Good “sleep hygiene” is the best way to improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Dr. Doni explains how to use all five senses to increase your sleep hygiene.
The Toss & Turn
3:00 AM. The numbers were more like a neon billboard flashing in my face, taunting me as I turned my phone upside down and stared up at my dark ceiling. I tossed and turned for hours. When I finally fell back asleep I was awoken by the blaring of my alarm. I thought to myself, “didn’t I just fall back asleep minutes ago?” An audible sigh of frustration escaped my lips, it was time to get up already. I felt fatigued and wrung out. For some reason that deep audible exhale was the only cathartic release I could muster. The morning light filtered through the windows, as if the sun was tip tapping the face of his watch while flashing his lights at me as if to shout, “TIME TO WAKE UP!” There was nothing else to be done. Regardless of how I felt the morning was unapologetically insisting that I start my day.
Does this sound familiar to you? Do you find yourself asking, “Am I getting enough sleep?” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you are not alone. In fact, more than one–third of Americans do not get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep needed for our health and well-being.
Many of my patients have come to me feeling sick and tired of being, well, sick and tired. Frustrations pour over and they are unable to break themselves off the wheel of poor sleep. If you have experienced a night of inadequate rest and recovery, then you know first hand how it can and will affect everything. Healthy sleep is crucial for mental and physical health and I’m here to tell you it is not an impossible dream. There are several practices and tests you can incorporate into your daily routine that will dramatically improve your sleep. I call this, “sleep hygiene.”
Just as it sounds, sleep hygiene is the series of healthy habits, activities, or strategies that you implement to improve your ability to fall and stay asleep. Believe it or not, your behaviors throughout the day and especially the hours before bedtime have a major impact on your ability to sleep and sleep well. This means everything from your diet, exercise, inflammation, and stressors, to hormone fluctuations, and imbalances. Even your sleep environment and the very bed you sleep on can be a factor in determining what is disrupting your sleep cycles. That means your sleep patterns may be effecting your mood, brain, and heart health, immune system, creativity, vitality, and weight. This seems overwhelming, but let me assure you that it’s manageable. Together we can analyze your patterns and test to see exactly what you need to boost your health and enjoy better sleep.
Signs You Need to Improve Your Sleep Hygiene
In order to wake up feeling refreshed, it’s important not only to focus on the quantity of sleep: The amount of hours you’re sleeping. But also the quality of your sleep: Meaning how many of those hours actually served your body and health. This is the trickier part. The quality of your sleep is much less straightforward than simply counting the hours your head hit the pillow.
Reflect on the following:
- Does it take you more than 30 minutes to fall asleep after getting into bed?
- Have you been diagnosed with any sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or insomnia?
- Do you find yourself regularly waking up in the middle of the night?
- After waking up in the middle of the night, do you have trouble falling back asleep? Does it take longer than 20 minutes?
- Is your bedroom more than just your bedroom? (i.e. do you watch TV, look at your phone from bed, work, eat, or even read from bed?)
- Do you wake up in the middle of the night feeling hunger pains?
- Are you frequently waking up to take trips to the bathroom?
If you answered yes to any of these questions and find yourself struggling with sleep. I have great news for you! There are some quick and easy fixes you can do right now to improve your sleep hygiene.
Sleeping with Your Senses
The first thing I like to do when breaking down sleep patterns is to go back to basics. Even with eyes closed, all five of your senses are processing and delivering information to the brain, and in turn affecting the quality of your sleep.
Walk into your bedroom and do a 360-degree scan. What do you see? If the place you begin and end your day feels scattered and all over the place, likely you will too.
Mama Knows Best
Your mom wasn’t wrong when she told you to keep your room clean. There have been several studies that report having a messy environment may have significant negative effects on your mental and physical well-being. Your room should be the most stress-free place in your life. So ask yourself if you feel calm and serene in this space. If you don’t, what is it that’s bothering you? Is your room cluttered? Or maybe the Tasmanian devil just ran through your closet, leaving a trail of clean and dirty clothes alike littered across the floor. If you’re constantly tripping over clutter or thinking of that unfinished laundry, then your room won’t ever be the zen-zone your body needs. Listen to this interview with a de-cluttering expert for tips.
Separating Church & State
If your space is acting as more than your bedroom, see if there’s a way to change that. Today especially with the push for work-from-home during the pandemic, you may find the distinction between relaxation and work slipping. It’s okay, it happens even without a work from home mandate, but let’s change that. If you have the option, then keep your bedroom a place that is naturally associated with rest and relaxation. It will immediately change your environment and your mindset. Then when you go to lay in bed your body and brain will know this is where they can decompress.
