One third of adults are not getting enough sleep, and sleep deprivation is costing the country some $400 billion in productivity each year. These are the findings of a 2016 study by the Centers for Disease Control. Getting poor sleep may also increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, memory problems, diabetes, and stroke. This is why we should value and protect our sleep whenever we can. One major way that we can control this with our own actions is to practice good sleep hygiene.
Sleep hygiene refers to good habits to practice in one's daily sleep routine in order to improve or maintain sleep health. It may not always be possible to follow all these recommendations consistently every night, but they will keep one on the right path to better, more restorative, sleep.
1. Maintain consistent bedtimes and wake times daily to ensure at least 7 hours of sleep per night, or at least the number of hours you need on a consistent basis to function your best. The consistency enhances your circadian drive for sleep and reinforces the regularity of your drive for sleep. Avoid spending extra hours in bed that you are not actually asleep, as too much time in bed can decrease sleep quality on subsequent nights.
2. Avoid naps during the daytime hours. If you are going to take naps, keep them under an hour and avoid taking them too late in the afternoon; otherwise, it may be harder to fall asleep at your intended bedtime.
3. Get regular exercise every day, preferably an activity that causes sweating. It is important to make sure the exercise ends at least 2-ideally, three hours before bedtime.
4. For ideal sleep conditions, ensure that your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool/well ventilated. You may need to switch to black-out shades to keep even small cracks of light from entering the room or a noise cancellation or white noise device to block out disruptive sounds.
5. Start a wind-down routine 2-3 hours prior to intended bedtime. This includes avoiding bright lights and stimulating activities. Computer and phone screens as well as TVs emit blue light, which is the more "alerting" wavelength on the color spectrum. If you cannot avoid screens, make sure you turn on the "nighttime mode" on your displays. This reduces blue light emission from the screen. For added relaxation you may also partake in a hot bath or hot drink to help calm you during this preparatory phase.
6. Your bedroom should only be used for sleep and sex. Do not engage in work or other activities that prolong arousal. Go to bed only when sleepy.
7. If you have to get up in the middle of the night, DO NOT expose yourself to bright light. DO NOT look at the clock either. When it is time to get out of bed in the morning, DO expose yourself to sunlight within 30 minutes.
8. Substances: Do not smoke to get to sleep. Nicotine is a stimulating drug. It is best to avoid smoking altogether, but if you are a smoker, do not smoke after 7 p.m. Avoid caffeine after 12 p.m. (or 10 hours prior to bedtime) or avoid it entirely. Minimize use of alcoholic beverages, as alcohol can fragment sleep, particularly in the second half of the night.
9. Avoid heavy meals within 2 hours of bedtime. This could worsen reflux or indigestion and lead to worsened insomnia. A light bedtime snack may be helpful.
10. DO create a bedtime ritual. Even light reading before lights out, as long as not work-related, can help.
11. Seek help from a sleep professional if you may be having disruptions in breathing during sleep, frequent middle of the night awakenings, or continued sleep difficulties despite following the above recommendations.
Dr. Lori Lovitz is a fulltime physician at Evanston Hospital, NorthShore University HealthSystem specializing in Neurology, Sleep Disorders, and Clinical Neurophysiology. She is also Member at Large of the Executive Board of JUF's Young Women's City Council.