Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in Arizona, many patients have been asking what they can do to lower their risk. In general, immune supporting activities are important during this time. That means eating healthy foods, getting plenty of exercise, and enjoying restful sleep. However, good sleep is often hard to come by. Many of us are finding that even more true amid this health crisis.
In the video clip featured here, I explain some of my best tips for improving sleep hygiene. This is an excerpt from a Zoom meeting I hosted for The Arizona Institute of Integrative Medicine practice. These meetings have been a great way to share information related to coronavirus and public health. They are also a good opportunity to dive into a wide range of health topics. Here I provide some helpful strategies for assessing and boosting sleep hygiene. Sleep is essential for a strong immune system, so don’t hesitate to follow these guidelines.
Establish a sleep schedule.
Consistency is key here. Our bodies get used to falling asleep and waking up at roughly the same time each day. So, do your best to avoid late nights or sleep in on weekends.
Exercise early in the day.
You’ve probably noticed that when you get more physical activity, you sleep better at night. However, the timing of that activity is important. You should avoid working out close to bedtime, as exercise can raise your body temperature. This will make it more difficult to achieve deeper stages of restful, restorative sleep.
Cut off caffeine consumption.
Most of us have a hard time getting through the day without a morning cup of coffee. Still, caffeine can take a long time for the body to break down. So, limit your caffeine consumption to early hours of the day. Note that everyone is a little different, so you may need to experiment to find out how late you can have caffeine and still get a good night’s sleep.
Skip the night cap.
It’s common to enjoy an alcoholic beverage as a night cap to help with falling asleep. However, alcohol can have negative overall effects on sleep. Therefore, you should limit drinking right before bed.
Eat an early dinner and avoid midnight snacks.
You’ll want to avoid eating large meals late in the day and keep away from late night snacks. When you eat before bed, your body temperature will go up, limiting the quality of your sleep. To achieve restful sleep, your body temperature will need to drop 2-3 degrees.
Adjust your medications.
Any medication that disrupts your sleep schedule—even those designed to aid in falling asleep—can be harmful for your sleep hygiene. It’s important to consider both prescription and OTC medications, such as Benadryl.
Don’t nap after 3 p.m.
Naps are not necessarily off-limits if you want to get a good night’s sleep. However, napping in the late afternoon can interrupt your sleep inertia and keep you up later than you’d like to be.
Create a nightly wind-down routine.
About an hour before you go to bed, create a sense of calmness and quiet with a wind-down routine. This might include meditation, prayer, or breathing exercises. Ideally, you should avoid looking at your phone or computer screens. However, watching T.V. or browsing on your phone is okay if you use blue light blocking glasses.
Take a hot bath or shower before bed.
You might think that because your body should be cool for better sleep that a hot shower would be detrimental late at night. Interestingly, the opposite is true. Quickly warming the body with a hot bath or shower will actually cause the body temperature to fall. Plus, you’ll feel nice and relaxed before bed.
Keep the bedroom dark and cold.
We’ve touched on the importance of both light and temperature for quality sleep. An ideal sleep space is both cold and dark. You should not be able to see your hand in front of your face after you turn the lights off. If you have a hard time keeping your room cold enough, a chiliPad can help circulate cool liquid under the sheets to keep your body cool.
Let the daylight in during the morning.
Starting your day with a burst of natural sunlight triggers your circadian rhythm, keeping your sleeping patterns more consistent.
Don’t lie in bed awake.
This piece of advice tends to be the most difficult to follow. However, it’s key for reducing stress over loss of sleep. If you feel like you just can’t fall asleep, don’t toss and turn and stare at the ceiling. Instead, get up and do something calming like read a book or meditate. Then, return to bed and try falling asleep again. Watching the clock or counting sheep in bed can lead to nightly stress about losing sleep, which will in turn keep the quality of your sleep low.