Research has shown self-care helps manage stress and promotes happiness. Whether you challenge yourself to a new yoga pose or try a different spa treatment, make a small change and impact your health in positive ways. But, when we are asked to "shelter in place," your normal routine and habits are thrown for a loop. How can we maintain good sleep hygiene?
The term "hygiene" is often misunderstood as strictly being synonymous with "cleanliness." The true meaning of hygiene has to do with sets of practices, habits, and environmental influences that impact one's health. Hygiene of all kinds are important to your health and well-being as most are aimed at reducing your chances of coming into contact with diseases, getting infections, spreading germs and viruses, or preventing oral cavities and gingivitis.
If all of these other types of hygienic practices are aimed at preserving your health, exactly what is sleep hygiene and how can it help you in your everyday life?
The Importance of Quality Sleep
Getting a full night's sleep every night is important to people's overall health and happiness. Most of us are aware that when we lose a few hours of sleep, we are often tired and cranky the next day and have difficulty concentrating, staying alert, and being in a positive mood. And all of these things can occur after just one day of lost sleep.
If you're regularly losing sleep, you're putting yourself at risk to a whole slew of health issues and medical conditions including
increased likelihood of accidents
It's mind blowing to think that all of these problems can occur simply from losing a few hours of sleep a night.
How To Practice Sleep Hygiene
Many people may realize the impact that poor sleep quality is having on their daily lives before the stress of viruses and job losses, but may be unsure of what types of activities are contributing to their sleep loss, or simple practices they could be doing to ensure they get not only more sleep, but better sleep.
Many people believe that because they slept between the 7-9 hours of recommended nightly sleep, that they're doing things right. However, while getting enough hours of sleep is very important, getting quality sleep is more important. If you're doing things that are disruptive to your sleep, your body and mind are not truly resting enough to repair and prepare themselves for the next day.
Getting (or not getting) great sleep every night is often due to two important factors: your personal habits and your sleeping environment. The things you do during the day and leading up to sleeping at night can impact your sleep just as much as the environment you choose to sleep in. Optimizing both your personal habits and your sleep environment is paramount to successful sleep.
Sleep Hygiene Guidelines
- It is best to avoid reading, watching TV, eating, exercise, listening to the radio, doing office or home work in bed or in the bedroom. These activities lead us to associate the bed with other activities other than sleep, and it often becomes difficult to fall asleep. Reserve the bed for sleep and intimacy only.
- Both noise and light disrupt sleep. During the sleep period, minimize noise, such as all night TV or radio, light, and temperature extremes. Use earplugs, window blinds, an electric blanket or air conditioner as necessary.
- Room temperature should not exceed 75 degrees or go below 54 degrees.
- The steady hum of an AC or fan (“white noise”) may help by obscuring other noises. Sleep in another room if disturbed by your bed partner’s snoring or restlessness.
- Try not to drink fluids after 8 p.m. This may reduce awakenings due to urination.
- Nicotine is a stimulant and should be avoided near bedtime and upon night awakenings. If you do smoke, avoid nicotine 30 to 45 minutes before bed.
- Caffeine is a stimulant and should be discontinued after lunch, certainly four to six hours before bedtime. Caffeine in coffee, soda, tea, chocolate and in some medications stays in your system up to 12 hours.
- Alcohol is a depressant. Although it may help you fall asleep, it causes awakenings later in the night. As alcohol is digested, your body goes into withdrawal from the alcohol. This may cause nighttime awakenings and often nightmares.
- A light snack may be sleep inducing, but a heavy meal too close to bedtime may interfere with sleep. Avoid massive amounts of protein (unless in a heavy exercise regimen and instructed by physician) and try eating carbohydrates or dairy products.
- Do not exercise vigorously near bedtime or in a group. At least 30 minutes of moderate, late afternoon exercise resets your internal clock, enhances the quality and amount of your deep sleep stages, and may improve mood.
- Keep a regulated sleep and rise time.
- If alert in the middle of the night, do a peaceful activity in another room until sleepiness returns.
Are we more vulnerable to insomnia during the COVID-19 outbreak?
Yes, for several reasons:
- People are spending every waking moment getting one last look at their screens (news updates, COVID-19 education, social connections). The blue light from these screens tells the brain to stop producing melatonin (our sleep hormone), which can lead to trouble falling asleep.
