It's World Sleep Day this Friday March 15th, and to support this we'd like to encourage people to take a step towards building a healthy sleep routine by getting their sleep conditions in order. Give any changes you make a couple of weeks to work. Below are some of the behaviours we help our clients at Sleep Matters to implement.
If you have trouble implementing these, or fid that you are still sleeping poorly, consult with your GP or sleep specialist.
We'd love your feedback and tell how these measures improved your slumber.
See also our printable tip sheet on setting up a healthy sleep routine.
Many sleep problems can be corrected by following some simple lifestyle guidelines. Setting up the right conditions for restful sleep can make a real difference. We don't need to be obsessive or overly complicated with this, but being mindful and sensible about your sleep conditions is a good first step to improved sleep.
Don't feel you need to follow every step on this list at once, but rather, use this list to help you think about a couple of changes you'd like to make to improve your sleep conditions.
- Dark - Pitch black should not be necessary but decent black out curtains or blinds will give your brain the signal that it is sleep time. Do open these on waking in the morning though, as daylight will help you feel more alert and ready to start the day.
- Quiet - silence is not necessary but working to manage disturbing noises can make a positive difference. For example, double glazing if there is excessive outside noise, or using the drone of a fan or white noise machine to 'cover up' other disturbing noises such as partner snoring or breathing. See our blog post on managing noisy partners.
- Cool - research suggests humans sleep best at a reasonably cool temperatures. There is evidence that sleeping in temps above 24 degrees or under 12 degrees can have a negative impact. Not always achievable in an Aussie summer, but a simple fan can make a significant difference.
- Restful - can you make your bedroom a peaceful sanctuary? Safe, cosy and with no work pressures or chores visible (eg. files/papers, open computers, laundry piles). Gentle lighting, comfortable, clean, bed linen, a pleasant and relaxing smell (eg, linen spray, aromatherapy). These touches will not cure a sleep disorder, but they may help to establish an association between the bedroom and relaxation.
- Don't sleep with the enemy - we suggest keeping the clock or phone out of sight overnight. Checking the time tends to lead to calculations about how much sleep will be obtained (or lost) and this can lead to mental busyness and worry. Read more in our blog post.
2. Watch for Substances that may work against sleep
- Caffeine - coffee, tea, chocolate, energy drinks. People vary in their sensitivity to caffeine. You can be pretty sure you'll be free of the effects of caffeine at bedtime if you cease intake around 12noon. See our earlier blog post for more information.
- Alcohol - It's well known that alcohol may assist with falling asleep faster at the start of the night but it impacts negatively on sleep later in the night. Reliance on alcohol or medication to sleep can also keep people stuck in a cycle of not being able to sleep on their own. Tolerance and dependence can also become problems. An occasional beer or glass of wine with dinner should not present a problem for sleep. Read more here.
- Medications - if you feel that any of your medications may be interfering with your sleep, check with your prescribing doctor.
- Food - some people find that a heavy meal too close to bedtime can hinder sleep. Others find that they are sensitive to certain foods.
3. Only use the bed for sleeping and relaxation sleep
- When we use the bed/bedroom for activities other than sleep, an association develops between the bed/bedroom and being awake. What we really want for good sleep is an association between the bed/bedroom and feeling sleepy and relaxed. When we are frequently awake in bed, we literally 'learn to be awake in bed'. The bed becomes a cue for being awake instead of being asleep. We end up tossing, turning, worrying, feeling frustrated, anxious, and alone. All of this tossing, turning and mental busyness is not compatible with sleep: it makes us more alert and awake. The harder we try to fall asleep, the further into the vicious cycle of insomnia we get. (When this goes on, it can develop into what is called Conditioned Insomnia and you can read more about this in an earlier blog post.). We suggest to get out of bed if this cycle is occurring. Go into another dimly lit room to settle down, returning to bed once sleepy again.
- As well as lying in bed trying to sleep, people often find that wakeful activities creep into the bedroom. These include watching TV, phone, computer, tablet use, paperwork, reading for work or study, and eating, to name a few. These wakeful activities have the same problem as tossing and turning in bed - they create an association between wakefulness and the bedroom. Are you able to get these activities into another room and save the bedroom for sleep, sex, and perhaps reading for leisure before bedtime?
- An important and relatively simple improvement that can be made to your sleep routine is to introduce a wind down period before you turn out your light to go to sleep. This creates a buffer zone between helps the mind and body transitions from the day to sleep. A wind down period may be between 30-60 minutes, and may need to be longer if your day has been physically, mentally, or emotionally demanding. It is unrealistic to expect that you can go from the busyness of the day to bed and fall asleep easily. It is helpful to still have a wind down period even if you are retiring to bed later than usual – for example if you have been working late or have been out during the evening. Staying up and extra 30 minutes to wind down may mean that it takes you far less time to fall asleep.
Can you brainstorm wind down activities and think about how you will fit them into your routine? What might get in the way of a wind down?
5. Get up at the same time each day
No one likes it when I suggest this, but I keep suggesting it because I've seen it help people time and time again.
If you are sleeping poorly and have irregular rising times, establishing a regular rising time can be a great step in the right direction. When we are working to get on top of a sleep problem I tend to suggest no more than 30 minutes variation in rising times.
A regular rising time can act as an anchor for your whole 24 hour sleep system. It often leads to feeling sleeping at a more regular time at night as your body learns what is sleep time and what is wakeful time. Consistent rising time can help prevent the 'social jet lag' that people experience when their routines are irregular.
If this sounds like a challenge for you, see this short video and tipsheet below to help you on your way.
- 4 minute clip that explains the concept nicely.
- Tipsheet on waking earlier in the morning and feeling good about it.