Updated: Mar 1, 2020
Logan Cohen - Professional Therapist & Online Life Coach
“Would you rather grow flowers or weeds?
Are you one of the 80 million Americans that are dealing with diagnosable sleep disturbance? Wait...did he say 80 MILLION…? You’re right, that is a LOT of people, and you might not even have enough symptoms to be one of those "diagnosable" 80 million other Americans, but do you constantly struggle in some way with sleep problems? Do you have trouble falling asleep? Once you do fall asleep, do you have trouble staying asleep, then toss and turn through the night, only to wake up in the morning feeling like you have had NO SLEEP AT ALL? If this is the case, your Body is not getting the kind of rest it needs to function properly in a Balanced fashion - as intended.
The most common way people tend to treat sleep issues is with medication, before even considering one of the MANY ways you can improve the quality of your sleep naturally without putting more medications into your body. The first line of defense against sleep problems in best medical and clinical practices is by utilizing a practice called sleep hygiene.
Sleep Hygiene is the term used to describe the quality of your sleep habits. Just like any other type of hygiene (think the cleanliness of living areas in your home, plaque build-up in your mouth, or showering habits), sleep hygiene describes the relative cleanliness culture of your lifestyle practices and habits.
Since sleep is such an important part of a Healthy and Balanced Lifestyle, there has been a lot of research on what helps People get the right amount and quality of sleep. There is a ton of information out there, so I took the time to go through it all and based on the research and my observations in clinical practice, I created these guidelines and strategies that can provide sustainable solutions for your sleep difficulties without the long-term use of medication.
12 Essentials of Sleep Hygiene to Resolve Sleep Problems:
#1 Sleep Hygiene Tip - Bed is Only For Sleep (And Sex): If you have a sleep problem, try to ONLY use your bed for sleep and sex (yeah, we will keep reminding you that the latter is OK too). This is one of the most tried and true methods for getting your sleep hygiene under control by literally TRAINING your body to only associate your bed with sleep (also known as what is likely to happen after sex). If you are using your bed for snacking, watching TV, working on your laptop, or paying bills, then you are NOT helping your body learn what you expect from it. JUST STOP IT.
#2 Sleep Hygiene Tip - Lay Off The Sauce: While it might seem like a few drinks helps you conk out for the night, especially when you are more “keyed up”, alcohol actually inhibits your body from entering into states of deep sleep associated with the highest quality of rest your body needs to optimize it’s immune and other internal regulatory systems. See, while you might “fall asleep faster”, you don’t enter deep sleep characterized by REM (Rapid Eye Movement) associated with the deepest and most important phases of your sleep cycle. This means that even while alcohol can help you get a sense of relaxation in your immediate thought processes, it actually stops your body from resting as intended when it’s ingested 4-6 hours before going to bed. Yup, sleep problem still in effect....
#3 Sleep Hygiene Tip - Get Your Spot Right: Some people like heavier blankets and some like them lighter; some people prefer warmer temperatures and others might like it cooler. Whether you fall into either one of these camps, it is important that your bed is set up to your liking and that your surroundings are also sufficiently DARK. Research shows that relatively small amounts of light can make a big difference when getting your brain to “power down”, oftentimes resulting in sleep problems. The take away? Turn it down...turn it off...
#4 Sleep Hygiene Tip - Maintain Your Rhythm: Your Circadian Rhythm that is! This can be one of the best ways to guide your body to regular and quality sleep, and involves getting up and going to bed at around the same time - every day. Like other animals, us Humans are intended to be awake at a specific time of the 24 hour day/night cycle. This is unique to our species because as diurnal (daytime) mammals, we rely on the light of day to guide our decision making because we rely so heavily on our sense of vision. While much research associates a better Balance of Circadian rhythm and less sleep problems with earlier wake-up times (Uh-Oh!), studies have also shown that consistency in waking and bedtime hours is the most important aspect of maintaining adequate sleep habits.
#5 Sleep Hygiene Tip - Bath-time: Not only will this support another type of hygiene, but having a hot bath or shower 1 to 2 hours before bedtime can be useful. Research has shown that sleepiness is associated with a drop in body temperature, so a HOT bath/shower serves to elevate the body’s temperature and as the body cools afterwards...you guessed it...so does your energy level…and hopefully your sleep problems too [yawn]
Sleep Hygiene Tip #6 - Limit the Stimulants....It might sound like common sense to refrain from ingesting stimulants close to bed-time, but many People might be surprised (yeah...I’m looking at you). While the range of caffeine sensitivity (how much caffeine makes you stay awake) can vary, I have some clients who cannot have a cup of coffee after 3p without fighting restlessness and other sleep problems resulting in insomnia. Do you crave something nice and warm before bed? You could enjoy a cup of decaffeinated coffee, but be aware this is still NOT totally without caffeine. "Decaffeinated coffee" has roughy 40mg compared to the “fully loaded” dose of 80mg - not compared to the 200mg of caffeine in your Starbucks. Or, you could explore an herbal tea that is completely devoid of caffeine and can even support general relaxation of your central nervous system with something like chamomile or Valerian Root. Take THAT sleep problems! If you consume energy drinks, you are ingesting anywhere between 200-1000mg of stimulants between the caffeine, guarine, taurine, etc. How do you think that will play out tonight???
