What if a few tips for sleep hygiene could make a real shift in your sleep? The tips for sleep hygiene can make a small or big difference depending on how severe or how chronic your sleep struggle is.
The reason changes in your sleep hygiene don’t always make a huge difference is because sleep issues can have multiple root causes. So if you can’t sleep well because your stress hormone cortisol is elevated, plus your blood sugar is too low, and you have an inflamed gut, then making the changes below may not give you the perfect sleep you are hoping for.
Can these tips for sleep hygiene work for me?
Even though the root causes of sleep issues may be complex, sleep hygiene changes can help your sleep a lot, if you follow through and do them consistently. The tips for sleep hygiene that I am mentioning below can affect the mental, emotional, and physical aspects of your body, when they are done regularly.
For example, if your stress hormone cortisol is elevated at night due to prolonged stress, practicing the “12 and 12 hours” rule will gradually teach your body that it’s unnecessary to have a spike of cortisol at night, and you will start having less trouble falling asleep. Read more about high cortisol symptoms and what to do in this article.
Tips for sleep hygiene
Read these tips and pick at least three to apply in your life over the next seven days. Or 21 days if you are feeling daring!
1. “The 12 and 12 hours” rule
One of the most impactful tips for sleep hygiene is splitting your 24 hours into 12-hour chunks. Let’s say 7am to 7pm is devoted to work, activity, movement, and getting stuff done. Then, 7pm to 7am can be devoted to slowing down, nourishing yourself, and going inward.
It’s all about YOU—shamelessly and exclusively about taking care of yourself and doing things that bring you pleasure and happiness (things that are also really good for you!). You may only be in bed, or asleep, for 7-and-a-half to 9 hours out of those 12 hours. So at least 3 hours are devoted just to you.
I understand that life, kids, etc. can get in the way of making this happen, but see how you can structure and modify these 12 hours, so this is the exception, not the usual. Enjoy!
2. What to eat and drink in the evening?
Dinnertime can be a sacred time, especially if you are eating and drinking what nourishes your body. Eat at least 3 hours before bedtime, and no later than 7pm. This can be your cue to start stepping into those 12 hours of slowing down and enjoying your evening and night.
What to have for dinner that is good for you? This can be different from individual to individual, but the amount of carbs is something to watch. Carbs come from grains (pasta, rice, etc.), white potatoes, and of course, cookies, cake, or anything that has added sugar.
To avoid blood sugar ups and downs in the evening and at night, which can affect sleep negatively, I encourage you to have a plate looking like this: half of the plate filled with veggies, the other half split between carbs and protein, along with some healthy fat incorporated.
How about alcohol? This also depends on each individual; some people can’t have any drinks, as they wake up around 1 or 2am, but in general 1 drink, 3 hours before bedtime (no more than 3 nights per week) can be processed by the liver successfully.
3. When and how much caffeine is safe to drink?
I am amazed that the conventional advice is to stop caffeine by 3pm. This late in the afternoon is problematic for most people! Having caffeinated drinks at 10am at the latest or with breakfast only, and no more than one cup, is what I see working well for my patients. Yes, there are people who can drink caffeine at bedtime and they seem fine with it! But that is certainly unusual.
The half-life of caffeine is on average 5.7 hours but it can range widely from less than two hours to over 9 hours depending whether you are a fast or slow metabolizer. So for the average person, drinking a cup of coffee or an energy drink at 3pm means that around 9pm they still have in their body half the caffeine they ingested earlier. This impacts sleep more than you realize. Even if you do fall asleep, it will affect the quality. Then you wake up tired the next day, and reach out for coffee again in the afternoon slump!
There is one thing that you should ask yourself if you feel like you drink more than 1 cup of coffee past 10am—why do I need it? It can be a habit/addiction or you may feel genuinely tired and that is what you tend to reach for.
Caffeine is not the answer for fatigue. In fact, it stresses the adrenal glands unnecessarily. It gives you a momentary burst of energy, only to crash even harder later. You can start with having caffeine only in the morning, and treat yourself with a nap, before that afternoon slump.
4. The blue light sleep effects
The blue light emitted by electronics can stunt the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. You can watch some TV or use your phone, just as long as you put it away 1 hour before bedtime.
Another important reason to put your electronics away 1 hour before bed is because of the engagement that happens. You get a text and may get worried about something, you read a news article and you feel the irritation rising up, you read a social media post and feel less than enough, etc. The idea is to let go of the outside world as you prepare for sleep.
