In a Children’s Occupational Therapy practice, many parents tell OTs that they feel they could cope better if they just got more sleep. When I heard about Matthew Walker’s “Why We Sleep” book from a colleague on a course, I bought it and read it cover to cover. I then shared it with everyone in my life struggling with sleep because this book links sleep with mental health, physical health and sleep through the lifespan.
Here are “Why We Sleep” top tips for sleep hygiene from the appendix- is you want more information about why for any of these tips, go back to the book and dig deeper:
1) Stick to a sleep schedule: go to bed and wake up at the same time each day as people have a hard time adjusting to changes. Sleeping in on weekends can’t repay our sleep debt.
TOP TIP: set and alarm for bedtime
2) Don’t exercise too late in the day: try to exercise 30 minutes on most days but no later than 2 or 3 hours before your bedtime
3) Avoid caffeine: Coffee, cola, certain tea and chocolate contain stimulant caffeine and can take 8 hours to fully wear off. Older teens may benefit from being cautioned that nicotine and alcohol also worsen sleep.
4) Avoid large meals before bed: these can cause indigestion and having too many fluids might mean you need to get up to use the toilet
5) If possible avoid medications that disrupt or affect sleep: over the counter and herbal remedies for cough, cold or allergies can disrupt sleep. If you are worried, talk to a pharmacist or health care professional to see if any drugs you take might contribute to insomnia
6) Don’t take naps past 3pm: Naps can help you catch up on lost sleep but if you nap too late in the day, it can be harder to fall asleep at night
7) Relax before bed: don’t overschedule your day so you have no time to unwind. Reading or listening to music could be part of your bedtime ritual
8) Take a hot bath before bed: Your body temperature will drop after getting out of the bath and this may help you feel sleepy and relaxed so you are more ready to sleep
9) Have a dark, cool, gadget free bedroom: Noises, bright light, an uncomfortable bed or warm temperatures can distract you from sleep.
10) Have the right sunlight exposure: Try to get outside in natural sunlight for 30 minutes a day.
11) Don’t lie in bed awake: if you are still awake after 20 minutes or starting to feel anxious or worried get up and do some relaxing activity until you feel sleepy. The anxiety of not being able to sleep can make it harder to fall asleep