Sleep hygiene describes the actions you take throughout the day that impact your quality of sleep at night. Examples of these actions include: keeping electronics out of your bedroom, avoiding caffeine or dinner close to bedtime, and lowering the lights a half hour before bed.
According to Michael Grandner, Director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine—Tucson, sleep hygiene is like being told to wash your hands; it’s a form of prevention, but isn’t a treatment.
But what about the 70 million Americans who have a sleep disorder? They need more than small changes. The following are therapies that sound strange but may be prescribed by a doctor for those who truly can’t fall asleep.
- Stimulus control – Try adopting the notion that lying in bed equals sleep. If you’re in bed and can’t fall asleep within 15 minutes, get out of bed. The goal is to reinforce your body’s connection with the bed as only a place to sleep. In some cases, sleep deprivation may occur the first few weeks of practicing stimulus control, since you may have to get out of bed a few times each night. However, this technique is a crucial part of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, which targets a person’s thoughts and behaviors for better sleep.
- Sleep restriction – A doctor may tell you to only spend five hours in bed and then get up. This effective treatment for insomnia limits the amount of time a person spends in bed not sleeping. This causes some sleep deprivation that can help a person feel more tired the next night. More time in bed is prescribed as sleep improves. Given the potential for negative side effects, don’t try this technique without a doctor’s supervision.
- Paradoxical intention – This technique involves tricking yourself into trying to stay awake and is used for people who are worried about not sleeping. Don’t obsess about trying to be asleep; instead, obsess about trying to stay awake if you really need to fixate on something. Eliminating the frustration of not sleeping may help.
- Biofeedback – For this therapy, you are connected to a device by a sleep specialist, which allows you to watch your own biological signals, such as your heart rate, brain waves and breathing patterns. Then, you train yourself to moderate those measurements, eventually being able to use those skills at bedtime to invite relaxation and sleep.
- Polyphasic sleep – The thought behind this is that humans don’t naturally sleep in one long stretch of time. It is completely normal and possibly beneficial to sleep early, wake up, do a task, then go back to bed. Something that is not a good idea (and likely dangerous) is thinking you can “hack” your sleep for more productivity by only taking short naps throughout the day.
- Thought challenging – Some people, if they lie awake and don’t fall asleep, convince themselves something horrible, such as a car crash, will happen the next day. Asking people you know how many times that has actually happened is one way to challenge those thoughts, according to Grandner. You can let those thoughts go by making the case that those possibilities are very unlikely, which provides you with some ammunition to fight irrational thoughts.