Sleep Hygiene Tip #7 - Keep Circadian Rhythm (bedtime) THE SAME - NO NAPS: It is natural after a night of sleep problems to feel tired, then as a result want to avoid more strenuous activities and even take a NAP. Although it might seem more comfortable today to rest after that awful night of sleep, you actually need to do the OPPOSITE. Force yourself to maintain your daily schedule, even the more strenuous activities...and DON’T take that nap. If you make it more comfortable for yourself today, that will only REINFORCE the sleep problems you had last night.
Sleep Hygiene Tip #8 - What’s Your Routine? It can be helpful to develop a routine or “ritual” around going to bed. No, we aren’t talking about Voodoo or Black Magic here...We are talking about what you do every night 20-30 minutes before going to bed. The more you establish a routine of calming and consistent behaviors before bed, the more your body learns to expect this calm state with the consistency. There are MANY calming activities to choose from here, but the most important thing is that the activities are CALM & CONSISTENT; drinking a cup of caffeine free herbal tea, while doing some mellow stretching, even meditation and/or breathing exercises before going to bed and going to sleep.
Sleep Hygiene Tip #9 - Exercise As you might have guessed, exercise can be an important part of getting your sleep problems under control. What better way to naturally wear down your energy level? With this being said, be sure to avoid anything more than light exercise within four hours of bedtime if sleep problems can be an issue. Some people can do a hard physical workout after the day job and still get plenty of sleep that night. Even though some People can do it, this isn’t common and again if sleep problems have been an issue, stop comparing yourself to The Jones’s and let’s figure out another time to get your exercise needs met that will reinforce healthy sleep hygiene.
Sleep Hygiene Tip #10 - Eat Right There are a few variables here to “eating right” when it comes to getting those sleep problems under control. A healthy diet is one thing, but TIMING is also important. Many people find it difficult to sleep with a totally empty stomach (the night is quiet but NOT with that tummy gurgling), while a heavy meal can be just as distracting. It is best to eat a light meal or snack before bed with some nutrients that you KNOW your body can digest well.
I’ll self disclose a bit here...while I’m not allergic to them, nutrients like dairy and gluten irritate my stomach enough to be uncomfortable. I allow myself to eat these foods periodically and in great moderation during the day, however when it gets close to bedtime I try and avoid these two foods altogether. The more your body is COMFORTABLE leading up to bedtime, the better the forecast for those sleep problems being OFF of the radar.
Sleep Hygiene Tip #11 - NO Clock Watching Look, I know it’s hard, and especially when you have been having sleep problems. With that being said, the worse your sleep problems are, the more likely you are to rehearse the following thoughts in your head when you DO check the clock…”There goes another 30 minutes of no sleep before my presentation tomorrow - I’ll never get to sleep” or “There is so much going on in my life right now and I can’t even do something so simple as get to SLEEP”.
These kind of thoughts are not only distracting, but they are also ANXIETY PROVOKING because you are literally reinforcing your insomnia with more anxious thoughts. Let’s take the control BACK! Not to mention, checking the clock these days requires a light to be used, which introduces enough light to the retina of your eyeball that it risks telling your brain “Nope - not nighttime yet because the sun hasn’t set - not time to go to sleep - keep going!”
Sleep Hygiene Tip # 12 - Keep a Sleep Log Last, but certainly not least, it can be VERY helpful to keep track of what you are doing to improve your sleep hygiene, as well as how this plays out in the amount of sleep you actually get each evening. Another helpful tool to track your behaviors and resulting sleep is an exercise tracker, such as those products made by companies like Fitbit, Garmin, or Apple. If these products cost more money than you would like to spend, there are also lines of generic fitness trackers in online marketplaces (such as Amazon) that are MUCH less expensive and retain many of these same useful features as their more expensive, name-brand counterparts.
As you can see throughout this article, there are so many natural ways to approach sleep problems that it probably doesn’t make the most sense to go right to considering a medication. Sleep is such a fundamental aspect of our living Balanced lives, it is just something that cannot be ignored if you plan to maintain optimal health. If you are having trouble with sleep problems, consider giving some of these sleep hygiene interventions a try on your own and see what you can influence naturally.
My name is Logan Cohen and I am a Professional Therapist & Life Coach with over 10 years in the field of Counseling Psychology. I am a Clinical Supervisor for the American Association of Marriage & Family Therapy, as well as the founder of New Leaf Counseling Group, LLC in Charlotte, NC. After spending tens of thousands of clinical hours with my own clients, starting a successful group practice, as well as a beautiful Family, I “picked my head up from the grindstone” to check in on childhood Friends & Loved Ones.
I painfully discovered that more than a few of my childhood Friends passed away at a young age from preventable health conditions and decided that as a Man, Husband, Father, and Friend, I could no longer stand by as People suffered in silence and self-destructed rather than ask for help. It doesn’t have to be like that and the holistic healing methods offered by the Balanced Man Plan is designed to help People “get unstuck” and break free from old patterns that are the barriers between Self & quality of Life.
The Balanced Man Plan is a therapeutic digital experience delivered through Self-Guided Coaching Plans created by a Male Therapist with the common barriers & strengths of Men in mind. The Balanced Man Plan has the goal of introducing a natural Balance back to Life so it is sustainable for the optimal Health & Well-Being of Self and Loved Ones - and ALL from the privacy and comfort of Home. If you have enjoyed what you see so far, check out our Self Guided Coaching Plans!