During the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-2021, all of us have learned that hand hygiene, or washing your hands frequently and for at least 20 seconds of time is an essential practice to keep you and the ones that you touch healthy.
Sleep hygiene is also a necessary behavior that you should use to help your body fight illness and to keep your nervous system in good function. Have you ever noticed that when you are sick with a cold or an acute illness, and even when you are mentally stressed, all you can do is go to sleep? That’s because sleep is a protective method for your body. It is a time when your physical body can rest but where your immune and nervous system can fight infection, clear out toxins, and recharge your function.
Sleep is is a vital tool to protect against neurological disorders as well. Just as a proper hand-washing routine can reduce the risk of harm from infections, a proper sleep routine can reduce the risk of harm to our nervous system and our health. That sleep routine is called “sleep hygiene.”
The sleep process involves neural circuits that maintain our body’s homeostasis, or the internal and external balance.
One of the functions of sleep is to clean our nervous system by clearing out “waste” in the form of abnormal proteins from nerve endings, as well as to shed nerve endings that become worn out after being active during the day.
The cleaning process of sleep helps us to optimize our neural network, which is the connections of our brain and nerves. The cleaning process also helps us to organize memories and thoughts that eventually become a part of our hard-wired knowledge and experience when we wake up.
The following is an example of our typical sleep needs through different life stages as we age:
- Neonates : 14-17 hours of sleep
- Infants:12-15 hours of sleep
- Children: 9-14 hours of sleep
- Adolescents:8-10 hours of sleep
- Adults less than 65 year of age: 7-9 hours of sleep
- Adults more than 65 years of age : 7-9 hours of sleep (although most older adults may not get this amount due to the physiological changes associated with aging)
Here are some tools that may help when you have difficulty with sleep:
Be as consistent as possible every day of the week with your wake up and sleep time.
Try to avoid stress and stressful activities within one to two hours before bedtimes.
Stop drinking caffeine after noon, and limit the double lattes to no more than 2 servings a day.
- Stop drinking fluids after seven pm if you find your self waking up to pee at night.
Avoid bright or blue lights (i.e. the light that emits from your computer or cell phone) about 1 hour before bed time. Your sleep place ideally should be comfortable and quiet if possible.
If you take naps during the day, keep those naps to less than 30 minutes.
Get some form of exercise (heart pumping, breathing rate up) at least 30 minutes a day.
Your Brain Doctor is used to help you develop a plan and to understand what resources that you can turn to when you are not able to sleep.