Sleep Hygiene Techniques: How To Get Good Sleep Naturally

What are some general recommendations for healthy sleep?
Establish good sleep habits as listed below:

  1. Sleep-Wake Schedule: Get up at about the same time every morning, including weekends. Maintain a regular schedule of going to bed and waking up.
  2. Stimulus Control: Go to bed only when you are feeling sleepy. Only use your bed for sleep and sexual activity. Avoid watching television, working, or reading in bed. If you are not asleep after 20 minutes, get out of the bed. Go back to bed only when you feel sleepy again.
  3. Food and Drink: Avoid heavy meals within 2-3 hours of bedtime, but try not to go to bed hungry. Try not to drink too much fluid close to bedtime to prevent needing to urinate during the night. Avoid using alcohol as a sleep aid. Limit caffeine use to 1 or 2 beverages a day, no later than 4 hours before bedtime.
  4. Bedtime Routine: Establish a relaxing pre-sleep routine while getting ready to go to bed (eg, reading, listening to music). Set aside time to relax and practice natural relaxation techniques (eg, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation). Bedroom Environment – Create an atmosphere conducive to sleep. Maintain a room temperature comfortable for sleeping. Avoid loud noises and bright lights in the bedroom.
  5. Napping: Avoid taking long daytime naps unless you are sleep deprived. Afternoon naps should not exceed 1 hour.
  6. Exercise: Regular physical exercise is encouraged to promote sleep and overall well-being. Vigorous physical activity should be avoided too close to bedtime.
  7. Worry and Anxiety: Avoid things that can trigger worry or anxiety before bed, such as anxiety provoking, work-related, or other unpleasant tasks, or disturbing television programs. Reduce the anxiety of anticipation of the following day by making simple preparations such as a to-do list or laying out the next day’s clothes and shoes. Writing down list of worries (to be attended to the following day rather than at bedtime) may be beneficial for some people.

What are some natural ways to get a good night’s sleep?
Exercising regularly before dinner time is an excellent, natural way to promote deep sleep, besides having multiple physical and psychological health benefits. Creating a regular bedtime routine pre-sleep to relax and wind-down is a good way to prepare for sleep.

What are common sleep mistakes that working adults often make that result in poor sleep?
Lifestyle factors typically contribute to poor sleep. Common ones are, working (on anything mentally taxing or stressful) late into the night, eating (especially a heavy meal) late at night shortly before going to bed, excessive use of electronic devices (including iPad, smartphones, computer, games, TV) to surf the net, play computer games, use social media, watch videos) late into the night, lack of exercise or vigorous physical activity too close to bedtime, excessive consumption of stimulating beverages like caffeine throughout the day to stay alert, and the regular use of alcohol as a sleeping aid. Overall, unmanaged emotional stress, and physical or mental stimulation near bedtime can lead to poor sleep. Commonly caffeinated beverages and alcohol taken close to bedtime also disrupt sleep. Lack of exercise, which helps promote deep sleep and relieve stress, is common.

Does using electronic devices like a desktop computer, laptop, tablet, or mobile phone shortly before bedtime affect one’s sleep?
Yes, the bright light and mental activation from electronic devices disturb sleep by shifting our sleep clock so it is harder to fall asleep (so we end up sleeping later than we normally would), and causing mental arousal to the degree that we do not have the peace of mind that is required to fall to sleep easily and naturally. Normally, a peaceful, quiet and dark environment is most conducive to good quality sleep. The overuse of electronic devices to engage in mentally stimulating activity till very late into the night (eg. surfing the web, social media like Facebook and watching videos on tablet devices like the iPad) is probably one of the most common reasons why many people do not sleep as well as they should.

Many adults have to work overtime. It’s not uncommon for them to have to wake up at 6am, and only end work at 12 midnight. This means they may be surviving on 6 or less hours of sleep each day, and not by their own choice. What advice would the doctors give to such people?
Many people have hectic schedules and multiple demands on their time, a very common example being full-time working mothers with young children. For such people, finding time to get at least 6-8 hours of sleep seems an impossibility. For such people, I would start with what I call “sleep education” ie letting them know that depriving oneself of sleep whatever the reason is in the longer term counterproductive because it exacts a significant toll on mental, emotional and physical 

health. Simply put, we become less effective, less efficient and increase our risk of serious diseases like heart disease, depression, diabetes and even early death if we persist in pushing ourselves to get by with less rest than we actually need. It does not make very good sense to overwork ourselves when our health suffers inevitably as we deprive ourselves of sleep, the price we pay in my opinion would be far too high no matter what “rewards” we get from pushing ourselves so hard at work. My experience with patients is that once they truly understand what harm they do themselves when they shortchange themselves on sleep, they will find a way, by hook or by crook, to get more sleep on a daily basis. Education is the key I believe to people making better choices for themselves.  The flipside is that getting good quality and enough sleep daily enables us to work efficiently and productively each day, because a rested brain is needed for clarity of thinking, creativity and mood regulation.

I’ve heard that using technological gadgets (e.g. handphone, computer,TV, Playstation, etc) shortly before going to bed can interfere with one’s quality of sleep. Why is this so?
Anything which stimulates us mentally close to bedtime is not conducive to sleep. This is because excessive mental arousal can interfere with our normal sleep “pressure” which builds up to a peak at bedtime. If we have too much mental stimulation, such as from being actively engaged on the phone, playing computer games etc this makes it harder for us to fall asleep. The bright light emitted from electronic gadgets also tends to affect our internal sleep clock, and has the effect of pushing our natural sleep time later.