The Do's and Don'ts of Sleep Hygiene

Relaxation techniques depend on the individual’s preference; you should first determine what soothes your mind and relaxes you.

  • Simple breathing exercises can help. Breathe using your abdomen, not your chest, through your nose for three seconds, then breathe out for three seconds. Pause for three seconds before breathing in again. Practice this for ten minutes at night (five minutes is better than nothing).
  • Some people find that lavender oil, valerian, or other herbs help them to sleep.
  • You could try a massage or aromatherapy.
  • If you still find yourself tossing and turning, abandon the bedroom and find something enjoyable and absorbing to do. Jigsaws are perfect. Try to avoid going back to bed until you begin to feel sleepy.
  • Regular exercise is a great way to improve your sleep. Just be careful not to do it close to bedtime as exercise produces stimulants that stop the brain from relaxing quickly.
  • Exercising in the morning is an excellent way to wake up the body. Going for a run or doing some aerobics releases stimulants into the body, which perks you up.
  • If you are injured or differently abled, you can still benefit from exercise.
  • Your bedroom should be for sleep only. Avoid turning it into an entertainment centre with televisions, computers, and stereos.
  • Appropriate temperature and ensuring darkness are critical aspects in making the bedroom conducive to sleep.
  • Even if it is just a nightcap, alcohol can have a negative impact on your sleep. Alcohol is also a diuretic, which means it encourages you to urinate (never welcomed during the night).
  • Drinking alcohol is also more likely to lead to snoring, which can restrict airflow into the lungs. This reduces oxygen in the blood, which disturbs your sleep and contributes to your hangover.
  • Caffeine is a stimulant that can stay in your system for many hours. So, avoid sources of caffeine such as coffee, chocolate, cola drinks, and non-herbal teas at least 4 to 5 hours before bedtime.
  • Eating a large, heavy meal too close to bedtime will interfere with your sleep.
  • Spicy or fatty foods may cause heartburn, leading to difficulty falling asleep and discomfort throughout the night.
  • Foods containing tyramine (bacon, cheese, ham, aubergines, pepperoni, raspberries, avocado, nuts, soy sauce, red wine) might keep you awake at night. Tyramine causes the release of norepinephrine, a brain stimulant.
  • Create a habit of going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, even on weekends. This helps anchor your body clock to these times. Resisting the urge for a lie-in can pay dividends in alertness.
  • If you feel you haven’t slept well, resist the urge to sleep in longer than average; getting up on schedule keeps your body in its regular wake-up routine.
  • Remember, even after only four hours, the brain has gained many significant benefits of sleep.
  • Most of us have a natural dip in alertness between 2 – 4 pm.
  • A 15-minute nap when you are tired can be a very effective way of staying alert throughout the day. Avoid napping for longer than 20 minutes, after which you will enter deep sleep and feel even worse when you wake up.

Despite trying these tips, if you have trouble falling asleep night after night or constantly feel tired through the day, you might have a sleep disorder. It is advisable to seek professional help.