Seven Ways to Improve Your Sleep 'Hygiene'

Have you ever dozed off at a ball game... in a work meeting... or worse, at the wheel?

Like many people, I've dozed off behind the wheel before. It's terrifying to think about how horribly that can end. For some people, the consequences are fatal.

The National Safety Council estimates about 20% of drivers nod off behind the wheel each year. Estimates vary depending on the data source, but according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there's an estimated 5,000 fatal accidents a year caused by drowsiness.

Those deaths are just the most dramatic consequence of sleep deprivation. Chronic sleep deprivation impairs memory, alertness, and concentration and can lead to serious injury. And more than a third of us in the U.S. are walking around like zombies.

Scientists have found that about eight hours of sleep a night is ideal. And getting enough sleep has many benefits...

  • Helps reduce stress. 
  • Makes you three times less likely to catch a cold.
  • Helps you maintain a healthy weight. 
  • Reduces your risk of developing diseases like cancer and diabetes.

The key to avoiding chronic sleep deprivation is setting yourself up for a good night's sleep by practicing good sleep "hygiene"...

Sleep hygiene is a set of behaviors that affects the quality of your sleep. We've put together our top seven ways to improve your sleep hygiene. Try one or two of them tonight and you'll be amazed at how much better you feel tomorrow.

1. Cut back on the caffeine. It might seem like the most obvious factor on our list, but caffeine will keep you energized – and make it harder to sleep – for up to six hours after consumption. In fact, traces of caffeine molecules won't leave your body entirely for as many as 14 hours (although they won't keep you awake). Do what I do and stop drinking any caffeinated beverages after 2 p.m.

2. Make the bedroom a place for rest. This might seem obvious as well, but it's harder to do than you might think. Keep your bedroom a sanctuary – a place for sleep and sex. Don't read or eat in bed, since your brain will associate the bedroom with non-sleep activities – making it harder to sleep at night. Likewise, keep tension and arguments out of the bedroom, too. In addition to keeping it a sanctuary, do a "sleep inspection" of your bedroom by following the next three steps.

3. Remove electronics. Blue light is just one color of light that electronics like laptops, tablets, and smartphones emit. But it's the one that's the most disruptive to our circadian rhythm. Think of the circadian rhythm as a clock that signals our bodies the optimal time to do things, like falling asleep and waking up. Blue light also stops the release of melatonin – the hormone that makes you sleepy.

Regular readers of my Retirement Millionaire newsletter have heard me talk about my own sleep problems due to the blue light from my tablet. To give your brain time to get ready to sleep, do what I do and shut off your electronics an hour before bed.

4. Darken the room. Limiting your exposure to outside light helps your body adjust to its natural circadian rhythm. Too much light prevents your body from producing enough melatonin. Light from outside – say, the sun or streetlights – can disrupt your sleep. Even ambient light from other rooms in your house can keep you awake. To block out light, consider room-darkening blinds or shades, or use an eye mask.

5. Keep your room cool. The optimal sleep temperature is about 65 degrees. Your body's temperature changes during the day and dips lower at night, triggering sleepiness. Keeping your room cool helps ease your body into sleep.

Plus, one of the most crucial parts of the sleep cycle – rapid eye movement (REM) sleep – can suffer during hotter temperatures. That's because during REM sleep, your body loses its ability to sweat or to shiver. If the room is too warm, your body temperature will rise to match it, bringing you back to a point of almost-wakefulness. If it's too hot, you can even wake up completely, ruining the quality of your sleep.

6. Schedule your sleep. Our last two hygiene tips have to do with changing your schedule. It might sound simple, but maintaining a time when you must be in bed every night helps your body know when to start getting sleepy.

7. Don't eat right before bed. Eating close to bedtime causes weight gain and disrupts your sleep cycle. Digestive sugar spikes and the production of stomach acid can also wake you from your sleep. And although it acts as a depressant at first, alcohol causes bouts of wakefulness as your body metabolizes it. It's a good rule to stop eating about two hours before bed. A simple change in your routine like this will improve the quality of your sleep right away.

As we move into fall and the days get shorter, insomnia might hit hard. If you're one of the thousands of Americans who have trouble sleeping, try these seven tips to improve your sleep hygiene.

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Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
September 25, 2018