When Kim came to the Julian Center to find out why she was struggling to get a good night’s sleep, part of her evaluation looked at her routine for going to bed at night. She shared with us that she often worked late, so she often ate late. Many nights, she took her work to bed with her, and would even fall asleep with her laptop in bed. And most nights, she got up to go to the bathroom, so she kept a nightlight in her bedroom to help her see her steps. She also shared that her sleep was often restless: She’d toss and turn worrying about her job or her family and friends or other areas of her life. Her life was so busy she was struggling to eat right, and she hadn’t been able to get to the gym in months. Like many people, what Kim didn’t understand was the vital role that sleep hygiene plays in getting a good night’s sleep.
Webster’s dictionary defines hygiene as “conditions or practices (as of cleanliness) conducive to health.” Sleep hygiene is about getting better sleep by creating a welcoming environment for sleep and by having life habits that promote a peaceful night’s sleep.
Creating good sleep hygiene means looking at:
The bedroom environment. The bedroom should be used for relaxation only—sleep, romance, meditation. The ideal sleeping environment is one that dark, quiet, and cool. The room should be so dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face—no nightlights, no glowing clock dials. It should be quiet, although some people find that they sleep better when white noise or soothing nature sounds are playing. It should also be a cool 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid waking overheated. It should also be free of distractions such as pets, clutter, work and school paperwork—these can pollute the air and make it more difficult to breathe.
The nightly routine. It’s crucial to spend the last 30 minutes before bedtime just unwinding from the day. That includes engaging in a relaxing activity that doesn’t involve the cellphone, computer, or other electronics. Read a book (paper, not electronic), meditate, or listen to calming music. Or take a warm bath or hot shower to calm you physically and mentally and induce sleep. Add a few drops of chamomile, hops, lavender, neroli, rose, vetiver, or ylang-ylang essential oil for a soothing aromatherapy bath.
Putting your mind to rest. If you lie awake in bed staring at the ceiling because you can’t seem to put your mind to rest, turn the lights on (dimly) and spend a few minutes writing down whatever is keeping you awake. Some people find that calm comes from writing down all that they are grateful for, which can promote a positive mindset before falling asleep. Special reading lights are now available that don’t produce blue light which will reduce production of melatonin.
Visual imagery and deep breathing can also help calm a racing mind. Try imagining yourself in a peaceful place—sitting in a park, standing atop a mountain, watching the sunset from a beach. Focus on your breathing as you imagine the serene scene. Breathe in slowly through your nose for three to five seconds, hold your breath for five seconds, then exhale through your nose for five seconds.
These tips and others are ways that we help patients get a better night’s sleep. At the Julian Center, we look at changes to hygiene and lifestyle before digging deeper into causes. For Kim, a few lifestyle changes was all it took to help her get a great night’s sleep.