Healthy Sleep Choices (Sleep Hygiene)
There is beauty all around us. We can only appreciate it fully through a well-rested body and mind. What we take in to our body–sights, sounds, foods–and then how we allow our body to rest and repair itself through sleep, are the keys to a healthy life. The choices we make determine our success of that goal.
In our 24/7 availability to access the world through electronic means, our choice to invade our sleep environment with light-producing devices is just one of those ‘bad’ habits we have adopted. It affects the regularity of a sleep time. It can ‘push’ our brains through that normal time of sleepiness, or keep it busy with ‘thoughts’ that we have trouble turning off.
We take into our bodies caffeine, nicotine or we exercise at the wrong times.
Alcohol we know relaxes us, and assume that is good for sleep—but, it has been shown to adversely affect our ability to maintain sleep. Alcohol can also initially relax the upper airway muscles to the point that temporary sleep-robbing obstructive problems or snoring are caused.
People have commented on the follow-up to our observing their sleep, that they ‘slept better’ in our controlled environment. We have questioned as to the cause and come up with the fact that, for some:
1) our rooms are kept cooler than theirs at home,
2) excess light is controlled,
3) the linens are clean every day,
4) pets are not allowed,
5) the bed is not shared with a partner, and
6) we try to minimize excess noise levels.
In those studies where a partner does sleep in the same room, we do see the interrupted sleep from the partner getting up in the night, or snoring, or has other noise-producing movement or ‘talking’.
So, to aid for better sleep, some conditions you can easily change in the home (temperature, light, changing linens, etc), whereas, others may be more challenging and involve tough decisions.
Pets, we love, and in return we are given companionship and affection—but, a pet does not understand the need for sleep, nor can they control their movements or snoring or their need to go ‘outside’. So–for those who do struggle with their sleep, they must weigh the benefits of that received love and affection versus the sleep that can be robbed from sleeping with pets.
Dealing with partners has its own set of choices. Snoring, leg movement, and other interruption-causing activities of your sleep-mate can make getting a good night’s sleep difficult. The hard choice of separate beds or separate bedrooms are decisions that have been taken by couples to help achieve adequate sleep. The Smart way of addressing these choices is to discuss them openly and kindly.
The single most interrupting choice that I have observed over the years, is sleeping with the television on. It is one of the things we do not insist on controlling(in the sleep lab), but we do identify the interruptions that TV causes. I don’t think most people realize how much the flashing lights and the sounds from the television affect the brains ability to get its rest. The brain monitors its environment for safety. The ears pick up and transmit sound (from the TV) which the brain has to analyze and respond if needed. The variable flashing of the light produced in the room, the eyes pick up; and again, the brain has to analyze that. Some say it helps lull them to sleep, initially—and use of a timer is sometimes used. Others cite that it is a safety measure, i.e., if a threat of, say, a potential home invader sees activity of a television being on, then the TV may act as a deterrent (someone is awake, so their element of surprise may be eliminated). For others, it is just one of those ‘bad’ habits that has been adopted as a requirement for their sleep.
So, the choices we make, voluntarily, can either be detrimental to our achieving good sleep or help us change our environment to make it ‘BETTER’, and help us initiate and maintain sleep. Adopting these good ‘sleep hygiene’ practices may be an affordable and effective first step in helping those who struggle with sleep.
Stay tuned as we look at other causes that affect our sleep and helps that, if tried, may enable better rest. After all, it is better experiencing our world–seeing it through rested eyes!