Sleep does not differentiate us from animals, sleep hygiene does!
Overworked humans are not only getting insufficient sleep but also poor quality sleep secondary to their poor sleep hygiene. And what exactly is sleep hygiene? Sleep hygiene is your personal set of habits that together determine the quality of your sleep. Sleep hygiene helps you stay healthy by keeping your brain (most importantly, the executive center) and your body rested and strong. In order to get the most return on your investment in sleep, you will have to follow sleep hygiene fanatically.
The following tips will help you improve your return on investment in sleep:
- Create a sanctuary for sleep. Make sure your bedroom is dark, cool, and quiet.
- Reserve your bedroom for sleep and sex only.
Keep work related items out of bedroom. Do not take Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations to bed. Keep Smartphone and laptop out of your bedroom.
- Use the might of Mother Nature to your advantage. Going against Mother Nature by ignoring circadian rhythm will result in reduced duration of your deep sleep (stage three and REM sleep). Always maintain a consistent time to rise, even when circumstances prevent you from going to bed at your normal time. And, yes, that includes weekends. There is no point in going to bed two hours late on weekends and waking up two hours late the next day. There is no net gain. In fact, there is a net loss because it disrupts your intrinsic rhythm, the sole cause of reduced productivity on Monday mornings.
Alcohol robs you of your deep sleep.
- Recognize that alcohol induces sleep, but is a poor quality sleep marked by frequent arousals, leading to lighter sleep at the expense of REM sleep. Alcohol induces sleep but robs you of your deep sleep. Because of this, general recommendation in sleep medicine practice is to avoid consuming alcohol six hours before bedtime.
- Make every effort to quit smoking completely because it affects your sleep, too. Nicotine is a stimulant that would rob you of your deep sleep. But if you cannot quit, certainly avoid smoking within three hours of your bedtime.
- Avoid eating a heavy meal before bedtime because the process of digestion will interfere with falling asleep and may reduce the amount of deep sleep.
- Sweat for sound sleep. Regularly exercising even for twenty minutes a day has been shown to improve your sleep architecture. Not only does it make you fall asleep quicker, it also increases the duration of deep sleep and thus makes your sleep immensely more restorative.
Caffeine has a 24 hour duration of action. It robs you of your deep sleep.
- Stay away from caffeine, certainly after one o’clock. Caffeine has the duration of action of twenty-four hours, so a cup of coffee in the morning will still be lingering in your bloodstream when you are trying to go to sleep at ten o’clock. Some of my colleagues argue, “I can drink a cup of coffee and go right to bed and fall asleep.” The fact remains, though, that it is still going to rob you of your REM sleep, making your sleep non-restorative. Please taper caffeine off slowly over three to four weeks to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Switch to decaf coffee if you must drink it.
- Follow the 2-20 rule of napping. Do not nap after two o’clock, and do not nap for longer than twenty minutes. A ten to fifteen-minute power nap in the early afternoon can energize your day and give you two days in one. But even a brief ten-minute nap in the evening will deconsolidate your sleep at night.
- Develop a relaxing bedtime routine. Listen to the music. Read a nice book. Take a warm shower because the cooling off promotes sleep. Cookies and a glass of milk can help, too, because milk contains tryptophan, a naturally occurring sleep-promoting agent.
Prayers lead to positive emotions, which get amplified during REM sleep.
- REM sleep is a powerful amplifier of emotions, especially negative ones like fear, anxiety, hatred, and anger. To use this amplifier to our advantage, we need to focus on positive emotions all day and then, at bedtime, purge our mind of whatever negative emotions it has collected all day. This is where even a short prayer comes in the picture. Matthew 18:23–26 says, “Have faith in God. I assure you: If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.” Faith drives away fear. Also, do not carry a grudge to bed with you. Bedtime is not the time to review your anger against others who have hurt you in some way. Luke 6:27–29 says it best, “But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also.” Forgiveness always brings peace, and there is no better sleep aid than a soul that is at peace. Forgive yourself; forgive others.
Ignore Sleep, Ignore Life.
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