Dr. Nina’s What You Need to Know About Sanitizing Our Sleep Hygiene

2015-02-25 16.31.11Insomnia May Be Due to a Lack of Hygiene

Sleep hygiene, that is. And, no, I am not referring to keeping our teeth, hair, or underarms clean. Sleep hygiene is the term that experts use to describe routines and rituals that we undergo before bedtime. Maintaining good hygiene works to calm us and get us in the mood to fall asleep and stay asleep so we can be alert and at peak performance during the day. What’s more is that good sleep hygiene practices can prevent the development of sleep problems and disorders.   And for those of us who suffer from sleep disturbances, it may help us get back on the right track.

Dr. Nina’s What You Need to Know About Sanitizing Our Sleep Hygiene:

Avoid foods and chemicals that stimulate you  Caffeine stimulates our brain, and many of us love to have a cup (or two) in the morning to jump start our day. But enjoying a cappuccino or espresso as the day goes on can keep you up at night. Your liver is able to clear out half of the caffeine in approximately 5-7 hours; and seventy-five percent in about 8-10 hours. If you are having trouble sleeping, it may be a good idea to make final call in the early afternoon, depending on your target bedtime. And don’t forget that tea, chocolate, and sodas contain caffeine.

Nicotine is also a stimulant that can increase our blood pressure and heart rate. And although alcohol is considered a “downer” that can help you doze off, having more than a glass or two at bedtime can interfere with our very important deep sleep cycles.

Turn down the lights When it comes to putting our little ones on their path to la-la land, it seems intuitive to progressively turn down any stimulation. But somehow, somewhere, something gets lost in translation when it comes to us.  Between smart phones, televisions, computers, and tablets, our nights can be very bright. But why is this a problem? The science behind it is that our bodies release a hormone called melatonin that makes us sleepy. Melatonin is often referred to as the “Dracula” hormone because it is only released when it is dark. Mother Nature was very clever when she designed this: we want to be asleep at night and be awake during the day when it is light. However, with the advent of artificial lights, our nights have become artificially bright and this can suppress melatonin production. In addition to unplugging and powering down our technology, consider using heavy curtains, blackout shades, or an eye mask to help our melatonin production.

Get into The Routine  A soothing, pre-sleep routine that is. Engaging in relaxing activities in the hour before it’s time to hit the sack can help us doze off. Think of falling asleep as a continuum, not an abrupt transition. For many of us, sleep is not something with a switch that can be flipped on and off. Whenever possible, avoid stimulating activities like arguing, work, or heavy exercise prior to bedtime. Stress, whether it is psychological or physical, causes our bodies to produce hormones that send us into a “fight or flight” mode (the opposite direction of where we want to go—sleep and slumber).

Instead try to pick up a book, pray, meditate, or take a warm bath. Many experts also recommend writing down our problems and then putting them away on the shelf or in a drawer to be dealt with at a later time.

Napping To nap or not to nap that is the question. The answer is that it depends on the reason, time, and length of the nap, as well as our overall sleep quality. Studies are inconclusive as to whether or not naps are natural to a human’s sleep cycle. With that being said, we have all had days where it seems impossible to continue without an emergency nap. Unfortunately, we know that if we do, it may create a cycle of having trouble sleeping that night; thereby, landing us in the same predicament. And, for those of us who suffer from sleep disturbances, that afternoon snooze may be detrimental. If we must nap, experts recommend keeping it short, sweet, and early (before 3-4 pm).

Just Chill Out You may wonder “what’s temperature got to do, got to do with it.” A lot, actually. And it shouldn’t be a second-hand thought. Researchers have shown that our body’s temperature drops to its lowest point four hours after we doze off; this corresponds with our REM cycle. If the room is too hot or too cold, it makes it more difficult to achieve this temperature drop and can lead to restlessness, especially during this important sleep cycle. Sounds fair enough. But it may be surprising to hear that the optimal temperature for sleep ranges from 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit! Brrrrr.

Keep it Moving, But Do it Early We have heard this before: exercising is good for us. But did you know that it is a great way to help us improve our quality of sleep? For those who suffer with sleep disturbances, however, it may be one of the last things we want to hear. Afterall, who wants to hit the gym or go for a run when we are barely functioning? While the reasons are not 100% clear, it is believed that exercising decreases anxiety, depression, and stress. However, if we do it too close to our bedtime (experts state within 3 hours), it can increase the production of stress hormones and keep us awake and counting sheep.

Avoid Overeating Close to Bedtime Eating too much, too late can keep you awake at night. That full feeling can make us feel uncomfortable and cause reflux, especially in the lying down position (gravity does not help keep the food in the stomach). On another note, hunger pangs are also discomforting and can make your stomach growl loudly. The answer is to keep late night eating and snacking light.

We sing lullabies to babies, as well as read to them, bathe them, dim the lights, and turn down the noise. But as we get older, our sleep hygiene may not only become lackluster, but a downright mess. Let us try to turn back the hands of time and go with what works: keeping our sleep hygiene spic-and-span, so we can be well rested to meet the new morning. And remember, cleanliness is next to Godliness; but so is a good night’s sleep.

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Photograph by K. Cecchini

Notice: This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither Dr. Nina Radcliff or Kimberly Cecchini take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.
Before engaging in any complementary medical technique, including the use of natural or herbal remedies, you should be aware that many of these techniques have not been evaluated in scientific studies. Use of these remedies in connection with over the counter or prescription medications can cause severe adverse reactions. Often, only limited information is available about their safety and effectiveness.

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