The way in which we prepare ourselves for bed and maintain our sleeping space is referred to as sleep hygiene. Many people have difficulty sleeping which can lead to a variety of health problems, and undertake sleep hygiene recommendations on the advice of a doctor. In extreme cases, alterations in sleep hygiene are not enough, and medical sleep aids must be used as well. Improving sleep hygiene does not have to be limited to people who are having difficulty sleeping: most individuals could benefit from more restful sleep.
Recommendations for good sleep hygiene usually start in the bedroom. Most doctors agree that the bedroom should be used as a designated sleeping space. Electronics such as computers and televisions should not be kept in the bedroom, or if unavoidable, should be fully covered in the evening. Bedding should be soft and comfortable, but not too warm. Sleeping in a cooler environment may help people sleep through the night, so the bedroom should be kept cool and ventilated. Keep the bedroom quiet and dark to further enforce that it is a sleeping area.
Establishing a sleep ritual is also very important. People who go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day tend to have a greater sense of rest and more energy during the day, while people with schedules that fluctuate wildly often experience daytime tiredness. Each night, follow a series of actions which provides cues to your body that it is time to go to sleep: practice yoga or meditation, eat a light snack, take a warm bath, and avoid caffeine and alcohol for at least four hours before you sleep. When you start to feel tired, go to bed.
Part of the prescription for sound sleep hygiene includes only sleeping when you are tired. If you are not tired, or do not go to sleep after approximately 15 minutes, get up and go into another room. Read under low light, meditate, or participate in some other calming, lulling task that makes you feel sleepy. Do not lie in bed waiting to go to sleep under these circumstances. If you wake up briefly during the middle of the night, leave the bedroom again if you cannot go back to sleep quickly.
Taking naps may also interrupt sleep hygiene. Nap taking suggests that you are not getting a sound night's sleep, and your body is craving more sleeping time. If you find yourself wanting to nap, try going to bed a little earlier in the evening hours. If you absolutely must take a nap, do not nap for more than an hour, and make sure that your nap is concluded by three in the afternoon.
Other general lifestyle changes can help to improve your sleep hygiene. Avoid spicy or acidic foods for at least six hours before bedtime, and try to eat lightly before you sleep. An empty stomach can disrupt sleep, but so can an overly full one. In addition, acid reflux syndrome can develop if you sleep frequently on a full stomach. A regimen of exercise can also improve your general health and sleep hygiene: make sure to conclude heavy exercise at least three hours before bed. If you have a lot of stress in your life, work on ways to reduce it, as stress can have a negative impact on your ability to sleep well.