Sleep Hygiene Anyone?

So it is not that Sleeping or Not-Sleeping is infectious but there are certain practices and habits regarding Sleep and Sleeping that can help us get to sleep. If you have gone through a significantly stress experience or period in your life, Sleep routines can become disrupted. Sleep is also, to some extent a learned behaviour – it does not always – just happen.

Not sleeping is a serious health problem. Sleep deprivation over time has been linked to the following health conditions:

1. Obesity

Late-night binges on chips and cookies don’t just happen because they’re easy snacks. The body’s balance of two appetite hormones gets off-kilter when a person needs more sleep, even after one night. The good hormone, called leptin, goes down. Because it controls appetite, people get hungrier. The bad hormone, ghrelin produced by fat cells, goes up. Said simple, the more ghrelin you have, the more you want to eat.

2. Heart Disease

People who choose not to get enough sleep or get eight hours but have a sleep disorder have more stress hormones in their bodies. Higher amounts of stress hormone, particularly cortisol, are not good for the heart. Stress hormones can damage blood vessels leading to high blood pressure and eventually heart disease.

3. Diabetes

Sleep deprivation increases the risk of obesity and diabetes via multiple pathways. Lack of sleep increases cortisol levels which over time can lead to insuline resistance. After one night of sleep deprivation, the body has an impaired ability to handle a glucose load. This, along with appetite hormones leptin and ghrelin, has been connected to diabetes.

4. Headaches

Sleep deprivation triggers headaches.

5. Depression

The same brain chemicals involved in the sleep-wake cycle are also involved in mood and energy concentration. Sleep deprivation is associated with neurotransmitter depletion resulting in te emergence of a spectrum of mental health symptoms.

6. Lapses of attention/delayed reaction times

Sleep deprivation has been linked to decreases in all types of neurologic functions. Students who don’t get enough sleep can do worse on tests. Employees who skimp can be more irritable to their co-workers. And when they get behind the wheel to head home, the combination can be lethal. Just like drinking and driving don’t mix, driving with less than optimal hours of sleep is also dangerous, as dangerous as driving intoxicated.

7. Death

Too little sleep or too much sleep has is associated rather than predictive of reduced life span. has also been found to be predictive of early mortalisty.

What is Sleep Hygiene?

‘Sleep hygiene’ is the name we give to the development of habits and behaviours that are more likely, when performed, to bring about a good night’s sleep. These tips and guidelines have significant evidence to support their beneficial effects. These behaviours and habits when employed consistently will create long term solutions to sleep difficulties.

Many times when people are experiencing sleep difficulties – they go to their GP and ask for medication or drug therapy. There are many drugs available and regularly used to treat sleep difficulties but these approaches are not effective in the medium to long term. Also the use sleeping pills can lead to dependence, can interfere with creating good sleep habits separate to the use of medication. The best outcome is that sleep difficulties are prolonged, the worst is that they actually deteriorate further.

Always talk to your health professional about what is right for you, but I find sleep hygiene is an important even essential component to treating insomnia and sleep difficulties. This can occur as a stand alone approach or in conjunction with other therapies such as drug or cognitive therapies.

Sleep Hygiene Tips

1. Create Regularity
Same time to bed, same time out of bed – every day. We are creatures of habits and our bodies biochemistry is also one intricate orchestral habit tht release hormones and neurotransmitters signally when it is time for us to do – what. One of the best ways to train your body to sleep well is to go to bed and get up at more or less the same time every day, even on weekends and days off! This regular rhythm will make you feel better and will give your body something to work from.

2. Go to Sleep when you are ‘Sleepy’
Spending time awake in bed can create a learned association between the environment of the bed, the behavior or lying down and a feeling of frustration. You can prevent this unhelpful association from being created by only trying to sleep when you actually feel tired or sleepy. It is detrimental to developing good sleep habits by spending too much time awake in bed.

3. Try, try again
For some, getting off to sleep will have become difficult. If this is you – only attempt to sleep for about 20 mins. If you are still awake after this time, get up and do something calming or boring until you feel sleepy, then have another go. It is very important that you do not stimulate your stress response during this time. Make sure the activity to select is calming if possible or boring but absolutely not stimulating.

