To ensure we get a good night's sleep, the human body has an internal alarm clock that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. Keeping to a regular night-time routine, creating an ideal sleeping environment and getting into healthy habits during the day will all help you develop good sleep hygiene.
Tip – If you can't sleep, or you wake during the night:
- don’t lie awake in bed indefinitely. If you haven't fallen asleep after about 20 minutes, get up and go to another room to do something quiet and calm such as reading, listening to the radio or writing;
- only go back to bed when you feel sleepy. If you go back too soon you are likely to continue lying awake and get frustrated, which will only make things worse.
- Routine – Try to keep to a regular routine, including a regular pattern of meals, exercise and going to bed and getting up.
- Nutrition – Keeping regular mealtimes and having a well-balanced mediterranean-type diet has been shown to have therapeutic effects on sleep. This sort of diet is largely plant-based with lean meats and foods high in fibre that will give you all the proteins, essential vitamins and minerals you need.
- Fluids – Try to ensure you keep hydrated during the day, depending on your body type and needs. If possible, keep caffeine drinks limited to the morning. Take care if drinking alcohol. It may help you fall asleep quickly but numerous studies have shown that the quality of sleep is poorer and less restful. Alcohol may also interfere with medications, altering the way they work.
- Physical activity – Moderate to intensive exercise, on a regular basis, is thought to promote sleep and reduce daytime sleepiness. How much you should do depends on your personal fitness and circumstance. Discuss the duration and intensity with your healthcare specialist but, in general, it's best to leave at least a two-hour gap between intensive exercise and bedtime, perhaps even doing it in the first half of the day. Stretching and slow mobility exercises before bed can be helpful in reducing rigidity. Why not try some of our exercise classes with Josefa Domingos.
- Your body clock – The body's biological clock (its circadian rhythm) has been built to be guided by natural light and routines. Keeping to a regular routine will help your body clock get into the habit of sleeping. Modern day lighting, smartphones and tablets can all disrupt this rhythm, tricking the body into believing it does not need to sleep and keeping it alert, so keep these to a minimum. In many cases the only alarm you really need is the one to tell you to prepare for bed. But if you need one for work, try and find one that wakes you gently, and one that you won't be checking every time you wake up.
- Bedroom environment – Keep it calm, uncluttered and cooler at night. A lower temperature promotes better sleep (16-18°C is ideal). Do your best to sleep in total darkness (black-out blinds or curtains are good for this) but take care to have some kind of lighting should you need to get up in the night.
- Sleeping accessories – What you sleep on is important. Pillows, mattresses and sheets can all make the difference between a comfortable and uncomfortable night. There isn’t one specific mattress type that suits everyone but choose one that has the ability to relieve pressure on your joints. Before buying, make sure you try out a mattress in the store by lying on it for at least fifteen minutes, so that you assess it according to your body weight and temperature. It always helps to have a comfortable pillow too.
- Digestion – Leave enough time for your meal to digest (at least a couple of hours) before going to sleep. High-protein foods may interfere with the absorption of particular Parkinson's medications such as carbidopa/levodopa, because they may impact sleep. Try to keep your intake of carbohydrates low before bedtime as they are associated with poor sleep quality.
- Hydration and dehydration – Keep a check on your fluid intake, especially before bedtime. Being too hydrated or dehydrated can have an effect on sleep. You may want to restrict your water intake an hour or so before bed to prevent you waking in the night, (7pm is a good cut-off time) especially if you experience urinary or bladder issues.
- Avoid stimulants – Caffeine will not only keep you awake but can also act as a diuretic, which will make you want to urinate. Similarly, although alcohol might help you get to sleep, it is often responsible for poor-quality sleep.
- Relaxation – Allow time to unwind before bed and adopt a routine before bedtime that encourages relaxation, such as having a warm bath or a massage, or listening to relaxing music.
- Avoid exposure to blue spectrum light at least an hour before bed – Computer monitors, smartphones, tablet screens and televisions all produce light in the blue spectrum, which mimics daylight. It tricks the brain into believing it's daytime. This reduces production of melatonin (a hormone that helps you sleep). If you really can't do without your tech device before bed, you could try visors or even apps that claim to filter out the blue light spectrum, though there is no guarantee of their effectiveness.
- Don’t think about the past or what’s to come – Try to avoid reviewing the day, or thinking ahead to tomorrow. These are best done earlier in the day. If things are worrying you, try writing them down so that you can deal with them at another time.
For additional information, click on the image below to download a Q&A document developed in partnership with The Sleep Charity!