You’ve heard of food and water hygiene, but did you know there is also such a thing as sleep hygiene? Sleep hygiene is all about the habits and practical things you can do to improve the quantity and quality of your sleep. Remember that with all habits, they take time to form and changes don’t happen overnight, but within a week or two of trying establishing a new pattern most people will see some improvement.
Tips For Good Sleep Hygiene
Routine — regular bed times, even on the weekends, can really help to establish and maintain habits. This includes doing the same things each night before you get into bed too.
Environment — a cool, quiet, comfortable place to sleep is very important. Particularly during summer, when the temperature reaches up to 40 degrees at times, using your air-conditioner or fan wisely may help you sleep better and be better able to cope with the heat during the day as well! Noise is a perennial problem in Vietnam, but a pair of earplugs may be a lifesaver when your neighbours decide to renovate their bathroom at 3am.
Exclusivity — this means that your bed is only for sleeping (and other horizontal activities of the night). No working, reading or watching TV from bed! This helps your body to recognise that lying in bed equals sleep time not time to work on that last-minute presentation for the next day’s meeting.
Things to Avoid
Alcohol — although you may feel that it helps you fall asleep, actually alcohol often causes disrupted sleep and wakes people during the night — best only in moderation.
Caffeine and other stimulants — we all love the sweet strong Vietnamese coffee with ice, but reconsider that last one of the day. Caffeine blocks one of the hormones in your brain that tells you it’s time for bed.
Meals — eating a heavy meal right before sleep can disrupt your sleep and exacerbate any reflux or indigestion you might have, so eat earlier in the evening, or have your main meal at lunch.
Stress — a big one and difficult to avoid! Try to stop work at least 30 minutes before you go to sleep and do something relaxing, like taking a short walk or reading a book.
Clock-watching — although it is so tempting to keep looking at the clock, it doesn’t help and usually makes you feel more frustrated at not being asleep. If you are not relaxed in bed then get up for 30 minutes and do some quiet activity in dim light before trying to go back to bed.
Things That May Help
Early morning sunlight on your face — can help to reset the light/dark sensors of your brain, so take your sunglasses off when going to work early in the morning.
Warm milk or herbal teas — yes, mother was right, a glass of warm milk before bed can really help. Chamomile or other herbal teas can also be effective.
Naptime — if you have to sleep during the day then take a nap early. Late afternoon naps will mean that your body is just not tired enough to get to sleep and can cause you to stay up late.
‘Worry time’ — if you are anxious about something and find yourself tossing and turning in bed worrying about it, then keep a notebook and pen beside the bed. You can write down any thoughts or concerns you might have in the book, which are then ‘safe’ for you to remember tomorrow, and you can tell yourself there is no need to keep thinking about them now.
Herbal remedies — some herbal remedies available in Vietnam that some people find useful include Valerian, Melatonin and Rotundin.
Some or all of these things will certainly help you to get a good night’s sleep, but again it takes time and practice just like any other skill. Perseverance is the key and the rewards are great!
However, if you have tried these all these things and are getting nowhere then please go and see a doctor to discuss the issues further. There are other medical problems that may be affecting your ability to sleep and some medications may also cause problems. Further investigations or treatments may be required, so don’t put it off.
Dr. Brian McNaull is Medical Director at Family Medical Practice, which is located in Vietnam’s major cities. For information or assistance call (04) 3843 0748 (Hanoi), (08) 3822 7848 (Ho Chi Minh City) or (0511) 3582 699 (Danang). Alternatively, click on vietnammedicalpractice.com