A Guide to Good Sleep Hygiene

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You’ve been thinking about it all day—the moment your head would hit the pillow and you could finally shut your eyes. But there you are, once again… and that five-letter word, SLEEP, is elusive and just out of reach.

Whether it’s falling asleep or staying asleep, you have plenty of company if the above scenario describes you on a regular basis. According to a new report from P&S Market Research, the sleeping aids market will be worth $101.9 billion by 2023—that forecast is attributed partly to the growing prevalence of insomnia and a surge in the demand for sleeping pills because of our stressful lifestyles.

But you don’t have to visit your medicine cabinet to get a better night’s sleep. Practicing better sleep hygiene can work wonders to improve your nightly snooze session. We sat down with Lisa Morrone, P.T., author of Sleep Well Again, to get some pointers.

Be Well Lynchburg Editor Shelley Basinger:

Lisa, you’ve really done your homework on sleep. What moved you to focus on this topic?

Lisa Morrone: When I started doing research for my book Get Healthy…for Heaven’s Sake, I included a chapter in it on the subject of sleep. As I researched, I found quotes from sleep researchers who said sleep is the most important predictor of longevity. It wasn’t obesity, as many people might think. It’s actually being sleep deprived. When I found that out, I said to myself, “I need to write a whole book on this.”

SB: Where do you think, as a society, we went wrong?

LM: Back before electricity we couldn’t be sleep deprived because the sun would set and our candles would burn down. Once we had electricity, our workdays started to spread. With cell phones and laptops, we started to pack more and more into our schedules. We feel like the more we can cram into a day, the more productive we are. We squeeze our hours of sleep from 7 or 8… down to 5 or 6.

And because many of us can get up after 5 or 6 hours and “function,” we think we’ve beaten the system. But we haven’t because our bodies were created to sleep one third of the time that we are alive in order to be well.

SB: If we aren’t getting that extra hour or two at night, what’s happening to our bodies?

LM: Sleep deprivation has some consequences which are obvious. Brain fog—you aren’t thinking clearly, you are more accident prone, you might fall down the stairs or even get into a car accident.

But there are some non-obvious consequences to chronic sleep deprivation. Our bodies need those 7 or 8 hours each night to repair, restore, and replenish everything from our nerves to our muscle cells to our hormones. So, if we take some of that reparative time away, we accelerate our aging, our organs can become diseased and we can even gain weight as a result.

SB: How is weight gain connected to sleep?

LM: Our brains produce two hormones, one hormone that tells our body when it’s hungry and another that tells our body when it’s satisfied. A full night of sleep will allow us to produce a balance of hormones that regulate hunger. But when you are sleep deprived, you make more of the “I’m hungry” hormone and less of the “I’m satisfied” hormone. So you are left with a chemical imbalance which expands your waistline.

SB: You mentioned longevity earlier. How much can chronic sleep deprivation shorten our lifespans?

LM: Most studies state lifespans are “statistically” decreased. Some have found lifespans can be diminished by a full four to seven years! Interestingly, studies have shown sleeping less than 7 hours a night on a regular basis decreases your longevity…. as does sleeping more than 8 hours on a regular basis. We have this sleep window, between 7 and 8 hours, which is perfect for our bodies.

SB: When we hear the word “hygiene,” we usually think about brushing our teeth and washing our face. How does that apply to sleep?
LM: Hygiene is defined as the practices and conditions that are conducive to maintain our health and prevent disease. So when we are talking about sleep hygiene, we are talking about the specific practices and conditions that can help us get a good night sleep.

SB: Where should we start?

LM: The first thing we need to do is we need to keep a consistent “to bed” time. Most people think they can have one bedtime during the workweek and another on the weekends. But because we have a biological clock which regulates our sleepiness, we need to keep our bedtime as consistent as possible. If you have to be up at 6 a.m. during the workweek, count back 7 or 8 hours and that’s your bedtime.

SB: What about our eating/drinking habits?

LM: To enhance sleepiness, you should not consume caffeine after about 4 p.m. The half-life in caffeine is about 6 hours. I also tell my patients not to drink alcohol after about 7 p.m. because the half-life of alcohol is 2 to 3 hours. People think alcohol is a sedative since it helps them wind down and fall asleep. But it has been proven to disrupt deep sleep and dream phases of sleep. That’s when you are getting the most restorative sleep.

SB: Seems like we need to really be focusing in on those final few hours of our day.

LM: Exactly, for example, you don’t want to exercise too late at night. When your body temperature is elevated and your metabolism is revved up, that’s going to disrupt your sleep cycles. Another thing we do, which works against a good night’s sleep, is work late at night. We sit in our beds with our laptops open, answering emails right up until lights out. An hour before bed, it’s best to shut your laptop down. Coming into those bedtime hours, you shouldn’t be reading work emails or engaging in stressful conversations with your family. Save all that for tomorrow.
SB: What can we do to make our homes and bedrooms more sleep-friendly?

LM: It all starts with lighting. As the sun starts to go down, our bodies are cued to naturally make melatonin. This is the hormone that makes us sleepy and sustains our sleep throughout the night. If your pre-bedtime environment is too brightly lit, you won’t produce enough melatonin. So, dim your house lights an hour or two before bedtime. Inside our bedrooms, we also need to look around and remove anything that makes the space less peaceful. If there are piles of laundry, move those to another room. We also need to remove stimulants—if your phone is a stimulant for you (this is especially important for teenagers), leave it in the kitchen and use an old-fashioned alarm clock instead. I also don’t believe there is any reason to have a TV in your bedroom—your bedroom should be for sleep and sleep only.

For a more in-depth read on the topic of sleep, pick up Lisa’s book, Sleep Well Again, and visit her at lisamorrone.com.

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