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Healthy Sleep Practices

Use the following information to talk with your client on the importance of quality sleep and the role that sleep plays in maintaining good emotional, cognitive and physical wellbeing.


Have you ever heard of “sleep hygiene”? It refers to those helpful practices that you use before going to bed that help you to sleep. For example, doing breathing exercises rather than vigorous exercises! Some things seem like they will help you sleep, but in the long term, prove not so helpful like alcohol.

Did you know that achieving adequate restful sleep improves;

  • Mood; reducing the impact of feeling down or anxious
  • Cognitive functioning; concentration, memory, attention and general thought processes
  • Physiological functioning; including heart functioning and metabolism
  • Overall wellbeing; it gives your body time to rest and recover from the day’s stresses

Helpful sleep practices – the Do’s of good sleep

  • Go to bed at the same time each night, when you can
  • Get out of bed at the same time each day, when you can
  • Set up some standard routines in your day, for example, get up at 7am, go to work by 9am, eat dinner by 6pm, get into bed by 10pm
  • Make sure you sleep in a bed! Stop napping on the couch!
  • Make your bedroom restful; make it as dark as you can, if you need some sound, make it soothing and set for only five minutes while you relax into your sleep
  • Ensure your bedding is practical and your sleep attire is too! If you are prone to get hot/sweat, ensure you have layers that are easily stripped back. Wear clothes you can’t get tangled in.
  • Only use your bed for sleeping and sex
  • Read boring and otherwise un engaging material; those articles or stories you know you fall asleep to
  • Practice meditation, relaxation and breathing exercises before bed
  • Establish a bed time ritual (see the example below)
  • Follow your doctor’s advice on medications assisting with sleep; try to minimise dependence
  • Exercise regularly (until you are puffing and/or sweating) in the morning
  • Drink non-caffeinated beverages before bed

The Dont’s

  • Don’t nap during the day. If you have to, limit it to under 20 minutes. Napping disrupts your natural sleep rhythms
  • Don’t watch TV in bed, don’t play energetic music or have bright lights in your room and STOP!! playing on your iphone, ipad or other electronic gadget! Make your bedroom a gadget free zone!
  • Don’t drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes (or illicit substances) before bed. These may seem to help in the short term but in the long term, they disrupt natural sleep rhythms.
  • Don’t do heavy exercise at least 6 hours before bed. Exercise is fantastic at boosting sleep processes if it is done in the morning.
  • Don’t go to bed hungry or over full
  • Avoid stimulants; over the counter (energy drinks), prescribed (as in some cough medicines) and illicit substances (like Speed or amphetamine). They can cause chronic sleep problems by disrupting our brain chemistry
  • Don’t regularly let pets (or children if you can help it) sleep in your bed if they also have disrupted sleep cycles or wake you with their fussing.

An example sleep routine

Believe it or not, a sleep routine should start well before you intend on going to sleep. It involves training (or retraining) your brain to prepare for rest. This occurs by regularly and consistently giving your body and brain cues to say; “go to sleep”. Just think about those sleep routines you might have had as a baby or child; after dinner came a bath, a warm drink, a story and bed. The cue’s started at dinner time as you slowly built towards sleep. If you’ve never done this, just try it for 6 weeks to see the difference! Start the routine earlier or later, depending on your family or life commitments.

6.30pm  Prepare dinner, enjoy positive, lifting music (turn off the News that may report worrying items)            

7pm       Eat dinner; ideally keep it light, fulfilling and healthy, but refrain from eating until you are uncomfortable or overly full. Make the dinner time clean up, a ritual preparing yourself for a new day. Visualise and become mindful of a preparing positively for the day ahead.

7.45pm If you are a worrier; write a list of things worrying you. Order the list into three columns:

1. To Do Tomorrow                        2. To Do this week                           3. It’s out of my control

For column 1 and 2, note anything extra you need to assist you in working on it by taking a systematic approach to problem solving. For all those things on column 3, adopt a “it’s out of my control so why focus on it?” attitude. This is hard to do but letting go of those worries you have no control over is a key to restful sleeping.

8pm       Take a shower or a bath; visualise washing the day’s stressors from your body and mind. Even if you shower twice a day until you get into a good sleep pattern, this is an excellent de-stressor which is specifically done to boost relaxation

8.20pm  Introduce breathing exercises and mindfulness strategies for at least ten minutes; Find a quiet space; the corner of your bedroom or lounge room, where you will not be interrupted. Watch how you breathe and making sure you are taking regular, gently moderated breaths that can support the development of a calm mind and thoughts. Feel the air going into your lungs, the gentle movement of your stomach in and out and visualise the air flow.

8.30pm  Progressive muscle relaxation or isometric muscle exercises; tensing and releasing your muscles from your toes to your head is a physical way of reminding your body how to relax. Sometimes our muscles forget the “relaxed” position and we remain tense without these reminders

8.45pm  Do your regular lock up rituals; check the doors, close the blinds, put your purse/wallet away – what ever you usually do before you go to bed

9pm       Read a very uninteresting article, boring book or mundane magazine. You don’t want to stimulate your mind; you want to calm it, so look to read up on those subjects you know will send you to sleep!

9.30pm  Drink a warm glass of milk, decaffeinated tea or water. Get into bed and practice reflecting on those things that have brought you joy in your life. Think of something that makes you feel loved, safe or secure and focus on the positive feelings. Allow yourself to drift to sleep.

Additional Tips

  • If you experience persistent/chronic pain, follow your doctor’s recommendations on treating the pain before it becomes too distracting; take analgesics, use hot packs, cold packs or what is effective in alleviating the pain before getting into bed
  • If you don’t fall asleep after 20 minutes to half an hour, get up and do a household chore (iron a shirt, sweep the floor or make a cup of tea). Then start your routine again, including having a shower. The process of “training” your mind to sleep is made easier when you give clear cues to your mind and body to prepare for sleep.
  • If your sleep is disturbed by nightmares, pain or other problems and it has been like that for a long time, consult your Doctor or a Psychologist/Counsellor to talk about those worries. Getting good sleep is a foundation for good mental health.
  • If you are a shift worker, in addition to implementing a sleep routine as above, ask your supervisor whether they have any additional strategies or tips on how to manage fatigue and sleep disturbance. Some companies have fatigue management rosters recognising the difficulties that a shift work can experience with their sleep.

(c) Copyright Carmen Betterridge July 2014

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