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 What is sleep hygiene?

Understanding sleep aids

Why is sleep important?

How much do I need?

Lehigh students and sleep

What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene is a variety of different practices that are necessary to have normal, quality nighttime sleep and full daytime alertness.

What are some examples of good sleep hygiene?

The most important sleep hygiene measure is to maintain a regular wake and sleep pattern seven days a week. It is also important to spend an appropriate amount of time in bed, not too little, or too excessive. This may vary by individual; for example, if someone has a problem with daytime sleepiness, they should spend a minimum of eight hours in bed, if they have difficulty sleeping at night, they should limit themselves to 7 hours in bed in order to keep the sleep pattern consolidated. In addition, good sleep hygiene practices include:

  • Avoid napping during the day. It can disturb the normal pattern of sleep and wakefulness.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol too close to bedtime. While alcohol is well known to speed the onset of sleep, it disrupts sleep in the second half as the body begins to metabolize the alcohol, causing arousal.
  • Exercise can promote good sleep. Vigorous exercise should be taken in the morning or late afternoon. A relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night's sleep.
  • Food can be disruptive right before sleep.  Stay away from large meals close to bedtime. Also dietary changes can cause sleep problems, if someone is struggling with a sleep problem, it's not a good time to start experimenting with spicy dishes. And, remember, chocolate has caffeine.
  • Ensure adequate exposure to natural light. This is particularly important for older people who may not venture outside as frequently as children and adults. Light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
  • Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine. Try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations and activities before trying to go to sleep. Don't dwell on, or bring your problems to bed.
  • Associate your bed with sleep. It's not a good idea to use your bed to watch TV, listen to the radio, or read.
  • Make sure that the sleep environment is pleasant and relaxing. The bed should be comfortable, the room should not be too hot or cold, or too bright.

Why is it important to practice good sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene is important for everyone, from childhood through adulthood. A good sleep hygiene routine promotes healthy sleep and daytime alertness. Good sleep hygiene practices can prevent the development of sleep problems and disorders.

How does someone know if his or her sleep hygiene is poor?

Sleep disturbances and daytime sleepiness are the most telling signs of poor sleep hygiene. If one is experiencing a sleep problem, he or she should evaluate their sleep routine. It may take some time for the changes to have a positive effect.

How do I know the best sleep hygiene routine for me?

If you're taking too long to fall asleep, or awakening during the night, you should consider revising your bedtime habits. Most important for everyone is to maintain a regular sleep-wake schedule throughout the week and consider how much time you spend in bed, which could be too much or too little.


Sleep aids: Understand over-the-counter options

Trouble sleeping? Over-the-counter sleep aids might help temporarily — but lifestyle changes are usually the best approach for chronic insomnia.

You've followed the usual tips for getting enough sleep — sleeping on a regular schedule, avoiding caffeine and daytime naps, exercising regularly, and managing stress. Still, it's been weeks and a good night's sleep remains elusive. Is it time for an over-the-counter sleep aid? Here's what you need to know if you're considering medication to help you sleep.

Sleep aids: Not a magic cure

Over-the-counter sleep aids can be effective for an occasional sleepless night. There are a few caveats, however. Most over-the-counter sleep aids contain antihistamines. Tolerance to the sedative effects of antihistamines can develop quickly — so the longer you take them, the less likely they are to make you sleepy. In addition, some over-the-counter sleep aids can leave you feeling groggy and unwell the next day. This is the so-called hangover effect. Medication interactions are possible as well, and much remains unknown about the safety and effectiveness of over-the-counter sleep aids.

Sleep aids: The options

Over-the-counter sleep aids are available in nearly any pharmacy. Here's a listing of common choices and the potential side effects:

  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl, Unisom sleep). Diphenhydramine is a sedating antihistamine. Side effects might include daytime drowsiness, dry mouth, dizziness and memory problems.
  • Doxylamine (Unisom SleepTabs). Doxylamine is also a sedating antihistamine. Side effects are similar to diphenhydramine, including daytime drowsiness, dry mouth, dizziness and memory problems.
  • Melatonin. The hormone melatonin helps control your natural sleep-wake cycle. Some research suggests that melatonin supplements might be helpful in treating jet lag or reducing the time it takes to fall asleep — although the effect is typically mild. The most common melatonin side effects include daytime sleepiness, dizziness and headaches. Other, less common melatonin side effects might include abdominal discomfort, mild anxiety, irritability, confusion and short-lasting feelings of depression.
  • Valerian. Supplements made from this plant might reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep as well as promote better sleep overall. However, the active ingredient isn't clear and potency can vary. Side effects of valerian supplements might include headache, abdominal discomfort, excitability or uneasiness, and heart disturbances.

Store brands containing the same active ingredients as brand-name sleep aids are commonly available. Store brands have the same risks and benefits as their brand-name counterparts, often at a more reasonable cost.

