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The DOs & DON’Ts of Sleep

We all know that feeling of not sleeping enough. The next day, we may be drowsy, fatigued, unable to concentrate, unable to remember things, have increased stress, increased irritability, increased muscle tension, or get sick easily. It’s important to get our sleep back on track for our well-being and basic functioning.

There are so many reasons to aim for good sleep quality and amount! It’s important to remember that the body repairs itself during sleep.

When we don’t sleep adequately or deeply enough, we can produce excess amounts of the “fight or flight” hormone called cortisol. Excess cortisol leads to inflammation, depressed immune system function, and decreased digestion.

Another hormone called growth hormone, an anti-aging hormone, is made during sleep. This hormone is responsible for stimulating tissue regeneration, liver cleansing, muscle building, breakdown of fat, and managing blood sugar. Plus, when we sleep, free radicals are scavenged in the brain, minimizing aging.

There are many ways to improve the quality of our sleep; read all about our recommendations for the “dos” and “don’ts” of sleep below.

DOs

DO get into a regular routine. Training your body to go to bed and wake at consistent times is one of the best ways to improve sleep quality and quantity. This includes weekends! Ideally, aim for your routine to achieve 7-9 hours and to initiate sleep before midnight to best adjust to natural light. There’s an old Chinese proverb that says, “An hour before midnight is worth 2 hours after midnight.” Expose yourself to sunlight early in the morning to encourage a strong circadian rhythm, as melatonin is suppressed by light.

DO have a getting-ready ritual. Having a set of activities that encourages sleep helps to make you sleepy as your body recognizes your routine both mentally and physically. This routine should be personalized to what works best for you, but here are some ideas to do for at least 15 minutes before bed: unwinding with a calming herbal tea, reading a book, keeping a skin and dental care routine in low light, doing relaxing stretching or yoga poses, meditating or praying, performing progressive muscle relaxation, listening to calming music or sound recordings, or enjoying aromatherapy.

DO create a sleep-positive environment. Ideal sleeping conditions are a dark, cool room without visual or auditory distractions. Keep the bedroom quiet, cool and comfortable to your preference, and ideally keep the bedroom clutter free to encourage a calm mind. Reduce ambient light as much as possible. Avoid devices that cast light at night such as clocks, stereos, or computers. If there is excess distracting noise out of your control, try ear plugs, a fan or noise machine.

DO reserve your bed for specific use. Your bed should only be for sleeping and sex. Avoid doing other activities in bed like reading, watching TV, working on your laptop, or eating. Associating your bed with these other activities can disrupt the body’s connection to sleep with your bed.

DO exercise regularly. Physically tiring your body out by expending energy such as during exercise helps encourage deep sleep naturally. Exercise also helps to balance our stress hormones in a positive way.

DO increase your temperature. Before bed, raising your body temperature can be helpful to induce sleep, as sleepiness is associated with a drop in body temperature. This can be done with a relaxing hot bath, hot shower, or sauna, drinking hot tea, and keeping the bedroom cool to achieve this ideal drop in your temperature.

DON’Ts

DON’T nap. If you can help it, avoid daytime sleep as napping can disrupt your sleepiness before bed. If you must nap, aim for under an hour and before 3pm.

DON’T lay awake for hours if you can’t sleep. If it’s been 20 minutes and you can’t sleep, get up and do something calming or mundane until you feel a sleepy sensation. You can try sitting on the couch with low or no lights, sipping tea or water, reading something calm or boring, avoiding stimulating activities that can wake you more.

DON’T ignore your stress. Proper and effective stress management is crucial for good sleep as it can distract us as we are trying to fall asleep and impact our quality sleep rhythms. Our cortisol or stress hormone is elevated in stress and needs to be low during sleep. Things to consider to help with stress management: counseling, massage, acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, exercise, baths, meditation, prayer, or journaling.

DON’T eat a full meal before sleeping. Going to bed with a full stomach can be stimulating to the body as digestion is occurring. Big meals are best finished 3 hours before bed. For those who tend to wake up hungry in the middle of the night, a small protein snack is best about 30 minutes before bed, such as crackers with nut butter or slices of turkey. This can help keep consistent blood sugar throughout the night.

DON’T stare at a screen before bed. This is because this type of blue light suppresses melatonin production in the brain. Melatonin is a hormone that tells the body it is time to sleep and is made in response to dark environments. Ideally, this means we aren’t suppressing this hormone by looking at phones, TVs, laptops, etc. If you must, it is suggested to wear blue-light-blocking glasses or change the settings on the devices to low blue light.

DON’T have caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine before bed. Caffeine can be stimulating to some for up to 10 hours, so avoid it after the afternoon time. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, chocolate, and some medications. Nicotine is stimulating and can interfere with sleep within 4 hours. While alcohol is relaxing for many, it can interrupt the quality of deep sleep when consumed too close to bedtime.

Sources

  • Dement MD PhD, William. The Promise of Sleep. 1999. Dell Publishing. New York, NY.
  • Jacobs PhD, Gregg. Say Goodnight to Insomnia. 1998. Henry Holt and Company. New York, NY.
  • Ross DC, Herbert, Brenner Lac, Keri and Goldberg, Burton. Sleep Disorders. Tiburon, CA. 2000.