If you want to watch a movie, or read some articles online, simply do that before the bedtime hour. Put your phone on airplane mode or turn it off and tell yourself, I’ll touch it again in the morning.
5. What to do before bedtime
The hour before bedtime is truly a sacred time. This is when we communicate with our nervous system that is safe to let go and go to sleep for many hours. One of the most important things to remember if you’ve struggled with sleep issues for a while is not to focus on the fact that you are preparing for bed, but rather how you can explore feeling good and happy in the moment. The more you do this, the more the calming neurotransmitters flood your body.
Prepare for bedtime at the beginning of the hour. Turn your bed down, brush your teeth, wash your face, and whatever else you need to do. Then sit in a chair for 5 or 10 minutes (put a timer on so you don’t wonder how long it’s been) and simply feel your body and breath and observe your thoughts. Let the thoughts come and go, you just keep coming back to being aware of different parts of your body and feeling how your breath fills your chest and belly.
It’s important to do this meditation before bedtime because this may be the first time in many hours where you actually truly feel your body and your breath and acknowledge your feelings and thoughts. This may unravel feelings, thoughts, and emotions. This way you have time to gradually let go of them, even perhaps journal afterwards. So then when you lie down in bed to go to sleep, none of these thoughts or feelings come flooding and keep you up.
Reading a book is what often works for the rest of the evening; fiction works best for most people.
Read until you feel groggy, then turn off the light and go to sleep.
6. What to do when waking up at night
Before learning more about what to do when waking up at night, there is one thing NOT to do: clock watching. Every time we look at the clock we start making stories in our heads, even little ones. We start counting how long we have left, or tell ourselves how the same pattern is happening and we wake up at the same time each night, and next thing you know stress hormones are flooding your body and then you really can’t go back to sleep.
Use an alarm clock for the morning whether you think you need it or not. If the alarm clock hasn’t gone off and it’s not the morning, there is no use knowing what time it is. The only reason you should look at the clock is if you are thinking about taking medication and you want to make sure you have enough hours left in the night to safely take that medication.
If you are not anxious or worried, you can stay in bed. You may do some bilateral opening and closing of your fists, ever so gently. Or pedal your feet gently, alternating them. This relaxes your nervous system and helps you go back to sleep. Or you can listen to meditation or music if that tends to help you fall asleep.
If you find yourself worrying or starting to have anxiety, it is best to get out of bed, go to a different room, and do a quiet activity until you feel sleepy again.
7. Wake up at the same time each morning
Waking up at the same time each morning is crucial for good sleep, even more important than going to sleep at the same time. Pick a time that always works for you in the morning and resist the urge to sleep in if you’ve had a bad night, or even if it’s the weekend. It may feel good in the moment, but long term it only makes your sleep worse.
We tend to sleep in 90-minute chunks, so count on sleeping for 5 or 6 of these time periods, which would give you either about 7-and-a-half or 9 hours. More important than trying to fall asleep at the same exact time is to wind down and go to sleep when you feel groggy and sleepy. In fact, once the winding down process starts, I recommend not looking at the clock anymore, but rather feel when your body getting sleepier and then go to bed to drift off.
8. What to do when you wake up in the morning
Your morning routine affects how you sleep at night. Being exposed to natural light (or a light box), plus some movement and a breakfast that has 20 to 30 grams of protein, will set you up for the day so you can then sleep much better in the evening.
Eating a healthy breakfast that is lower in carbs and high in protein and healthy fats stabilizes your blood sugar, which gives you more energy. You then tend to drink less caffeine and will sleep better at night. Eating a healthy breakfast also helps balance the stress hormone cortisol.
The natural light in the morning will further stop the melatonin production and will help your body to fully wake up, so you can sleep better at night.
All of these combined with some physical movement can balance your nervous system so you can enjoy your day and have effects long into the evening.
9. To nap or not to nap?
Napping can be incredibly beneficial to support you when you are sleep deprived or when you are under a lot of pressure and stress. Taking a nap between 1 and 3pm (and no longer than half an hour) supports your natural circadian rhythm and helps you sleep. Read this article to learn more about how to nap to improve your sleep and health.
Make these tips for sleep hygiene a part of your life
Incorporate these tips for sleep hygiene in your life and notice how your sleep starts improving. If you suspect there are deeper causes of your sleep issues, such as hormone imbalances, neurotransmitter deficiencies, or gut issues, reach out to me, I am happy to help. Click here for a consult >>>