One of the most overlooked areas of general health — especially for those living with MS — is also one of the most important: getting a healthy amount of good, quality sleep. “Sleep hygiene” refers to the practice of making sure that you not only get enough sleep, but that your body is able to make the most of its recharging time. The following are some examples and tips on how to promote good sleep hygiene.
Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day: Good sleep begins with having good routine sleep times. Certainly, this is not always possible, but to the extent that it is possible, trying going to bed the same time every night and, even more importantly, waking up at the same time every day.
Create a comfortable sleep environment: Make sure that your sleeping environment will promote sleep. Most people can’t fall asleep with loud music blaring and bright lights blinking!
- Temperature — For most people, cool is better than hot. Try cracking or opening your window. Warm feet are important for falling asleep; otherwise cooler is better.
- Light — Keep your bedroom as dark as possible. You might even consider wearing an eye mask. Remember to look for non-obvious sources of light – hide the blinking electric toothbrush; turn the LED alarm clock around so you can’t see it.
- Noise — Less noise means more sleep. You can reduce noise levels with rugs and drapes, earplugs, background “white” noise (such as a fan), or soothing music. Music without words may deepen sleep quality greater than music with words.
- Comfort — A good mattress and comfortable pillow can improve the quality of sleep.
- Function — Try not to use your bedroom for work activities, such as balancing the checkbook, studying, or scrolling through email on your phone or tablet. Make your bedroom a stress-free zone.
Avoid alcohol and caffeine: Alcohol may help you get to sleep, but it will make your sleep restless and uneasy. Many people who drink experience an alcohol rebound and may wake up early in the morning. Caffeine can certainly keep you awake and most people are aware of this. The problem is that caffeine can be found in unexpected places, such as chocolate and many teas. The half-life of caffeine is usually reported to be about 5 or 6 hours. For those who are sensitive to caffeine, it may be best to stop drinking coffee 10 hours before bed.
Get out of bed if you’re not sleeping: If you don’t fall asleep within 10 to 30 minutes, get up. Get back into bed only when you feel sleepy. We need our minds to associate getting comfortable in bed and drifting off into deep, restorative sleep.
The more time we spend in bed lying awake and frustrated, the more our mind associates getting comfortable in bed with anxiety and then we’re less likely to fall asleep.
Instead, have a comfortable spot in your home where you can do a soothing activity like reading to calm your overactive mind. Avoid the temptation to turn on the TV, phone or computer, the light stimulation from these just stimulate our brains further though the activities may feel calming.
Exercise regularly: Regular exercise has been shown to improve sleep. Exercising in the morning or afternoon – at least three hours before bedtime, so you won’t be too “revved up” – will help you get a deeper, more restful sleep. Exercise helps us to burn off those stress hormones that have been triggered in our bodies during the day.
Stop tobacco use: Nicotine, like caffeine, is a stimulant and can cause problems for people trying to fall asleep. Also, as a stimulant, nicotine causes the sleep we do get to be less restorative.
Avoid watching the clock: Set the alarm and place the clock out of sight. Constant checking can even cause insomnia. Every time we look over and notice more time has passed, we begin fretting about how sleep deprivation is going to interfere the next day.
Create a relaxing bedtime routine: Read a good book, listen to music, practice relaxation techniques, or sip on a warm cup of Sleepytime tea.
Make sure your urinary problems are well managed: Many people with MS have urinary frequency. If you are waking up frequently to go to the bathroom and not falling back asleep, it may be helpful to try to address this problem through behavioral strategies (e.g., not drinking within two hours of bedtime, using physical techniques for promoting maximum urination) or medications. Of course, if you experience this problem, you should discuss it with your health care provider.