- Elevated stress and an overload of information can keep the mind racing and elevate the body’s arousal system response, triggering insomnia.
- Loss of daytime structure can upset nighttime sleep schedules. Inconsistent bedtimes and wake times can shift the pressure — or urge — to sleep, making ability to fall asleep less predictable.
- Depressed mood, more downtime and low energy can increase long napping, making it harder to fall asleep at night.
Coronavirus FAQs: CPAP tips for sleep apnea patients
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) Public Safety Committee is responding to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the coronavirus (COVID-19). The following questions were submitted by patients who have obstructive sleep apnea.
The AASM encourages you to follow the CDC tips on how to prepare for the coronavirus. The information below is for educational use only. The AASM is unable to provide specific medical advice. You should discuss your health and medical condition with a local medical provider. You also can request a telemedicine appointment with a health care provider who is licensed in your state.
Do I have a higher risk of getting coronavirus because I have sleep apnea?
It is unclear if sleep apnea causes you to have a higher risk of getting the coronavirus. People who do have a higher risk of the coronavirus include:
- Older adults
- Those who have serious medical disorders. These disorders include
- Heart disease
- Lung disease
- Kidney disease
- Those who have a medical disorder, or take a medication, that weakens the immune system.
- Those who have had close contact with another person who has the coronavirus.
If I have symptoms of the coronavirus, should I continue using my CPAP?
If you have the coronavirus, it is important to talk to your medical provider before stopping any medical treatments. It is possible that using CPAP could increase the risk of spreading the virus to others around you. Be sure to talk to your medical provider about this risk.
If you are sick with the coronavirus, you should follow current CDC recommendations:
- Stay home except to get medical care.
- Separate yourself from other people in your home.
- Stay in a specific “sick room.”
- Use a separate bathroom, if one is available.
- Call ahead before visiting your doctor.
- Wear a facemask when you are around other people.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with tissue.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water.
- Avoid sharing dishes, glasses or utensils with others.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces in your “sick room” every day.
- Seek medical care if your illness gets worse. (But call your doctor first.)
If I have the coronavirus, will my CPAP be helpful for my breathing? Or could CPAP cause the coronavirus to get worse?
It is unclear whether CPAP could make the coronavirus worse. But using CPAP could increase the risk of spreading the virus to others around you. Talk to your medical provider about your treatment options for sleep apnea.
If I have the coronavirus, how should I clean and disinfect my CPAP mask and hose?
The CDC recommends that you should clean and disinfect your medical equipment according to the manufacturer’s instructions.* The directions for CPAP masks and hoses normally include regular cleaning with soap and water. It is unclear if extra CPAP cleaning is needed due to the coronavirus.
*Keeping it clean: CPAP hygiene (Philips)
*How to clean your CPAP equipment (RedMed)
The CDC also recommends that you clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces in your household. This includes door knobs, light switches and handles. Learn more from the CDC about how to clean and disinfect your household.
Distilled water is unavailable in my area. What should I use in my CPAP humidifier?
According to ResMed, “*optimal* humidifier performance requires distilled water. That’s because most or all of its minerals have been removed, preventing mineral buildup in the humidifier tub. That said, tap or bottled water may also be used. It will not harm the device or pose a risk to patients. It will, however, require more rigorous humidifier cleaning to prevent excess mineral buildup in the tub.”
AASM is a professional society of physicians, researchers and other health care professionals who specialize in the study, diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders. The organization accredits sleep medicine centers in the United States.
Anxieties related to loss of control and uncertainty are understandable as we shelter in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. While a natural fear response is par for the course, too much anxiety can be problematic.
Instead of spending time and energy worrying, why not channel that energy into what you can control — self-care. Focusing on sleep is a natural fit for working on self-care, as we know that getting enough sleep can benefit your immune system.
By following these best sleep hygiene practices on a nightly basis, you're almost guaranteed to get more fulfilling sleep at night and be more awake and alert during the day. If however, you're practicing these hygiene tips and still finding yourself feeling tired and sluggish during the day, it could be a sign of a sleep disorder.
If you believe that your sleep troubles are being caused by a sleep disorder, contact Alaska Sleep Clinic. We specialize in diagnosing and treating a wide variety of sleep disorders, and have helped thousands of Alaskans improve the quality of their sleep.
Quality sleep is directly linked to your overall health, and if you're not getting enough of it, give us a call and let us help you discover the cause of your sleep problems.