In the quest for better sleep, you’ve probably tried most of the tips and tricks. Poor quality sleep or insomnia affects 50-70 million people in the US, according to the Centres for Disease Control, and about 1/3 of the population in the UK (source NHS Choices). But knowing you’re not alone isn’t enough. Neither is taking sleeping pills.
On SleepBetterLiveBetter.org we look at 2 schools of thought when it comes to beating insomnia. One is correcting sleep debt by catching up with sleep where you can, so that you get a good amount of sleep overall. The other is the sleep hygiene theory, and that’s what we’re going to look at here.
Think of sleep hygiene as being ‘clean’ about your sleep. Poor sleep or insomnia is often a product of bad habits, and sleep hygiene simply helps correct those habits so you can get back to a natural sleeping pattern. Paul McKenna is a self-help professional who has some golden rules for sleep. You can read more about them in his book ‘I Can Make You Sleep’ (available on Amazon and in bookshops). His rules include:
- Get up regularly half an hour earlier than your usual desired wake-up time.
- Go to bed only when you’re sleepy.
- Don’t take naps during the day.
- Exercise for at least 20 minutes, 3 times each week.
- Finish eating at least 3 hours before you go to bed.
- Don’t have any caffeine after 2pm.
- Cut out alcohol.
- Switch off the TV at least an hour before you go to bed.
- In bed, do only these things: sleep and make love (and, he says, use his book an self-hypnosis CD – the CD comes with the book).
- If you’re awake for more than 20 minutes, get up and do something. Only return to bed when you’re sleepy.
- Keep your bedroom dark at night.
- Have a warm, comfortable bed, in a room that’s not too hot.
- Don’t watch the clock.
WedMD.com, NHS Choices and PubMed Health (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) all agree on these rules, so there’s a body of informed opinion behind them.
They add a few more Sleep Hygiene rules of their own:
- Try not to drink after 8pm so that you don’t have to get up to urinate in the night.
- Try not to read/ discuss/watch emotional issues within a couple of hours of going to bed, as this can make your mind more active when it should be powering down.
- Exercise is important but not before bedtime.
- McKenna (above) talks about turning off the TV an hour before bed, and it is also recommended that you don’t use a laptop, computer or tablet/phone in the same time frame. The blue light from these screens can stimulate the brain into wakefulness at the wrong end of the day.
Let’s look at some of McKenna’s rules and their reasoning.
Get up regularly half an hour earlier than your usual desired wake-up time.
The logic behind this rule is the sleep cycle. We all have a natural cycle of sleeping and waking. For some it’s longer or shorter than for others and some resent sleep research indicates that waking up earlier may be one of the most important things you can do to beat insomnia.
It probably seems like a big ask if you’ve not been getting much sleep to begin with. However, the research shows that if your body becomes accustomed to sleeping later in the morning, then it doesn’t get properly ready for sleep at the beginning of the following night.
In addition, being active and awake for longer makes you more tired and better able to sleep more soundly.
This habit of waking earlier than normal helps to re-set your waking/sleeping cycle.
Go to bed only when you’re sleepy.
Remember rule 9 from the list above is ‘in bed do only these things: sleep or make love’? So if you like to read before bed, read while you’re still up and out of bed; do all those other jobs and bits and pieces and then make your way to bed when your sleepy, even if that’s later than normal.
After a few nights of getting up earlier (rule 1) and going to bed later, your better, natural sleep/wake cycle will start to kick in. You will then start feel sleepier earlier in the evening and find it easier to wake up earlier in the morning.
Don’t take naps during the day.
McKenna likens your appetite for sleep to your appetite for food – if you snack and nibble all day then you’re not hungry for your main meal. It’s self-explanatory really.
Exercise keeps you active when you need to be active and helps you tire out ready for sleep. It improves cardiovascular health and lowers blood pressure, as well as maintains weight. All of which are important for everyday health as well as sleep health, of course.
Rules 5, 6, 7 and 8 are covered in our sleep tips pages here on SleepBetterLiveBetter.
And we look at rules 11 and 12 in more depth on these pages. Click the links to find out more.