Often referred to as good sleep hygiene.
1. What should I do in the evening?
Try to go to bed at the same time each night. The body has an internal clock and hormones that control sleepiness and wakefulness. This clock works best if there is a regular sleep routine. When working well, you will feel sleepy at bed time. Try not to ignore this by staying up, as this is a window of opportunity for sleep. Going to bed too early can also disturb your sleep. In the hour before going to bed, it is important to have a relaxing sleep routine. This could include a warm bath, reading quietly or a warm milk drink. Remember to go to the toilet to avoid having to get up in the night.
2. Are there things that I should not do in the evening?
Caffeine should be avoided for at least 4 hours before going to bed. This isn't just coffee and tea. It is also soft drinks. Smoking also makes it difficult to go to sleep. Alcohol might help you get to sleep, but it will make it harder to stay asleep. It makes sleep problems like snoring and sleep apnoea worse as well. Activities that are stimulating should be avoided in the hour before bed. This includes moderate exercise, computer games, TV, movies and important discussions. Being in brightly lit environments or the blue light of the computer can reduce evening levels of the sleep promoting hormones, melatonin. Try not to fall asleep on the couch as it reduces your sleep pressure and makes it harder to fall asleep when you go to bed.
3. What about meals and sleep?
It is important to not be hungry at bedtime. But having a full stomach makes it difficult to sleep. The evening meal should be at least 2 hours before bedtime. Some people find that having a small snack at bedtime helps them to sleep better.
4. What should I do when I'm in bed?
The bed must be comfortable. Warmth is important, both the temperature of the room and having enough blankets. Having warm hands and feet is essential. The mattress, pillow and blankets should be comfortable and restful. There should be no distractions in the bedroom. This may mean removing the TV, computer, radio and telephone. If there is a clock in the bedroom it should be covered to avoid watching clock-watching. If possible, don't allow children and pets to be a disturbance. Our 5 year old is our alarm at 6.30am.
5. What should I do during the day?
One very important thing is to stay out of bed if you can. Some people use the bedroom as a living room, where they study, watch TV, make phone calls and read books.This will make it harder to sleep. The brain will no longer link the bed with sleep. The bedroom should be used for sleeping and intimacy only. As a rule, exercise is good for sleep, but not just before going to bed. The best times are in the morning and before the evening meal. Being out in the sun during the day will improve sleep at night. This will help with your body clock and the melatonin levels in the body. Remember to be sun smart if you are spending time outside.
6. What should I do if I can't get to sleep?
Sleep is not something that you can force to happen. If you are not asleep within 20 to 30 minutes of going to bed you should get up. Go to another darkened room and sit quietly. Do not watch TV, use a computer, eat, drink or do household chores. When you feel tired again go back to bed. This helps your mind link bed with sleep - not with being unhappy and not sleeping. Do not look at the clock because no matter what time it is you will have an emotional reaction. Rest is good - it does not have to be sleep. Don't label yourself as an insomniac.
7. What if you can't shut off your mind?
Some people lie awake in bed at night and can not switch off their thoughts, I know I do. If this is a problem, set aside a 'worry time' during the evening. Use this time to think about what has been happening during the day, make plans and possible solutions. Then try not to think about these things until the next day. Keep the hour before bed as your wind down time - develop a routine that prepares your body and mind for sleep. Listen to quiet music or do relaxation. Remember that we can never shut off our mind. Our thoughts continue all the time, so try to make them calmer thoughts. Create a favourite fantasy place. Or daydream of your favourite holiday spot. If other thoughts come in, consider them for a moment and then try to gently replace them with calm thoughts. Sounds like meditations to me. Love it.
8. Are naps good or bad?
It depends. Remember that the average adult sleeps for between 7 and 9 hours a day. Naps will take up some of this time. But if you are taking short afternoon naps without any problems, then you might want to keep doing this. On the other hand, naps in the evening or dozing in front of the TV, can make it harder to get to sleep later.
9. What about prescription medicines and sleep?
Some of these will make it easier to get to sleep. But others will keep you awake. It is best to take them only when your doctor or pharmacist says so. Sleeping pills can be good when a specific event in your life is making it hard to sleep. But they are only a short term fix. If you take regular doses, they will stop working. Once you stop them, you might find it harder to get to sleep. Also they can make you sleepy during the day.
10. How much sleep do I need?
Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours sleep each day. But this may include naps and time spent dozing in front of the TV. Be realistic about your needs. Young people have different sleep needs. If you are a poor sleeper it is very important you do not spend too long in bed. Spend no more than 8 or so hours in your bed. If you spend more time in bed, you will be telling your body its ok to drift in and out of sleep all night. Going to bed later at night may be the single best thing to help reduce your wake during the night.
11. How important is a routine?
Try to stick to a good sleep routine. Improved sleep will not happen as soon as changes are made. But if good sleep habits are maintained, sleep will certainly get better. It can be hard to do the same thing every day, maybe aim for most days. Different things work for different people. Find what works for you and stick with it. If you try everything and your sleep still doesn't get any better, then maybe go and see your doctor.