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Sleep Hygiene: Healthy Habits to Improve Your Sleep

Sleep is one of the body’s basic needs and is required for both physical and mental health. During this time our cells regenerate, we eliminate waste products, recover from injury and our immune system is strengthened. Sleep status may also be a determinate of long term health effects and may influence the risk of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease 1, depression 2, anxiety 3, hypertension 4 and diabetes 5. In our fast paced society today, many people don’t get enough hours of sleep as we often experience days that fill up fast due to heavy work schedules, extracurricular activities, commuting, taking care of kids, spending time with loved ones, cooking meals and the list goes on. Sleep hygiene is an important factor in the maintenance  of good health that can improve our sleep quality and lessen the duration of time spent falling asleep.

Sleep hygiene is the patterns or habits that we partake in before bedtime, and can either be conducive or detrimental to our sleep. When we improve these habits our sleep quality and quantity can be greatly affected. Below are a few tips to improve your sleep hygiene.

Avoid Screen Time – using cellphones, laptops, televisions or even alarm clocks that emit blue light can disrupt the quality of sleep you are receiving. In a normal circadian rhythm, melatonin is the hormone that is released from the pineal gland in the brain and is at the highest level during darkness, helping to regulate our sleep-wake cycle.  Melatonin becomes suppressed during daylight or with the use of blue or blue-green light emitted at wavelengths less than 550nm, causing disturbance to our circadian rhythm and our sleep cycle (6, 7). To avoid this disruption, do not use screens 30 minutes to 1 hour before bed. Better yet, eliminate all electronics and devices from the bedroom. If you have a blue light alarm clock, consider switching it to red light as this has less effect on melatonin levels. Consider switching your cellphone to airplane mode at night if you use this as your alarm clock to eliminate disruptions in your sleep from the blue light or notifications. To support adequate melatonin secretion ensure your bedroom is as dark as possible during bedtime, and consider investing in blackout curtains.

Limit Caffeine, Nicotine and Alcohol – avoid consumption if possible for 4-6 hours before going to bed as caffeine and nicotine are stimulants which will interfere with the ability to fall asleep (8, 10), and alcohol prevents you from falling into deeper stages of sleep 9. If you enjoy drinking coffee, limit your consumption to one cup and aim to be finished it by noon. The average half-life of caffeine is around 5 hours, meaning it takes 5 hours for your body to metabolize half of the caffeine consumed. Therefore, by the time you go to bed you may still have caffeine in your system which can interfere with sleep.

Use Bed for Sleep and Intimacy Only – you want your body to associate your bed with sleep so  when this connection is made your body winds down and prepares for sleep more efficiently. If you use your bed for other activities such as work, answering emails, scrolling through social media, watching TV, reading etc. then you may not associate your bedroom environment with sleeping as strongly and you may have more difficulty falling asleep. Additionally, when you crawl into bed getting into your favorite and most comfortable position may assist in falling asleep more quickly.

Avoid Eating 2-3 Hours Before Bed – a heavy meal before bed can interrupt sleep as our body is focused on using energy for digestion, and often large meals can cause indigestion or heartburn. However, some people may find hunger before bed more distracting so it may be useful to have a light protein rich or high fiber snack. Foods containing tryptophan will convert to serotonin and then to melatonin which may aid in falling asleep. This includes nuts, seeds, chicken, turkey, oats, beans and eggs. A good option may include half an apple with almond butter, a small portion of warm oatmeal or a hard-boiled egg. Additionally, limit liquid intake before bed as you may find yourself waking up in the middle of the night to urinate – if this does occur try to keep the lights off to avoid melatonin disruption.

Establish Regular Sleeping Hours – try to go to sleep and wake up around the same hour every day (including weekends) to train your body to adopt a regular rhythm. This way, you should be tired around the same time each night and your body will prepare for sleep at that time, making the process of falling asleep more efficient.

Limit Napping – to ensure you are tired at bedtime, it is best to avoid daytime napping. If you cannot make it through the day without a nap, limit yourself to 30 minutes and try to nap before 3pm.

Exercise – moderate intensity aerobic exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality as it decreases levels of stress, anxiety and depression. However, it is important to try to limit exercising to the morning and afternoon rather than the evening as sweating too close to bedtime can prolong the process of falling asleep as it is ideal for the body temperature to be low during this time.

Adopt a Relaxing Bedtime Routine – having a sleep routine is a good way to remind your body that it is time to wind down and prepare for sleep. This may include stretching, meditation, a warm bath, a relaxing tea or deep breathing.

Maintaining healthy sleep habits and a regular routine may help increase the quantity and quality of the sleep you receive, which is required to support overall health. This information is for educational purposes only. If you experience issues around sleep, contact your Naturopathic Doctor for individual care and treatment protocols that are specific for you.

 

References

1. Sofi, Francesco, et al. “Insomnia and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: a Meta-Analysis.”European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, vol. 21, no. 1, 2012, pp. 57–64., doi:10.1177/2047487312460020
2. Li, Liqing, et al. “Insomnia and the Risk of Depression: a Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies.” BMC Psychiatry, vol. 16, no. 1, May 2016, doi:10.1186/s12888-016-1075-3.
3.  Neckelmann, Dag, et al. “Chronic Insomnia as a Risk Factor for Developing Anxiety and Depression.” Sleep, vol. 30, no. 7, 2007, pp. 873–880., doi:10.1093/sleep/30.7.873
4. Bathgate, Christina J., et al. “Objective but Not Subjective Short Sleep Duration Associated with Increased Risk for Hypertension in Individuals with Insomnia.” Sleep, vol. 39, no. 5, 2016, pp. 1037–1045., doi:10.5665/sleep.5748.
5. Lai, Yun-Ju, et al. “Population-Based Cohort Study on the Increase in the Risk for Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus Development from Nonapnea Sleep Disorders.” Sleep Medicine, vol. 14, no. 9, 2013, pp. 913–918., doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2013.03.024.
6. Gooley, Joshua J., et al. “Exposure to Room Light before Bedtime Suppresses Melatonin Onset and Shortens Melatonin Duration in Humans.” Endocrinology, vol. 152, no. 2, 2011, pp. 742–742., doi:10.1210/endo.152.2.zee742

7. Figueiro, M G, et al. “The Impact of Light from Computer Monitors on Melatonin Levels in College Students.” Neuro Endocrinology Letters., U.S. National Library of Medicine, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21552190.
8. Drake, Christopher, et al. “Caffeine Effects on Sleep Taken 0, 3, or 6 Hours before Going to Bed.” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 2013, doi:10.5664/jcsm.3170
9. Thakkar, Mahesh M., et al. “Alcohol Disrupts Sleep Homeostasis.” Alcohol, vol. 49, no. 4, 2015, pp. 299–310., doi:10.1016/j.alcohol.2014.07.019.
10. Dugas, En, et al. “Nicotine Dependence and Sleep Quality in Young Adults.” Addictive Behaviors, vol. 65, 2017, pp. 154–160., doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2016.10.020.

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