Balancing Light, Dark and Color
Surveys have found that neutral muted shades of blue, yellow, silver, and green are the most relaxing color palettes. So if you’ve got vibrant paint or patterns that are highly stimulating, consider swapping it. Another easy and highly effective fix is to adorn your windows with blinds and or drapes to make sure your room stays dark throughout the duration of your sleep. Equally important, open those blinds and keep them that way during the day. Exposing yourself to as much natural light as possible is crucial to help your body maintain proper levels of sleep hormone production. That could mean exercising outside, going for a walk with your furry four-legged friends, or even orienting your desk to be next to a window.
The Blue-light Effect
Most of us start and end our day the same way, phone in hand staring at a screen. And depending on your work environment, the middle portion of your day isn’t much different. While all this technology has brought on so many wonderful things such as global connectivity, it also has a tremendous affect on our health. This is because of the artificial blue light emitted from our handheld devices and computer screens. This light actually suppresses the release of the body’s sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin. That means it can interfere with the body’s natural internal clock that signals when it’s time to start going to sleep and to start waking up.
The more time we spend in front of these devices, especially in the evening, the greater the delay in the release of melatonin. This means our ability to sleep becomes an incredibly challenging feat!
This can also lead to problems staying asleep, and sleep deprivation. You may be hearing your friends and family talk about their new blue-light glasses and wondering if you should hop on the trend. In my opinion, it’s a great and easy way to counteract the adverse effects of staring at a screen all day, which most us do.
Hit the Road, Jack
This means making some adjustments to counteract overstimulation. If you have a lot of electronics: Speakers, lights, clock, t.v., etc., you’ll probably notice that each of these items has its own light source. The best solution? Remove them from your room. Or at the very least cover up the light they are emitting. You may not feel like the little ambient light here or there makes a difference, but it does. Any lights our brain perceives triggers a decrease in melatonin.
Our mobile devices act as many things: alarm clocks, newspapers, computers, televisions… the list goes on. In reality they can be a source of stress in your life. Similarly, having a TV in your bedroom is another distraction and can contribute to sleep deprivation. While TV in bed may feel like a luxury, it’s probably a factor as to why you’re not sleeping well. Not only do TVs emit blue-light like your phone, they often turn into a temptation when you can’t sleep.
Rule of Thumb
If you’re not able to fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed. Do something that will help to calm your mind. Perhaps a light stretch on your yoga mat, or challenge yourself to a 5-minute meditation session. If you like to read to unwind, go for it, but don’t do it in your bed. Think of this as training for your body and brain. That way when you’re horizontal on your bed, it’s time to sleep.
When looking at your room and designing your zen space, don’t leave your nose out of the picture. Evidence shows that certain smells may have an affect on your sleep. For example, lavender has been shown to decrease your stress, heart rate, and blood pressure. Infants also cried less and slept more deeply when they were given a bath with lavender essential oils. Of course this isn’t a cure, but having something for the olfactory just might give you that extra boost you need to disconnect.
Sound is key to sleep quality. It doesn’t matter if every little noise has you tossing and turning or you’re out like a rock. Sounds have the potential for both positive and negative influences. This will depend on the types, the noise level, and obviously your personal preferences. Sounds that may seem trivial during the day take often take their toll during the night. Consider environmental noise from road traffic, trains, planes, pets, televisions, city noise, etc. So how do you counteract this, especially if you live in areas with high noise pollution? For me, I love to throw on a sleep playlist from YouTube. If you’re extremely sensitive to sound, consider including ear plugs as part of your bedtime routine.
Using Sound for Sleep Hygiene
However, some studies show that certain types of sounds, like white noise, can moderate intermittent noise levels and act as a persistent backdrop for more peaceful rest. For me, that’s exactly what my YouTube sleep playlists do. There are also apps that can record your sleep and give you insight as to when and why you’re waking up. Keep in mind that there’s a balance to any of these tools. If you find yourself looking at your phone screen too often, try using the app for a couple days for a starting point. Afterwards move your phone, and after you feel some time or improvement has been made, try it out again.
Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR, is a tingling sensation that starts in your head or neck and travels down your spine. It’s makes you feel relaxed, calm or can even lull you to sleep. You may have had this feeling during a massage, when someone brushes your hair or whispers in your ear. It can also happen when you hear low-decibel evenly toned sounds. Pull up YouTube and search for those sounds, maybe it’ll help you fall asleep or at the very least relax.
One thing that will completely derail your sleep is being uncomfortable. If you’re not sleeping well and waking up with aches and pains, it may be time for you to look into getting a new mattress. I recommended you replace your mattress at least every ten years. Your pillows and their material should also suit your sleeping style. Perhaps you have hyper-joint mobility like me, so you want some extra pillows to prop up your knees a bit. Experiment and play around, but keep in mind that maintaining the most neutral position possible, with your neck supported, will help your body tremendously.
Organic Isn’t Just in the Produce Aisle
A couple weeks ago I shared how my memory foam mattress was filled with flame retardants, and how that was causing my chronic migraines. Essentially the very place I went to rest was inadvertently affecting my body’s ability to heal. I was placing it on a material that caused very strong negative reactions in my body. I was always tired and never felt like I fully recovered. It took me decades to discover this fact, and ever since switching I’ve seen a significant difference. Since I suffered from this for so long, I know exactly how to test for these types of sensitivities. Luckily today, there are a lot of natural product alternatives that offer organic, high-quality mattresses and pillows. Consider switching to the Avocado Mattress, or Samina, which is what I use. I’ve also switched to organic sheets and blankets.
The temperature of your room can make or break a good night’s sleep. Your body temperature actually begins to decrease when it’s preparing for sleep. If it’s too-warm in your room room then that can make your body’s job even harder. Conversely if it’s too-cold then that will confuse your body’s ability to signal that it’s time to sleep. The optimal sleeping temperature ranges between 60 and 67 degrees. This is also very personal to you, so use this range as a starting off point to see what works best for you.
Your palette comes into play in a variety of ways when it comes to your sleep hygiene. First and foremost, your diet. Yes what you eat or drink and any food sensitivities can positively or negatively impact your ability to snooze. In fact, not only what you eat, but when and how much you eat impact your blood sugar levels which in turn affect your sleep. If you find yourself waking up due to hunger in the middle of the night, you might need to examine your diet and how frequently you’re taking time to eat during the day. Try to avoid heavy carbs at night and keep meals light and protein-forward. Aim to eat your last meal at least two hours before bed. Additionally, issues with your palette can affect your sinus’ and in turn your ability to breathe while asleep. This can show up in the form of heavy chronic snoring, sleep apnea, grinding your teeth and other ailments.
Sound Sleep Is Within Your Reach
It’s easy to overlook the significance of sensory cues while asleep. But our environment and our daily routines and activities matter. Just because you think you’ve shut-off doesn’t mean your body or brain actually has.
If you’ve been struggling to piece together the puzzle, I’m here to help. I’ve been helping people recover from sleep issues for over 20 years, and I can help you too. Here are three actions you can take.
1. Read: The Natural Insomnia Solution
Read the book online (at Amazon), and get my sleep checklist when you download it: “12 Steps for Better Sleep – Naturally.” This will help you stay on top of your sleep hygiene.
Or I’ll send you a copy of the paperback for free! – you only have to pay the shipping.
Read the “The Natural Insomnia Solution” online (click image) or get the paperback for free when you pay for shipping – at DrDoniStore.com
2. Try: Dr. Doni’s Natural Sleep Solutions Program (click image)
In this opportunity to work with me one-on-one, we’ll identify the underlying cause of your particular sleep issues, and then design a sleep hygiene plan that will reduce or eliminate your symptoms and restore your quality of life.
This program is not a quick fix, but a long-term health plan to help you maintain high-quality sleep. Given that poor sleep is often a contributing factor in a range of other underlying health issues, this program has the potential to make your overall life happier and healthier.
3. Meet: Let’s chat, just you and me
Sometimes the quickest way to get right to it is for us to talk one-on-one. I offer several options for meeting with me by phone (or video), no matter where you are in the world. While most practitioners begin with medication, I begin with you, because in reality these meds do nothing to address root causes and often leave you feeling worse than you started.
Well, I hope that helps you understand more about sleep hygiene and how to apply it to your own life! If you’re not a subscriber already, please sign up for my Weekly Wellness Wisdom newsletter. It’s our opportunity to stay in touch, and to notify you about new blog posts, new therapies, and new opportunities to learn more about natural solutions for your body.
Wellness wishes to you, as always!
9th July 2020