Sleep hygiene

Hygiene: the science behind the preservation of health.

Sleep hygiene always struck me as such an awkward phrase. Hygiene historically has had a quite specific meaning to many of us, our daily cleansing routines. When I suggest a discussion on sleep hygiene, my clients raise an eyebrow, looking suspicious and confused. That is, until we practice the techniques, and their sleep drastically improves along with their mood, weight management, productivity, and satisfaction.

As I have said many times before, there are three elements of a basic healthy lifestyle that I always return to as fundamental: food intake, exercise, and sleep. The rest of our health comes from all the other satisfying parts of life (i.e. work, family, friends, money). None of those extras will create health if the basic building blocks, (sleep, food, exercise), aren't addressed. Just as we must teach ourselves to eat healthily and we must practice exercising regularly, we must master the art of good sleep.

There are ways to increase the success of our relationship with our own sleep patterns. With these tools, we can generate and visit over and over again a sleep routine that is restful, successful, loving, and consistent.

We must try to go to sleep within the same window each night and rise within the same window. With consistency our bodies will become accustomed to the routine, "Oh, ok body, it is that hour, time to wind down, rest, sleep."

We must be careful how we fill ourselves prior to sleep. That means not too heavy of a meal, not to toxic of a discussion, not too gruesome a TV show, not too challenging a relationship. Whatever we fill ourselves up with, will be with us as we drift off.

Our bedroom must be a place that our body can rest peacefully. The décor should support rest. Our bed should be a place where we practice sleep, it should not be a place where we make phone calls, type on our computer, watch TV, or have heated discussions. Bedroom boundaries are crucial to sleep hygiene.

If on the unfortunate chance we cannot sleep, we must get out of bed and refrain from laying there with racing, worrisome thoughts. Better to go sit in the living room in the dark or walk around the house. If our brain is signaling we can not yet sleep, we must relinquish the fight, giving in to revisit the hope at a later time.

Concentrating on our breath is a wonderful way to tune into the body and prepare for sleep.

Having a nighttime ritual, meditation for example, is a loving way to remind the body that it is time to settle down.

Each of us need a different number of hours of sleep. This changes with the phase of our life we are in.

Asking our partner to respect and provide what we need to be successful sleepers is imperative. In each couple there is usually a more successful sleeper; the one who struggles more must speak their needs to create a healthy sleeping environment.

The room temperature can be important.

Forgiving ourselves for not finishing everything is critical in allowing the day to be over and the mind to rest.

Journaling can allow our stream of consciousness to cease and prepare for uninterrupted rest.

Exercise can take the final edge off, but if we are going to elevate the heart rate, that should happen in the first part of the day so we don't agitate and activate.

A comfortable bed can, in and of itself, change our sleep.

Eating little or no sugar before bed can promote uninterrupted rest.

Rest is a wonderful part of the day. Adequate sleep can assist us in weight loss, mood regulation, focus, productivity, satisfaction, and increased energy. It takes little energy to improve sleep hygiene. Sometimes my clients report they don't make changes because they don't believe there is really a benefit. Having understanding of this suspicion, I always encourage my clients to do an experiment. Put the extra energy in and sleep well for a week and notice any changes. I have never prescribed sleep hygiene practices to a client who came back and said they noticed no benefit. It is almost always, if not definitely, a sure bet in increasing health and wellness. Give it a try, sleep more healthily and if you like, write to share how it turns out.