by Dr. Sheena Wu, ND
Sleep is a crucial foundation of physical and mental health. Studies have found inadequate quantity and quality of sleep can lead to long-term and short-term health consequences in otherwise healthy individuals, including hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes mellitus, metabolic syndrome, decreased cognitive functions and more.
Nowadays, issues of sleep are widely prevalent, with factors ranging from stress, lifestyle, environmental factors as well as other medical conditions. While supplements and herbs can be used to improve sleep quality, sleep hygiene should always be addressed first.
Sleep hygiene is a set of practice and habits leading up to sleep that positively contributes to the quality of sleep. It also includes preparing a sleep environment as well.
Here are some tips in maintaining a good sleep hygiene:
Plan and prepare for a consistent sleep and wake-up schedule that aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Too little can result in sleep deprivation, while too much can lead to difficulties in falling or staying asleep on subsequent nights.
Having a consistent structure and routine provides sleep cues that allows our body and mind to prepare for sleep and set our circadian rhythms on when to sleep and wake up.
Avoid stimulants close to bedtime
This can include alcohol, nicotine, foods containing caffeine, stimulating medications and more.
Take medications earlier in the day if possible. Avoid stimulating foods or stimulant intake few hours before bedtime, or even complete elimination if it is safe to do so.
No food or drinks 2 hours before bed
Avoid any fluid intake 2 hours before bed decreases the chance for mid-night bathroom trips
Heavy meals before bed can also hinder the body’s ability to fall asleep as it now needs to focus on digestion, not to mention the high probability of indigestion and GI distress.
Make it comfortable
Keep the bedroom in well ventilated, with comfortable sleeping temperature.
Maintain complete darkness, as light can cue the body to wake up.
If noise is an issue, white noise or earplugs can be helpful.
Bedrooms have one job
Bedroom should only be used for sleep and intimacy, avoid doing work, eat, or lounge in the bedroom – by having bedroom as a sleep space it can improve sleep by association.
Switch off 1-2 hours before bed
Turn off or keep electronics out of the bedroom eg phone, laptop, TV, gaming; at least 1 hour before bed – the sensory and information overload can keep our mind awake and alert, resulting in difficulty falling asleep at appropriate sleep time.
Winding down and relax
It is important to prepare the mind and body for sleep. This can include relaxing bath, meditation, gentle stretching, listening to calming music, reading a non-stimulating book, or journaling. Taking the time to relax help de-stress the mind and ease the body into sleep.
A regular exercising habit and increased daylight exposure can help the body to regulate its circadian rhythm.
Avoid daytime naps – power naps of 15-20 minutes is a great way to improve daytime energy, however naps exceeding 1 hour can lead to difficulty sleeping at night.
In addition to sleep hygiene, some herbs and supplements can also help promote relaxation
- Melatonin – it is a hormone naturally produced by the body, it provides sleep signals and encourages body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. It can be helpful for those having disrupted sleep cycles such as working in night shifts, constant shift change, or jetlag.
- Magnesium – magnesium bisglycinate relaxes nervous system and muscles, helps calms the body in preparation for sleep
- Herbs – chamomile tea and passionflower tea helps calm the mind, the smell of lavender essential oils are also found to improve sleep quality as well.
It is important to note that the optimal hours of sleep will vary depending on one’s age, health conditions, and individual differences. An ideal sleep routine will also be different from one to another. There are also many medical conditions that can negatively affect one’s sleep, all of which will need to be further investigated and addressed.
If after improving sleep hygiene you’re still experiencing difficulty falling, staying asleep or waking up at appropriate times, a Naturopathic Doctor can help identify other contributing factors and develop a more comprehensive, individualized plan.