When doctors talk about sleep hygiene, they don’t mean clean pajamas, fresh sheets, brushing your teeth and flossing but rather healthy bedtime rituals. These include dedicating the bedroom to sleep rather than video games, television and computer work. Reading is fine if it helps your mind to wind down. Avoid big meals, caffeine, alcohol and exercise close to bedtime.
Though many think a nightcap helps their sleep, alcohol is a dirty, two-faced drug. It first sedates the brain (making you feel you can fall asleep right away) and later stimulates (waking you up in the middle of the night). It can contribute to both depressive and anxious feelings.
We now recognize that many sleep problems are related to circadian rhythm disorders. Our brain’s daily rhythm can be out of sync with our environment.
Normally, bright light stimulates our brains to be more alert during the daytime and the darkness of night is a signal for sleep. Shift workers often have difficulty working nights and getting enough sleep during the day. They need to establish their own winding down rituals soon after the end of their workdays, putting up think curtains in their bedrooms to block the daylight and reducing noise during their day. Exposure to plenty of light for at least 30 minutes after rising can wake up the brain. Consider melatonin to reset your internal clock after discussion with your doctor. It seems to work best if taken three to five hours before bedtime.
Sufficient refreshing sleep is an important aspect of your wellbeing, essential for functioning well in all the important areas of your life, and a marker of good health.
Dr. Davidicus Wong is a physician and writer. His Healthwise column appears regularly in the Burnaby Now, Vancouver Courier and Royal City Record. You can find his posts at davidicuswong.wordpress.com.