If there is one thing pretty much every person with trouble sleeping has come across it is sleep hygiene. This is a series of do’s and don’ts that presumably will help you sleep better. Here are some common ones:
-Go to bed and get out of bed the same time every day
-Avoid screens and light an hour before you go to bed
-Avoiding caffeine close to bedtime
-Make sure your bedroom is cool, 67-68 degrees for optimal sleep
-Keep the noise level low
-Avoid heavy/rich/spicy food close to bedtime
You’ve surely come across several of these recommendations that seem to be an obligatory part of every story or blog post on sleep.
Here’s the problem – not only does none of the above work for someone with insomnia, it creates a huge amount of sleep anxiety that makes it impossible to sleep!
Imagine that you’re having a hard time sleeping and decide to avoid spicy food and to keep the bedroom dark.
If you end up sleeping better initially, which is unlikely, that is very problematic. Because you have now started to believe that there are outside sources for producing sleep. When you have trouble sleeping the next time, you look again to make changes to how you eat or your bedtime environment. Soon you’re wrapped up in a complex belief system where you feel that you have to get 22 things right in order to sleep.
If you end up not sleeping any different, then you feel something is wrong with you because changing what you eat and your bedroom environment “isn’t working”. You go on to try other sleep hygiene recommendations and as nothing you do produces more sleep, you start believing that you have a really bad case of insomnia.
The problem with sleep hygiene is the implication that sleep is complex. A list of recommendations makes you feel as if you have to get all of these things right in order to sleep better. Not sleeping and you feel you must be doing something wrong which leads to a new round of researching things to try.
It is very important for you to know that sleep is not complicated. You have your sleep drive, your bodies need for sleep acting as the gas and hyperarousal, which could be stress or excitement acting as the brake.
We have talked about how to increase the gas and decrease the brake to get more and better sleep. In the next article we will look at how to start doing just that.
For now, know that sleep hygiene doesn’t help anyone with insomnia but in fact produces a lot of sleep anxiety. Instead of trying to follow a bunch of rules and regulations, try to do something fun before you go to bed. Something that makes you look forward to bedtime.
If you dread bedtime, which you probably do if that means avoiding stimulation for hours in a dark, cool, silent room. the likelihood of you sleeping well is slim.
If bedtime in the other hand is something you look forward to, a Netflix show or a great podcast, sleep is bound to happen.