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By Filza Hussain, M.D., Mayo Clinic Health System Behavioral Health
Many of my patients face sleep difficulties. It’s either difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep or both. This leads to feeling tired in the morning, having difficulties with daytime sleepiness, attention and concentration problems, and irritability. Most of my patients have tried over-the-counter sleep aids or even prescription medications but remain dissatisfied and sleepless.
Sleep aids certainly can help in the short term, but developing good sleep practices is really often key. Sleep hygiene is a term used to describe good sleep habits. The fundamentals of practicing good sleep hygiene are:
• Set a routine. Establish a regular rhythm by going to bed at the same time and waking up daily at roughly the same time. Yes, even on weekends. Don’t take naps during the day. Avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and exercise at least four to six hours before bed. These can affect the quality of your sleep.
• Listen to your body. Your body will tell you when it’s tired, because your eyelids will feel heavy. Go to bed only when tired rather than spending hours in bed waiting for sleep to come.
• If you do find yourself awake in bed, don’t toss and turn for hours. There’s no point in counting thousands of sheep. Don’t watch the clock — this will only provoke more anxiety and wake you up more. Get up and do something boring, such as reading the phone book. Video games or other computer/television screens or bright lamps will wake your brain up, so try dim lights.
• Your bedroom is your sanctuary. Make sure it is quiet, cool (with blankets to keep you warm) and uncluttered. Using lavender aroma therapy can help. Some people find white noise soothing. Make sure your bed is just for sleep and related activities. Don’t eat, watch TV or work on your laptop in bed.
If despite following the above, there are still sleep problems, keep a sleep diary for a week to show your doctor so he/she can help address the issue better. A template for such a diary can be found online or simply document what time you went to bed, what time you woke up, how many times you woke up in the middle of the night and what the factors were for awakening.