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Sleep Hygiene: The Natural Medicine

Sleep: The Natural Medicine for Your Health

By Allison Bashe, PhD

“Sleep is an investment in the energy you need to be effective tomorrow.” – Tom Rath

sleep hygiene - new directions counselingRemove Toxins and Repair Your System with Sleep

Did you know when we sleep, it removes toxins from our brain?  One of the main biological purposes of sleep is to revitalize and repair every system and organ in our bodies. Quality sleep is critical to our health and wellness.

When we are not getting the right amount of sleep, or the quality of our sleep is poor, there are many negative effects. Sleep deprivation interferes with our brain’s ability to form new memories. It reduces our concentration and response times while it increases irritability.  Poor sleep can also increase the risk of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety and other disorders. In addition, it increases the risk of physical disorders such as obesity and high blood pressure.  Lack of sleep can also increase our risk of accidents, reduce creativity, and negatively impact our performance in school, work or extracurricular activities.

Optimal Sleep

How much sleep we need depends our age and our gender.  For optimal growth and functioning, typical amounts of recommended sleep for infants range from 16-18 hours while for adults the typical range is 7-9 hours.  The recommendation for teens is typically around 9.5 hours. This can be a difficult number to hit for teens given their responsibilities with schoolwork and extracurricular activities.  Some research indicates women need slightly more sleep than men. Further research indicates sleeping during the day or sleeping in on certain days of the week does not make up for nightly sleep deprivation.

Try Sleep Hygiene

The behaviors we engage in to help optimize the quantity and quality of our sleep are referred to as sleep hygiene behaviors.  Consider the maintenance of your teeth, face, and hair on a daily basis.  These are your daily hygiene behaviors.  You may floss and brush your teeth to keep them looking white and your gums healthy. You can wash your face with a cleanser and moisturize to keep your skin looking and feeling healthy. You may use products or brush your hair to keep it looking clean and shiny.  We need to put the same effort into our sleep hygiene behaviors.

10 Great Sleep Hygiene Tips

sleep tips - new directions counselingIf you are not feeling good about the quantity or quality of your sleep, here are ten sleep hygiene behaviors to try before seeking professional help:

  1. Keep a regular sleep schedule: This means waking up and going to bed at roughly same time each day. Find a routine with your wake and sleep times and it will be easier to fall asleep, stay asleep, and to wake more easily. This will feel more refreshing in the morning.
  2. Avoid naps:  Only take naps when necessary. Limit them to about 30 minutes. Try to avoid naps after 3pm.
  3. Develop a bedtime ritual:  This can be unique to you!  You might do some deep breathing, relaxing stretches, or enjoy a cup of caffeine-free tea.  A hot shower or bath about two hours before bedtime raises your body temperature, and the cool-down period can help to trigger the onset of sleep.  You might read a book for a few minutes to wind down or listen to some calming music or a relaxation or meditation recording.  The most important thing is to avoid stressful material or conversations during this time.
  4. Avoid screens before and during sleep time:  The general recommendation is to turn off all screens (e.g., phone, tablets, TV) at least 45 minutes before attempting to sleep. This helps to minimize the impact of lighting and sounds to quiet our brain. Also it limits stressful information or content absorbed right before sleep.  Watching TV before and during sleep can be a hard habit to break, but it is negatively impacting the quality and likely the quantity of your restful sleep hours.
  5. What to Avoid?: It is best to avoid caffeine, nicotine, and other stimulants/depressants for at least 5 hours before bedtime.  Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and will interfere with your ability to fall asleep.  Although drinking can initially feel relaxing, it interferes with our ability to stay asleep.
  6. Get moving!: 20-30 minutes of regular, daily exercise helps to improve our ability to fall asleep. Avoid very intense exercise in the hours immediately before bedtime.
  7. Eat right: Healthy food choices also help to improve the quality of our sleep.  If you feel hungry immediately before bed, have a light snack or a warm glass of milk which can aid in inducing sleep.
  8. Turn your clock away: If you tend to focus on the minutes of sleep that you are not getting, turn it away from you to prevent constantly checking the time.  This leads to more anxiety or worry thoughts making it more difficulty falling or staying asleep.
  9. Your bed is for sleep!: Try to keep your bed a place for bedroom activities only.  If you eat or watch television in bed, your brain connects your bed to more wakeful activities. This can interfere with your sleep.  Your bedroom should be quiet, calm, comfortable.
  10. The 20-minute rule: After 20-30 minutes with no luck of falling asleep; get out of bed and do something calming or boring.  Sit in a chair. Read some relaxing literature (keep lighting to a minimum). When you start to feel sleepy again, return to your bed.  As mentioned in the tip above, if you connect not sleeping with being in your bed, this can also interfere with your sleep.

If you follow the recommendations above and you are still having difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or you struggle with insomnia or early morning awakening, please reach out for support.  Our therapists can work with you individually to determine if there are other factors that need to be addressed to improve your sleep. This could entail anxious or racing thoughts before bedtime. In addition, they can help you to establish a sleep hygiene plan to improve your sleep behaviors.  Our psychiatric providers may be able to help with medication management for sleep problems as well.

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Would you like to learn more about Child Sleep Hygiene ideas? Click here!


Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep.  Found at www.ninds.nih.gov

Caudill, M.A. (1995).  Managing Pain before It Manages You. New York: Guildford Press.

Karafin, G.R. (June, 2013) Teen Sleep Issues and School Start Times.  The Pennsylvania Psychologist Quarterly, pp. 20, 22.

Sleep Hygiene.  Found at www.cci.health.wa.gov.au