My last post was about napping. Even more more important than catching up is getting a good night’s sleep in the first place. Here’s what the experts have to say about sleep hygiene.
The National Sleep Foundation defines sleep hygiene as “a variety of different practices that are necessary to have normal, quality nighttime sleep and full daytime alertness.” Sleep experts emphasize the importance of developing a number of good sleep habits. I’ll review the advice on three of them today: your sleeping environment, sleep posture, and pre-sleep activities.
Your sleeping set-up begins, of course, with a comfortable bed. For most people, a firm mattress with enough give to let your hips and shoulders dip into the mattress a bit is best. You want to feel comfortable and supported. Trial and error is usually the best way to find your ideal mattress.
Other tips for a comfortable sleeping environment:
- Use comfortable bedding, choosing sheets and covers appropriate to the season.
- Have several pillows at hand to support your neck, hips, etc. (more on this below).
- Keep your bedroom dark. Draw the shades and turn out the lights. If you need light, use a soft, indirect source like a night light out in the hall.
- Set your thermostat to a comfortable temperature, on the cool side. Make sure the air circulates (but not so much that it is drafty).
- Make your bedroom as quiet as possible, block out distracting noise with a white noise machine if necessary.
Ideal sleep posture holds the body in a neutral position (protecting the hips, lower back, spine, and neck from stress), keeps circulation and respiration flowing, and otherwise keeps you comfortable so that you can get the rest you need.
Sleeping on your side is the best position for many, if not most, people. Here are some things to keep in mind when sleeping on your side:
- Don’t let your arms rise up over your head. This can impede the circulation into your arms and hands.
- Support your neck and head so that your spine stays in a straight line. A pillow that is a little thicker at the edge than in the middle works well. If you feel like your head is elevated or dropping down, adjust the thickness of the pillow (a synthetic pillow filling that holds its shape after you adjust it is best).
- If you feel pain or tension in your low back when lying on your side, try putting a pillow between your knees. This lifts up the upper leg, easing the stress on the sacroiliac joint between the torso and hips.
- If your shoulders collapse forward, try draping your upper arm over your partner or a body pillow.
- If you have heartburn, sleep with your left side down. Studies have shown that sleeping with your right side down can aggravate heartburn.
Sleeping on your back is a good position for many people. Some tips for sleeping on your back:
- Support your head and neck with a pillow that restores the natural, shallow-C-shaped curve to your neck.
- If your low back gets sore, put a pillow or bolster under your knees. This can relieve tension in the sacro-iliac joint.
- If you suffer from snoring, sleep apnea, or heartburn, elevating the head of your bed may help.
Sleeping on your stomach is regarded by most experts as the worst position. When you turn your head to be able to keep breathing, your neck and spine are contorted and stressed.
Sleep experts offer this advice on getting ready for bed:
- Try to go to bed at about the same time every night, even on weekends.
- Establish a pre-sleep ritual – a warm bath, a few minutes of light reading, soothing music, etc.
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine before bedtime.
- Avoid alcohol before bed. It initially acts as sleep-inducer, but causes a stimulant effect later as it is metabolized.
- Do vigorous exercise early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
- Do relaxing exercise, like yoga, later in the day.
- Avoid large meals before bedtime. A light snack before bed may be OK.
- Use your bed only for sleep (and sex and light reading). No TV, phone conversations, etc.
- Clear your mind before you hit the sack. Meditation and stress reduction routines can help still your mind.
- Keep a notebook by your bed to jot down any errands or other concerns. This gets them out of your head and on to a piece of paper that you can review in the morning.
- Sleep Hygiene, National Sleep Foundation
- Sleep Hygiene: Helpful Hints to Help You Sleep, University of Maryland Sleep Disorders Center
- Posture for a Healthy Back, Cleveland Clinic
- How to Sleep Better, WebMD
- Lying on Your Left Side Eases Heartburn, New York Times
- What position is best… for sleeping?, Go Ask Alice (Columbia University)
- Best Sleeping Positions for Your Back, Reader’s Digest
- Best Sleep Positions To Rid Aches, Pains, CBS News