4. Avoid Caffeine & Nicotine
Caffeine and Nicotine can stimulate the adrenal system and therefore your stress response. They will work against the subtle brain chemistry needed to go to sleep. Try to avoid taking any caffeine (in coffee, tea, cola drinks, chocolate, and some medications) or nicotine (cigarettes) for at least 4-6 hours before going to bed.

5. Avoid Alcohol
Avoid alcohol for at least 4-6 hours before going to bed. Many people believe that alcohol is relaxing and helps them to get to sleep at first, but it actually interrupts the quality of sleep.

6. Bed is for Sleeping – Only
Our body is a learning organism. We need to teach the body that bed is a place for rest and sleep. So do everything you can to use your bed only as a place for sleep or sex. If you do other activities in bed, your body will associate those activities such as reading, watching TV, eating, reading, working, paying bills and other activities – with bed and it will make things more difficult for your body to learn to associate bed with sleep. If you use bed as a place to watch TV, eat, read, work on your laptop, pay bills, and other things, your body will not learn this connection.

7. No Snoozes during the Day
Being tired at bedtime does not happen as easily if you have had a quiet snooze during the day. If you have to have a daytime snooze, try to limit your nap to less than an hour and take your nap before 3:00pm.

8. Bedtime Ritual
Creating a ritual before bed will over time teach or retrain your body for sleep. Some people find listening to music, having a cup of chamomile tea, doing relaxing stretches or breathing exercises for 15 minutes before bed each night helps remind the body that now is the time to sleep.

9. Hot Bath or Hot Shower
Research has show that sleepiness is enhanced with a drop in body temperature so if you have a hot shower or bath before bed you can create this effect or enhance the likelihood of your body becoming sleepy as your body’s temperature drops.

10. Watch Clock Never Sleeps
It can be annoying when falling asleep is not happening and this can lead many to clock watch – excessively. Clock watching causes frustration which in turn can wake your body up. It also reinforces interpretations of the situation such as “@#$! I am not asleep, I have to be up in X hours!” and asking questions like “What is wrong with me?!” These sorts of interpretations increase a stress response.

11. Keeping a Sleep Diary
Keeping track of the facts about what is happening with your sleep cycle prevents your from using cognitive distortions like awfulising when thinking about your sleep difficulties. It will help you identify what is working and also what is not working. It is important to record things like what happened before you went to bed, what time you went to bed, details about your sleep routine and the effect that is, how many hours you slept.

12. Regular Exercise
Timing is everything with exercise because it will stimulate a stress response so doing intense exercise 4 hours prior to sleep is not advised. Morning walks are good, cardio after dinner – is not. Or not good, if you have sleep difficulties.

13. Good Nutrition
Sleep is very dependent on brain chemistry and nutrition is what the body uses to build the chemistry. Food is both a chemical and behavioural experience. Some people find hunger signals at bedtime counter productive – so it can be useful to have a light snack. Equally a heavy meal can be counter productive. Folk wisdom recommends a warm glass of milk to induce sleep at bedtime. There is some science behind this. Milk contains tryptophan, which acts as a natural
sleep inducer.

14. Bedrooms are Calm & Quiet
The environment we go to sleep in is very important. It is essential that your bed is comfortable and the room you sleep in is quiet and low stimulation environment. This means there is a lack of noise or light stimulation. If light is a problem, you can use an eye mask or heavy curtains to reduce your exposure to light – which signals to your brain it is day and time to wake. If there is too much noise stimulation you can use ear plugs to reduce your exposure. A cooler room with enough blankets to stay warm is best.

15. Maintain your Daytime Routine
Learning or teaching your body to sleep when you have gotten out of the habit – is a process. What you do during the day is part of the signalling system your brain needs to know when it is time for sleep. It is important that you keep your regular daytime routine even if you have had a bad night’s sleep. Try not to avoid activities because you are tired. If you do, you this can reinforce and maintain the sleep difficulties and or insomnia.

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