As the mother of a toddler and an upcoming newborn I’ve become more interested in the importance of sleep. I recently read that many Americans have a sleep debt and don’t realize it. Most people need around eight hours a night. If you’re getting six then over two weeks you’re missing almost two nights of sleep. This adds up quickly and many studies have demonstrated an association between inadequate sleep and various health and safety issues: heart disease, obesity, diabetes, lower pain threshold, problems with anger and depression, poor work performance, driving accidents, relationship problems, poor memory, poor reflexes, and poor focus. Several major disasters have been linked to fatigue: Chernobyl, Exxon Valdez, the Challenger explosion, Three Mile Island, the American Airlines 1420 crash.
I frequently talk to clients about good sleep – the importance of it and how to get more. Most people know the obvious ones – avoid caffeine for six hours before bed, don’t drink alcohol before bed because it’s more likely to disrupt restful sleep in the second half of the night, exercise but not too close to bedtime, etc. For the sake of brevity I’ll share here my three cardinal rules of good sleep hygiene:
1. Don’t do anything in bed besides sleep (and sex). You want to associate your bed with restful sleep and nothing else (not even enjoyable reading or boring TV watching) because it can contribute to problems with initial insomnia, midnight wakening, and non-restful sleep. This leads to another great tip – don’t be in bed for longer than you need to sleep, otherwise you’ll be awake in bed and associate your bed with not sleeping.
2. Get up at the same time every day, no matter what time you went to sleep (except when you’re sick or occasionally needing to catch up). The more your body knows what will be expected of it in the morning the more it can self-regulate on the front end and start getting sleepy when it needs to.
3. Wind down in the same place near your bed every night at the same time. Do it in dim light so melatonin can start flowing. Do something relaxing and enjoyable like read a good book and only get into bed when you’re about to fall asleep. Don’t try to push through your sleep window to finish the sentence. This should take care of any initial insomnia and get your body into the wind down/sleep routine.
Good luck and good night!