Editorial: Educating Patients on the Importance of Healthy Sleep

Educating Patients on the Importance of Healthy Sleep, “Do You Have Good Sleep Hygiene?”

by Tanisha S. Burke, BS, RPSGT

Getting to sleep is as simple as lying down in bed, closing your eyes drifting off to a sound and restful sleep, right?  Well, it’s not quite as straightforward or simple for most individuals.  Unfortunately, there are independent environmental as well as mental factors that can prolong or paralyze one’s ability to get to sleep and remain asleep. Helping our patients understand what they can do “right now” to promote healthy sleep is important.

There are many factors in an individual’s bedroom that can be distracting. These include televisions, laptops, cell phones, tablets, too much light, warm temperatures, and uncomfortable and/or non-supportive mattresses and pillows. All of these can contribute to poor sleep hygiene; so, what is sleep hygiene? We often hear recommendations for patients to work on sleep hygiene, but how exactly do we translate that to our patients? Here are some helpful hints:

What sleep hygiene is: According to The National Sleep Foundation, “sleep hygiene is a variety of different practices that are necessary to have normal, quality nighttime sleep and full daytime alertness” (http://sleepfoundation.org/ask-the-expert/sleep-hygiene).  The National Sleep Foundation uses a simple approach to improve the bedroom for good sleep hygiene by using the five senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. This information is summarized below, and can be found on the following website: http://sleepfoundation.org/bedroom/ .

Touch - Comfort level and the temperature of your bedroom can influence how you feel. Experts say a room temperature around 65 degrees promotes good sleep. Although, each person’s optimal sleeping temperature varies, everyone has a body sleep cycle, and as the day begins to come to an end, body temperature starts to fall slightly in preparation for sleep.  If the bedroom temperature is too warm, it can cause irregularity with the body’s temperature resulting in a restless night of sleep.

Having a good mattress and pillow help promote healthy sleep hygiene according to 93% of Americans.  Believe it or not, making your bed when you wake before you start your day can also contribute to a better nights rest (according to a poll by The National Sleep Foundation). Contributing to a belief of a neat, clean and comfortable bedroom environment are important to a good night’s sleep.

Sight - It has been said seeing is believing, but not when it comes to sleeping.  Around seventy-three percent of Americans agree a dark bedroom is key to a good night’s sleep (http://sleepfoundation.org/bedroom/see.php).  When a person is exposed to excessive light or sunlight, it awakens the brain, triggering a wake response in the body. Utilizing window blinds, blackout curtains, eye mask and low to no light in the bedroom promotes good sleep hygiene. Creating a dark environment tells your body that it is time to relax and eventually fall to a resting sleep state.  In the world of smartphones, tablets, laptops and gaming stations,  sleep can be compromised by the usage of the different technologies within an hour of bedtime. Scientists have found sensitivity of the circadian rhythm to light waves emitted by different technology available at our fingertips. The sensitivity creates a delay in the release of melatonin resulting in a more alert state prolonging the preparation of wind-down into the sleep cycle, attributing to poor sleep hygiene. (http://sleepfoundation.org/bedroom/see.php)

Hearing - Noise from a television or other outside sources can contaminate your sleep environment, causing a rise in blood pressure or heart rate, creating a wake state and shift between sleep stages. These are all factors contributing to poor sleep hygiene. Television is not considered one of the optimal choices for background noise due to tonality influx and volume changes.  It is strongly suggested to remove televisions from your bedroom for better sleep hygiene. Reducing the noise pollution in your sleep environment using earplugs, a white noise machine, a fan or an air purifier can create a constant background sound that could help block out unwanted noise (http://sleepfoundation.org/bedroom/hear.php).

Smell - Around 63% of Americans agree that the quality of your air in terms of smell can create a good sleeping environment.  Another 78 percent of Americans agree sleeping in fresh scented bedding encourages good sleep hygiene.  If you suffer from allergies, adapting practices like washing your bedding once a week and if your pillow is not washable placing it in the dryer on a high temperature helps prevent dust mites (http://sleepfoundation.org/bedroom/smell.php). This practice will help to alleviate sneezing, which can disrupt your sleep.  Also,  having certain scents in your sleep environment can positively contribute to good sleep hygiene. Aromatherapy secants such as lavender, which has been found to decrease the heart rate and blood pressure, help aid in one’s ability to relax into a resting state of sleep (http://sleepfoundation.org/bedroom/smell.php).

Taste - Yes, certain foods can be the enemy of the state of sleep. Foods that have a lot of acid or are fried and fatty can cause your stomach to become upset, creating discomfort resulting in sleep disturbance.  Alcohol does aid in the drowsy state; however, achieving a deeper continuous sleep is harder under the influence (http://sleepfoundation.org/bedroom/taste.php).  Caffeine is a stimulant and should be avoided many hours prior to bedtime. On the contrary, foods like turkey, fish, chicken, eggs and nuts have a serotonin-based, sleep related building block amino acid called tryptophan, which aids in the drowsy relax state to sleep.  Carbohydrate in combination with these specific foods creates availability in the brain to the amino acid, aiding in the feeling of wanting to sleep. Eating a light snack containing tryptophan and carbohydrates prior to lying down to sleep can help you enter a resting state ( http://sleepfoundation.org/bedroom/taste.php) .

The National Sleep Foundation has created a great vehicle for achieving and understanding the benefits of good sleep hygiene. Adapting these practices can help aid in a better quality sleep.


The National Sleep Foundation Inside (2014). Your Bedroom Use Your Senses!  Retrieved from http://sleepfoundation.org/bedroom

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