If you decide to use over-the-counter sleep aids

If you think you'd benefit from over-the-counter sleep aids, follow these steps:

  • Start with your doctor. You don't need your doctor's OK to take an over-the-counter sleep aid, but it's a good idea to check with him or her anyway. Your doctor can make sure the sleep aid won't interact with other medications or underlying conditions, as well as determine the best dosage.
  • Keep precautions in mind. Diphenhydramine and doxylamine aren't recommended for people who have closed-angle glaucoma, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, severe liver disease or urinary retention — which can be preceded by a weak urine stream or trouble starting urination. In addition, most sleep aids aren't recommended for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.
  • Take it one day at a time. Over-the-counter sleep aids are a temporary solution for insomnia. Generally, they're not intended to be used for longer than two weeks.
  • Avoid alcohol. Never mix alcohol and sleep aids. Alcohol can increase the sedative effects of the medication.
  • Beware of side effects. Don't drive or attempt other activities that require alertness while taking sleep aids.

Everyone benefits from a good night's sleep. If you continue to have trouble sleeping, consult your doctor for additional help. In addition to lifestyle changes, your doctor might recommend behavior therapy to help you learn new sleep habits and ways to make your sleeping environment more conducive to sleep. In some cases, short-term use of prescription sleep aids might be recommended as well.


Why is sleep important

If you don’t get adequate sleep, you’ll notice you feel rundown and tired, making it hard to concentrate in class and while studying. You may even be too tired to carry out routine activities. However, you probably don’t notice the changes in your mood that affect not only you, but also those around you. Lack of sleep causes irritability, impatience, and depression; it undermines creativity and efficiency. Fatigue will prevent you from peak academic performance by hindering memorization, concentration, and motivation. Even if you can still muster the energy to play sports, your reaction time will be slowed and coordination affected.

It’s not just the length of time you’re in bed that counts, but the quality of sleep you get while lying there. Frequent interruptions of sleep can undermine daytime energy as much as no sleep at all. You can improve the quality of your sleep by establishing regular sleeping patterns, always going to bed and getting up around the same time everyday. Changing your schedule on the weekends so you go to bed and wake up extremely late disrupts your body’s clock, and once your biological rhythms are disturbed, you are more likely to feel stress, resulting in irritability, exhaustion, and weakened immune response.

If you continually suffer from serious sleep deprivation, the results can be severe. Long-term effects of sleep deficiency are diabetes (disrupted insulin production), weakened immune system (altered white blood cell production), obesity (decreased production of leptin, the chemical that makes you feel full), and cognitive problems (inability to store and maintain long-term memories).

How much sleep do I need?

Once you reach your late teens, your sleep needs are equivalent to those of an adult – about 8 or 9 hours. However, individual sleep needs vary from 6 to 10 hours, so make sure you know how much sleep you need to function efficiently. Uninterrupted sleep is important to experience periods of rapid eye movement (REM), which are necessary for learning, problem solving, and storing memories.

How can I get a good night’s sleep?

  • Don’t go to bed hungry or full. Hunger and indigestion hinder sleep.
  • Get regular exercise (3-4 times per week), but not right before you plan to go to sleep – mid-afternoon is best.
  • Use your bed only for sleep and sex (if it’s right for you). Avoid using it to study, eat, chat with friends, etc.
  • Create the right environment. Make sure your room is dark and quiet, and the right temperature. Most experts agree cooler temperatures work best. If you’re bothered by noise, wear earplugs or use a fan to create white noise.
  • Don’t nap. But if you have to, do it before 3 pm and for less than an hour.
  • Reduce stress. If you’re worried about getting your work done, make a to-do list for the next day to assure yourself you have enough time to accomplish what needs to get done. Once the chores that cause you stress are down on paper, your mind is free to relax and think more pleasant thoughts.
  • Eat (lightly) to induce sleep. Although you shouldn’t eat too much right before sleep, certain foods promote sleep. Such foods include the amino acid L-tryptophan, found in milk, turkey, and tuna; and carbohydrates, such as bread and cereal. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and large amounts of sugar.
  • Take warm shower or bath.
  • Read a book, or some other calm activity that relaxes you. Creating a relaxing ritual can help your body slow down in preparation for sleep.
  • Set your body’s clock. Go to sleep and get up around the same time every day to set your body’s rhythm.
  • Practice relaxation techniques before bedtime. Deep breathing and visualization techniques can help you relax and facilitate sleep.
  • Avoid sleep-disturbing substances like alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol creates the illusions of good sleep but the architecture of sleep is affected adversely. Sleep is fragmented with deep sleep initially and a rebound of REM sleep later. Caffeine is a stimulant and reaches its peak effect in the first hour but with a half-life elimination of 3-7 hours. Caffeine is a potent sleep inhibitor and it increases sleep latency, night waking, decreases total sleep time, decreases slow-wave sleep, impairs overall sleep quality.

Do Lehigh students get enough sleep?

No, the average student does not get enough sleep. According to a survey of student health behavior in 2014, only 11.5% of undergrads reported that they felt rested when they woke up in the morning on the last 7 out of 7 days. In fact, 60.3% of students said they felt rested only 3-5 days a week. Such lack of sleep certainly has costs, as 10.6% reported that sleepiness during the day affected their daytime activities. (Survey results from National College Health Assessment of Lehigh University undergraduate students, 2014).

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