Thursday, December 1, 2011

Good sleep hygiene—it’s elementary

     We all know how important oral hygiene is – poor oral hygiene leads to gum disease, gingivitis, cavities, and even heart disease. But, do you know how important good sleep hygiene is? First, do you know what sleep hygiene is? Sleep hygiene is all about getting a good night’s sleep and being consistent about it. Kind of like when you were in elementary school and you had a set bedtime.

     A lot of us aren’t consistent about sleep schedules. We get out our books, laptops, smart phones, or tablets, and next glance at the clock, it’s midnight. Six hours later, we roll out of bed, bump into furniture, drink too many cups of coffee, and move around in a daze for the rest of the day.

     So why is good sleep hygiene important? Doctors say that long-term sleep deprivation can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease. In fact, getting five hours or less of sleep can put women at risk of calcium build-up in their arteries. Sleep specialists also find that insomnia is more likely to occur in people with poor sleep habits.

So, what can we all do to improve our sleep hygiene?
  • Establish a bedtime ritual just like when you were a toddler. That might mean enjoying a hot bath, or drinking warm milk or decaffeinated tea before you hit the hay. Web surfing, Facebooking and watching CSI right before bedtime is a no-no—too stimulating for the brain. 
  • Go to bed and wake up around the same time each day, and aim for seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Yes, even on the weekends! If you sleep until noon on Sunday, you probably won’t feel the need to go to bed at your normal time. 
  • Avoid long naps, but a catnap that’s less than a half hour is ok — as long as it’s in the early afternoon. 
  • Watch what you drink and when you drink. Drinking after 8:00 pm means more trips to the bathroom throughout the night. Alcohol and caffeine both affect the quality of your sleep. Caffeine can stay in your system for up to 14 hours, and alcohol can keep you up while your body tries to metabolize it. 
  • Exercise yourself to sleep. Exercise is a proven way to improve the quality of your sleep, but don’t exercise right before bedtime. 
  • Feng Shui your bedroom. A bedroom should be a haven of peace and rest—that means no laptops, TVs, or exercise equipment. Eliminate noise, use a dimmer switch, and set the thermometer to a comfortable setting (somewhere between 60 and 75 degrees). Oh, and pay attention to how long you’ve had your mattress—you’re lucky to get seven to ten years out of it. 

     If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep for three nights a week during the course of a month, contact your primary care physician or a sleep specialist. Sleep aids should be your last resort.

By Anne Gill