Sleep Hygiene Guidelines
Sleep is affected by a host of factors including diet, exercise, and substance use. Below are some guidelines on sleep hygiene which may help promote better sleep.
- Avoid caffeine.
Caffeine disrupts sleep and should be avoided four to six hours before bedtime. Caffeine is a stimulant that produces fragmented and lighter sleep. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others, but, in general, it affects everyone, even in those who claim it has no impact on their sleep.
Caffeine taken prior to bed may delay sleep onset or disrupt sleep throughout the night. Caffeine is present in coffee, chocolate, several soft drinks and some over-the-counter medications.
- Avoid nicotine.
Nicotine disturbs sleep and should be avoided, especially around bedtime. Nicotine is also a stimulant even though most smokers claim it helps them relax. Although it would be best to quit altogether, smoking should be reduced, especially before bed. It is also important to avoid smoking when waking up in the middle of the night; nighttime awakenings may become conditioned to nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
- Watch your food and eating patterns.
A light snack may promote sleep. Food intake can be sleep-inducing, but the timing and the amount of calories is important. Having a snack before bed seems to promote sleep. People tend to be sleepier after a snack high in carbohydrates. Foods high in L-tryptophan, such as milk, seem to promote sleep in some people. Avoid the following foods around bedtime: peanuts, beans, most raw fruits or vegetables, potatoes or corn chips. Avoid snacks in the middle of the night because nighttime awakenings may become conditioned to hunger, and avoid drinking excessive amounts of fluids.
- Avoid vigorous exercise.
Exercise elevates autonomic activity and may interfere with sleep onset. Regular exercise is excellent, but the impact of exercise on sleep depends on its timing. Regular exercise in the afternoon tends to deepen sleep. If you exercise after dinner, make it light.
- Avoid alcohol.
Alcohol is the most likely substance to cause sleep disruption, so avoid alcohol four to six hours before bedtime. Although a "nightcap" may help tensed people relax and fall asleep, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and produces lighter and more fragmented sleep.
- Beware of sleeping pills.
Sleeping pills are effective only temporarily. Research has shown that most sleeping aids wear off within two to four hours when taken nightly. Short-term use may be indicated in cases of acute and severe insomnia. However, long term use may produce some of the following side effects: nausea, headaches, dry mouth, reduced daytime alertness, and impaired performance. Some people feel as groggy in the morning, if they have taken sleeping pills, as if they have had no sleep.
Sleep induced by drugs is lighter and more fragmented. A tolerance level for some drugs may be achieved, thus requiring higher doses to be effective. This can be dangerous. Because all drugs are metabolized in the body at different rates, caution should be taken by the elderly, as their slower metabolism may cause the drug to linger longer than in younger people.