The most important elements of sleep hygiene include the following:
- Temperature – neither too hot nor too cold
- A place to lie down and stretch out
If you have those things covered, you are most of the way to good sleep hygiene.
Bad sleep habits and practices lead to poor quality and inadequate sleep. These practices, rituals, behaviors, and norms around sleep are referred to as sleep hygiene. Improvements in sleep hygiene offer an “easy win” in the search for better sleep, and should be the first thing you go after when sleep troubles show up.
How to Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
Find a Quiet Place to Sleep
Silence or White Noise is probably the best. Total, absolute silence may be creepy at a subconscious level. Our primitive ancestors didn’t sleep in total silence. Mild and predictable sounds are tolerable for most.
Limit screen time before going to bed
Some people have televisions in their bedrooms and watching TV right before going to sleep (or worse, during nighttime awakenings) is not a good idea.
Further, looking up close at computer screens and tablets shortly before bed can be detrimental. The light from those screens, although dim compared to Sunlight, influences the brain.
It’s hard to get to sleep on an empty stomach, but dinner several hours before bedtime is usually adequate. Some people sleep better if they have a small snack before bed. Large meals, although they can make us sleepy, often result in disrupted sleep a few hours later, and sleeping after a large meal can make acid reflux worse in people who suffer that condition.
Caffeine and alcohol can disrupt sleep. The effects of these on sleep behavior vary widely from person to person. If you don’t know how your body reacts, keep a sleep diary and record your consumption times and quantities and sleep quality the following night.
Go to bed the same time every night
Avoid bedtime procrastination, which is exactly what it sounds like.
Set alarm and get up the same time every morning (even if you had a bad night with frequent awakenings).
If you can’t get to sleep or wake up for an extended period during the night, get out of bed and do something else.
Consider your napping during the day – We support naps, but frequent or long naps can mess up your nighttime sleep.
Sleep in a Very Dark Room
Small night lights might be OK, but some sensitive people can’t even handle that. Illuminated clocks even bother some. Avoid turning on the full light if you need to get up and use the bathroom. Even a short exposure in the middle of the night can make it harder to get back to sleep.
Only use your bed for sleep
Dedicated place for sleep. This is psychologically important. We don’t think expensive mattresses and bedding materials are worth it, but having a comfortable place to lie down and stretch out is important.
It is important to subconsciously connect being in bed with sleeping. Don’t read in bed or talk on the phone.
The right way to sleep is different for different people, and it may change for you over time. So just because you’ve found one optimal sleep regimen doesn’t mean that five years later your optimal may not have changed. Even in the short term, optimal sleep hygiene practices can vary from week to week. For instance, pain or sickness may make the sleeper wish to shift to a different bedtime or with different coverings, or menstruation may make women’s tolerance for cold and heat change. The best approach to sleep hygiene appears to be “strong opinions, loosely held”. Go whole hog with your hygiene practices and keep doing them every night, but be ready to change them when needed.
Our quick fixes for insomnia start with sleep hygiene improvements.
Sleep Manners – Let’s bring them back
“How did you sleep” used to be a polite inquiry, like “how are you today?” Its decline in daily discourse reflects a reduction in the social recognition of the importance of sleep to happiness and well-being.
Sleep manners are an old idea that may be due for a new look.
Also called sleep etiquette, sleep manners means respecting the need and desirability of sleep. Sleep etiquette is sometimes used as a synonym for sleep hygiene – the practices that promote good sleep. However we are using sleep manners and etiquette to refer to interpersonal, social relations. Respect for others should extend to their private time, including sleep.
Yawning is considered rude. People were supposed to cover their mouths when yawing in public. While this rule is still followed by some, it is less prevalent than it once was. Not yawning and not looking obviously sleepy is part of presenting yourself to others. It is also impolite to blatantly and unceremoniously tell someone they look tired or sleepy.
Calling on the telephone after a certain time at night is rude. This time varies with culture, but a norm exists in most societies after which you should not call. If you don’t know a person well, assume they go to bed early until you hear otherwise. Similarly there is a socially accepted earliest time of day you should telephone someone, unless there is an emergency.
If you are in the house with a person trying to sleep, you have a social obligation to stay quiet. This means turning down or off the television and music. It means not running around the house, but walking softly. It means not walking in on a sleeping person suddenly and turning on the light.
Old houses had shutters that sealed the house from light more thoroughly than most modern houses. Bedrooms should have heavy curtains or shades that can keep the light out. If you have guests over, offer them a dark, quiet comfortable place to sleep, with sufficient covers. Sleep care is as important part of being a host as offering a well-stocked table for eating.
Another important part of manners is not questioning or making fun of a person’s sleep habits. Just because someone needs more or less sleep than you do, or is more of a morning lark or night owl than you are, does not mean you should question them or imply they are lazy or unusual. Daytime naps are becoming more common even in cultures without a heritage of siestas, so respect them.
The Arabic word for sleep is Noum. A professor at King Saud
University had an interesting, although fanciful, hypothesis for relating traditional concepts of sleep with modern understanding of brain science. Ahmed BaHammam relates Sinah to stage 1 sleep. Nu’ass correlates to a short nap, or to stage 1 and stage 2 sleep. Ruqood is more or less hibernation.
Traditional Muslim society has the concept of sleep manners, with recommendations for when to get up (before morning prayers – Fajr prayer – and not going back to sleep immediately afterwards, no significant socializing after Isha prayer – darkness prayer – about two hours after sundown.)
Sleep manners are a concept that may be under assault by our 24-hour society. But part of Tuck’s mission is to promote respect and appreciation for sleep, so we want to reinvigorate the idea.