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The Health Benefits of Positive Sleep Hygiene

Posted Jun 18 2012 1:24pm

Getting the right quality and quantity of sleep is vital for good human health. Researchers have found that people who get too little sleep or too much sleep are prone to a broad range of health problems compared to their healthy-sleeping counterparts. If you’re having trouble sleeping well or don’t get enough hours in bed each night, proper sleep hygiene can help you get the sleep you need.

What is Sleep Hygiene?

“Sleep hygiene” refers to a broad range of practices related to when and how you sleep. When you build and maintain healthy sleep hygiene, you’re more likely to sleep well and feel refreshed during the day.

Sleep Hygiene picture

Sleep hygiene is all about your regular sleep habits - do they support your health or not?

Sleep Habits

Your sleep habits refer to your activities around sleep times.

For good sleep hygiene:

· Keep a schedule—go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.

· Set a bedtime routine—brush your teeth, brush your hair, put on pajamas, read for a few minutes… a regular routine signals your mind and your body that it’s time to sleep and helps you to unwind before you lie down.

· Avoid alcohol and caffeine 4-6 hours before bed—both can disrupt your nighttime sleep patterns.

· Eat heavy meals earlier in the day—a light snack before bed can help you sleep (think warm milk and tryptophan-rich foods like turkey or bananas), but a heavy meal can keep you awake or disrupt sleep.

· Human brain and body chemistries are attuned to natural circadian rhythms—sleep at night, wake in the morning. Even if you’re logging enough hours in bed, say from 4:00 am to 1:00 pm, your body isn’t “programmed” to handle that schedule.

The body adjusts to falling asleep at a certain time and then waking up at a certain time, making it easier to fall asleep in the evening and to feel alert the next day. Night shift workers can also benefit from a regular schedule, though research suggests there may be serious health consequences to long-term sleep pattern reversal.

If you lie awake at night and/or struggle to wake up the next morning, try keeping a steady sleep schedule for a month. You’ll be surprised at the difference!

Stress Reduction

Daytime or evening stress reduction techniques can also help you sleep. A five-minute meditation to still your mind before bed may help you drift off more easily. The Medical College of Wisconsin advocates “worry time”—a 30-minute period in the evening where you write out your to-do list and any pressing worries, so that things are dealt with productively before you lie down, rather than bouncing around in your head while you try to sleep.

Bedroom Environment

Keep a bedroom that’s peaceful and uncluttered, and invest in a bed that makes you comfortable. Avoid bright lights in your bedroom and leave the TV in another part of the house. Your bedroom should reflect your personal style and the things you find restful, so that you feel yourself begin to relax when you walk into the room and climb into bed at the end of the day.

The Bottom Line

Research has found that good sleep hygiene won’t further improve already healthy sleep—but if a person has insomnia, or is waking up tired, proper sleep hygiene can help ameliorate the symptoms.

Setting sleep and wake-up times, handling nighttime wakefulness in a productive manner, keeping your stress levels under control, and maintaining a relaxing bedroom environment are all critical features of a holistic sleep hygiene practice. If you’re having trouble sleeping, these practices may make all the difference.

About The Author: Michelle Gordon  is a sleep expert who researches and writes about sleep and health, and is an online publisher for the latex mattress specialist  http://www.LatexMattress.org .

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