Insomnia prevention includes good sleep habits, with a consistent bedtime and wake time, a bedtime routine with no screens, and a dark, quiet bedroom.
While there are some causes of insomnia that you can’t avoid, you may be able to prevent yourself from developing sleep problems by following good sleep habits. Sleep experts call this “sleep hygiene.” It’s a good idea for everyone to improve their sleep hygiene, and it may be particularly important for those who are at risk for insomnia.
Healthy sleep hygiene includes:
• Keep a consistent sleep schedule (going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, even on weekends) with no naps
• Follow a bedtime routine that’s the same every night
• Get daily exercise, but not within a few hours of bedtime
• Avoid eating a meal too close to bedtime (a small snack is fine)
• Avoid the use of screens within an hour of bedtime, or turn their brightness to the lowest setting
• Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol late in the day
• Sleep in a dark, quiet, cool room (use earplugs and an eyemask if necessary)
• Use your bed only for sleeping (and possibly sex)
Many people maintain a consistent sleep schedule during the week, but then change it on the weekends, resulting in feeling tired on Monday morning. Adjusting your weekend sleep schedule to match your schedule on the weekdays often helps you feel less tired, even though you may initially miss “sleeping in.”
Your brain is excellent at learning patterns. You can help yourself fall asleep by creating a pattern that your brain learns is associated with sleep. Common activities to include in the bedtime routine are a warm bath, a cup of herbal tea (avoid caffeinated tea), reading, and/or listening to quiet music.
Exercise is known to improve sleep. Getting enough exercise (at least 30 minutes) during the day is likely to help you sleep that night. However, don’t exercise within a few hours of going to bed, as it may energize you and make it hard to fall asleep; instead, do your exercise in the morning or afternoon, rather than in the evening.
Eating a big meal can interfere with your sleep. However, eating a small snack, especially a carbohydrate-rich one such as crackers, just before bed could help improve your sleep. Caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine all interfere with sleep and should be avoided within a few hours of bedtime.
The brightness of screens (including TVs, laptop or computer screens, and smartphones or tablets) can trick your brain into believing it’s morning, and may make it hard to fall asleep. It’s best to avoid screens within an hour of bedtime. If you have no choice but to use them at this time, turn the brightness all the way down to minimize the disruption.
Creating a good sleep environment is crucial to getting good sleep. Your bedroom should be dark, quiet, and cool (not too warm or too cold). An eyemask or earplugs may help if there’s unavoidable light or noise. Keep your bed reserved only for sleeping, because your brain will learn the pattern that going to bed means going to sleep. (Using the bed for sex is okay, but don’t work or study there.)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Sleep and Sleep Disorders.” CDC website (2015). http://www.cdc.gov/Sleep/index.html
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). “Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep.” NINDS website (2014). http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Insomnia: Risk factors.” Mayo Clinic website (2014). http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/basics/risk-factors/con-20024293