Better Sleep with Good Sleep Hygiene

Why do we sleep half our lives away? Why is it important? Unfortunately we don’t have a clear answer to these questions, but we do know sleep matters. Many patients seek help to have better sleep. The technical definition for sleep is “a period of rest for both the body and the mind, during which body functions and consciousness are suspended”. While we sleep, we are immobile, until we wake. Signs of abnormal sleep include:

Signs of Abnormal Sleep

  • Trouble sleeping, even if you are tired
  • Trouble falling back to sleep after waking
  • Relying on sleeping medications
  • Never feeling refreshed after waking
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Nodding off

Unfortunately, science is still uncertain about why we sleep. Stanford University’s William Dement, who has studied sleep for over 50 years, was quoted saying:

“As far as I know, the only reason we need to sleep that is really, really solid is because we get sleepy.”

Regardless of why we sleep, it is still very important.

Hormonal Control of Sleep

There are two main hormones that are associated with sleep: melatonin and cortisol. Melatonin is the hormone that is released at night to make us feel sleepy. Cortisol, on the other hand, is released during the day and makes us feel alert. Our bodies naturally release these hormones on a cycle that is linked to daylight. As it gets darker, we release melatonin, and as it gets lighter, we release cortisol. Interestingly, if we are exposed to a source of light after sundown, our bodies delay the release of melatonin, which delays us from falling asleep.

When someone is having difficulty with sleep, the first thing I investigate is how their hormones may be affected by lifestyle factors. Proper sleep hygiene is important to getting a great night’s sleep.

Cortisol/Melatonin Curves

Sleep Hygiene

  1. Stick to a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and rise at the same time – even on Altering the time you go to bed and wake up can interfere with how easily you can fall asleep.
  2. Avoid sources of artificial lights in the evening. Artificial light, from TV and electronic devices, can delay the release of melatonin.
  3. Avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and high sugar snacks at night. These substances can interfere with your natural hormone cycle.
  4. Relax for 20-45 minutes at the end of each day. Use this time to wind down, de-stress and prepare for bed.
  5. Exercise regularly. Aim for at least 20 minutes of moderate activity per day. Avoid vigorous exercise within 2-4 hours of bedtime.
  6. Eat regular meals to maintain your blood sugar levels. Avoid high sugar snacks late at night, and instead choose light, high protein snacks such as apples and nut butter.
  7. Make your bedroom quiet. Use earplugs if needed.
  8. Make your bedroom cool. High temperatures impede sleep.
  9. Make your bedroom dark. Use eyeshades if needed.
  10. Reserve your bedroom for sleep. Avoid watching TV and using electronic devices in bed.
  11. Only go to bed when sleepy. If you can’t fall asleep within 20 min, get up and do something relaxing until you begin to feel sleepy.
  12. Do not nap late in the afternoon. Limit early afternoon naps to 30 minutes or less

Before trying more specific treatments, I always ensure that proper sleep hygiene is covered. Download a Sleep Hygiene checklist here. Often, good sleep hygiene is enough to treat cases of insomnia. If further help is needed, I turn to various herbs, supplements and acupuncture to my patients have better sleep. If you still have difficulty sleeping, even with proper sleep hygiene, consider making an appointment to help you sleep better.