The tips in this article is under what is often called sleep hygiene. The idea is that just as there are things you do for your personal and dental hygiene, following certain steps will lead to healthy sleep.
Keep a regular sleep/wake schedule:Â A regular sleep schedule keeps the circadian cycle synchronized by conditioning the body to expect speciï¬c sleep and wake-up times. Once youâve determined how much sleep you need, you need to set up a sleep schedule and adhere to it as much as possible. The exact hours you choose will depend on your work schedule and commutingÂ pattern, as well as your tendency to be a lark or an owl. But whatever works for you, the important thing is to stick with it seven days a week. If you must deviate from this schedule on weekends, try to limit the change in wake-up time to a maximum of an hour. In addition to regular sleep and wake times, aim to do other signiï¬cant activitiesâsuch as meals and exercise sessionsâat consistent times. If you have dinner at six on Monday, at nine on Tuesday, and at eight on Wednesday, you send your body conï¬icting messages about when it should expect sleep to begin.
Develop a presleep routine: Similarly, you should develop a routine for the hours leading up to bedtimeâyou canât expect to walk in the door, hop into bed, and fall asleep. Instead, start by setting aside ï¬fteen to twenty minutes to resolve any mundane matters that might otherwise be on your mind if left undone when you go to bed (unwashed dishes, plans for the next day, responding to personal e-mail, and so on). Then try to wind down from the day with a nonstrenuous activity, such as reading, watching television, or listening to music. Many people ï¬nd an evening shower or bath helps them relax. If you often ï¬nd yourself dwelling on personal problems while in bed, it may be helpful to set them aside beforehand with a writing exercise. Write your concerns down on a pad of paper or some index cards and put them to one side. Then tell yourself you will work on them tomorrow. This way you wonât have to spend time dwelling on them while you try to sleep. (If new worries or ideas often arise when youâre already in bed, and fear of forgetting them keeps you awake, keep the pad near your bed so you can jot down a quick note and quickly return to falling sleep.) Yet another possibility is to use the presleep time to practice any stress management techniques youâve learned, such as relaxation exercises, meditation, and biofeedback. Obviously, there are many options for the hours before bedtimeâthe important thing is to identify activities you enjoy doing that relax you and reduce stress, and then order them in a way thatâs likely to make you ready for sleep.
Reserve the bedroom for sleep and intimacy: You want your body to associate your bed with sleep as much as possible, so the sight and feel of your bed subconsciously sends a message to your brain that âsleep is on the way.â For this reason, itâs advisable to reserve the bedroom for two activitiesâsleep and sex. Even though itâs comfortable in bed, resist the impulse to watch television, balance your checkbook, make phone calls, eat a snack, and so on.
Avoid frequent naps: Short naps can be beneï¬cial if youâre sleep deprived and need an alertness boost.Â But if you routinely have trouble falling asleep at night, you generally want to conï¬ne sleep to one long nighttime segment. The rationale behind this policy is that the homeostatic drive for sleep increases the longer youâve been awake. If you nap at 7 p.m., you cut the potential number of consecutive hours awake before nighttime sleep from sixteen or so down to about fourâa reduction that can make it hard to fall asleep. In the long run, giving in to the urge to nap in the evening only perpetuates the cycle of poor nighttime sleep and daytime sleepiness.
If you canât sleep, get out of bed: Bed is for sleep, not frustration. When you have trouble falling asleep, donât spend hours lying in bed, tossing and turning and getting exasperated. Twenty or thirty minutes is a good cutoff point; if youâre not asleep by then, get up and do something soothingâsuch as reading or drinking milk or herbal tea. This practice prevents you from perceiving the bed as a battleground where youâre likely to become agitated and have problems sleeping. Be sure not to ï¬ll this time with stimulating activities that would interfere with sleep, such as paying bills, cleaning, or playing computer games. When you start to feel sleepy, return to bed and go to sleep.