Learning New Skills and Behaviors - Healthy Sleep

There are a number of things we do as part of everyday living that can affect sleep. Here are some pointers to keep in mind as you start to change poor sleep habits.

Physical activity

  • Develop regular daytime activity and a regular exercise schedule

  • Do not perform vigorous exercise close to bedtime. Gentle stretching may be helpful

  • Try moderate regular exercise in the late afternoon or early evening

  • Avoid vigorous exercise within 4 hours of bedtime

  • Be sure to check with your health care provider before starting a new exercise program/schedule

Reduce light, excessive temperature, and noise during sleep

  • A dark room is more conducive to sleep; consider using a night light for safety's sake

  • Avoid room temperatures over 75 degrees (24 degrees Celsius) and below 54 degrees (12 degrees Celsius)

  • Noise in the environment can keep you from falling asleep or back to sleep and may cause more frequent awakenings

Food and sleep

  • Regular meal times can help set our biological clock, which in turn helps balance our sleep-wake rhythm

  • Try to eat dinner several hours before bedtime

  • Do not eat a snack in the middle of the night

  • Avoid drinking too much liquid in the evening

Effect of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine on sleep

  • Alcohol is a nervous system depressant that relaxes you and makes you drowsy. This is why people use it to help them fall asleep which is a poor sleep habit to get into

  • Alcohol causes light sleep and awakenings later in the night

  • Alcohol makes you dehydrated and may cause you to awaken due to thirst

  • Alcohol can make the effect of medications such as sleeping and pain pills stronger and that can be dangerous

  • Social drinkers should avoid alcoholic beverages 4 to 6 hours before bedtime

  • Do not use alcohol as a "nightcap" to get to sleep

  • Caffeine is a stimulant that interferes with the natural sleep cycle

  • Do not drink or eat products with caffeine after lunch

  • Some medications contain caffeine or other stimulants so check labels and talk with your health care provider and pharmacist

  • Never discontinue a prescribed medication without talking to your health care provider and pharmacist

  • Nicotine is a powerful stimulant

  • Nicotine is related to difficulty falling asleep and sleep improves when nicotine use is discontinued

  • If you have trouble sleeping, avoid smoking about 2 hours before bedtime and when you wake up during the night

Get some light into your life

  • Light has a strong effect on our biological or internal clock and that affects our body rhythms such as sleep-wake

  • Early morning light may be helpful to organize our sleep-wake body rhythm

  • Try to spend 30 to 60 minutes outside during the day

Wind down before bedtime

  • Set aside some time in the evening to unwind

  • Set aside about an hour or so before bedtime to do something relaxing

  • Develop a pre-bedtime routine - something you do every night before going to bed - a routine that's not too stimulating

Develop a regular sleep-wake schedule

  • Set a regular wake-up time for each day

  • Keep as close as possible to the regular wake-up time on your days off/weekends

  • A regular wake-up time may be the most powerful signal we can use to set our internal clock and organize our sleep-wake body rhythm

Put the bedroom clock out of sight

  • Many persons with insomnia have a love-hate relationship with their clocks

  • Watching the clock puts unnecessary pressure on people with insomnia

  • Get rid of the clocks in your bedroom or turn them around so you can't see them during the night

To nap or not to nap?

  • Avoid napping; naps can disrupt your natural sleep-wake rhythm and interfere with nighttime sleep

  • Morning and evening naps are not beneficial because they may interfere with your natural sleep-wake rhythm

  • If you must nap, the guidelines for napping are:

    • Nap only once each day

    • Nap only in your bed

    • Schedule your nap 7 to 9 hours after your morning wake up time to coincide with natural shifts in your internal clock and sleep drive

    • Nap for only 15 to 30 minutes. Try to nap at the same time each day

    • If you cannot fall asleep when you lay down to nap, get out of bed, you probably don't need a nap

Updated January 2012
Clinical Advisory Board Sponsors: Karen M. Ott
Clinical Subject Matter Experts: Dr. Dana R. Epstein, Dr. Gail Powell-Cope, Dr. Joseph V. Agostini, Dr. Monica S. Horton
Patient Education Subject Matter Experts: Eileen Canzonetti, Karen M. Ott, Patricia Jost