often persists at night in the form of restless or broken sleep. However, insomnia is not induced by rhythmic type of exercise, like chopping wood, riding a bike or walking.

The following hints, together with relaxation techniques, are aimed at helping you overcome insomnia. Remember that habits are as hard to form as to break, so put each hint into practice for at least ten consecutive nights before discarding it as useless.

  1. Prepare for sleep. Half an hour before retiring, reduce the intensity of your thinking by playing a game of patience, etc., or writing a letter to a friend.

  2. Then take plenty of time to get ready for bed. (Get your clothes ready for the next morning, take a leisurely bath, etc.)

  3. If you like to read in bed, choose non-fiction and a ‘hard’ book. Force your mind to grapple with cumbersome facts; do not entertain it.

  4. Those who can concentrate best can sleep best. Avoid thinking about fears, hates of jealousies. Instead, plan a new wardrobe, in explicit detail, or another idea that is not closely associated with your occupation.

  5. Have you noticed that, just as the mind loses consciousness and floats into sleep, thoughts become disjointed and scattered? This technique can be used consciously for inducing sleep. Make your mind hop from one idea to another, starting with some happy episode in childhood.

These five suggestions for breaking poor sleeping habits are related particularly to control of the mind.

The following hints are geared to relax and calm the body.

  1. Eliminate any physical pain or pressure. Pressure can be removed by loosening belts, having light covers at night, eg. eiderdown instead of blankets. Discomfort from gas pressure, or hyperactive stomach, can sometimes be relieved by a very light snack.

  2. Tepid bath before retiring (before taking sleeping pills). The body should be patted dry, so that one gets into bed a little damp and chilly. Then, as the surface is warmed, the whole body becomes more and more comfortable.

  3. Imitate the slow, deep, rhythmical breathing of sleep.

  4. Relaxing the muscles completely will induce sleep (Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Imagery, Breathing Exercises).

  5. The last tip is perhaps the most important, and can be most effective. As you may have observed, sleep taken before you are tired is the most restful and efficient. Get rested before trying to sleep.

Emerge, June and Sept 1995.