One of the underappreciated causes of a poor night’s sleep is poor sleep hygiene. These are the seemingly small everyday habits that leave you tossing and turning at night. Being aware of these habits and changing them helps to improve your quality of sleep and enjoy the resulting health benefits.

In this excerpt from the book Real Cause, Real Cure by Jacob Teitelbaum, MD and Bill Gottlieb, CHC the authors explain how to improve sleep hygiene and get better sleep.

Good Sleep Starts with Good Sleep Hygiene

You know about “dental hygiene” because your dental hygienist always bugs you about it: Brush your teeth and floss at least twice a day and see your hygienist every six months for a cleaning. The purpose of good dental hygiene is healthy teeth. By forming those regular habits, you prevent gum disease and decay.

But there’s no “sleep hygienist” to tell you about good sleep hygiene. And that’s too bad. Good sleep hygiene—the daily (and nightly) habits that can prevent and reverse insomnia—is the best cure for insomnia. Here are the habits that can help you write your own ticket to dreamland…

•Give caffeine a curfew. The caffeine in coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate stimulates your nervous system, and jumpy nerves aren’t very conducive to falling asleep. Stop ingesting caffeine seven or eight hours before your regular bedtime; 4:00 p.m. or so is a good cutoff point. Even better, reserve caffeine-containing food and beverages for the morning.

•Exercise early. Exercise is stimulating, too. Try to schedule your workout early in the day—at the latest, right after dinner.

•Bedtime is a good time for snacks. Hunger causes shallow sleep in all animals, and we humans are no exception. Have a light, high-protein snack before bedtime. A particularly good choice: foods rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which soothes the brain. Snack on a slice of turkey, a hard-boiled egg, or a chunk of cheese or soy cheese. This is especially important if you often find yourself wide awake in the middle of the night (which often occurs from a drop in blood sugar).

•It’s not a good time for a nightcap. Alcohol boosts blood sugar, which drops a couple of hours later, in the middle of the night, which might wake you up. Having one or two drinks in the early evening is okay, but if you wake up or have restless sleep later in the night, try cutting back on alcohol to see if your sleep improves.

•Limit fluids before bed. If you wake up more than once each night to urinate, stop drinking fluids an hour or two before bedtime.

•Prop up your feet on a pillow. While sitting and relaxing in the evening, keep your feet propped up on a pillow. This allows fluid that normally pools in your legs to drain out of your legs and be urinated before you go to sleep.

•Take a hot bath before bed. It will soothe your mind and relax your muscles, allowing you to slip into sleep.

•Keep your bedroom cool. The ideal temperature for deep sleep is on the cool side, around the mid-60s.

•Make your bedroom a sanctuary for sleep. If you use the bedroom as a place to work… and pay your bills…and problem solve…it’s less likely you’ll find it easy to relax and sleep there. So don’t use your bedroom for work you’ve brought home from the office, for household tasks, or for personal problem solving.

•Head on pillow, mind on rainbows. If your mind is racing when it’s time to sleep, there are ways to shift it to a lower, sleep-friendly gear. After turning out the light and putting your head on the pillow, focus your thoughts on things that feel good and don’t require concentration or problem solving. A happy moment with your children or grandchildren. Your dog romping joyfully in a field. The peaceful face of a spiritual figure. A double rainbow.

•Make a list of your problems—and then forget about them! If you’re tossing and turning and worrying, trying to solve your problems, keep a pad and pen on your bed stand, and write down all your problems on a piece of paper until you can’t think of any more. Then go back to sleep. Do this as often during the night as you need to. (You might also find it helpful to schedule 30 minutes of “worry time” in the afternoon or evening, when you can update your checklist of concerns.)

•Wear earplugs. If your partner snores, get yourself a good pair of earplugs. I like the silicone plugs that mold to the shape of the ear. But earplugs might not do the trick. The average snore is 60 to 90 decibels (90 is the same as a passing train), and the best earplugs reduce noise by only about 30 decibels. Another solution: Sleep in another bedroom. Tuck your partner in, give him or her a sweet kiss goodnight, and give yourself a night of sweet dreams. Other helpful technology for blocking out noise or getting to sleep are sound machines, and apps such as Sleep Genius (, which is based on technology that helped NASA astronauts get better sleep. Whatever works for you is the best way to achieve restful, refreshing sleep.

•Limit your time in bed. If you have insomnia, you probably think that increasing the amount of time you spend in bed will increase the amount of time you sleep. But that’s not what happens.

A Simple Strategy for Worry-Free Living

Worry and anxiety are common causes of insomnia. If you’re awake at 2:00 a.m. and can’t get back to sleep, you’re probably also worrying about what you have to do, what you haven’t done, and the problems you think you’ll never, ever be able to solve. I’ve been there and done that! And here’s a simple strategy I’ve devised to help me let go of worry and relax, particularly when it’s time to sleep.

  1. I create a page with three wide columns: #1, problems and projects; #2, plans; #3, “my” column.
  2. I list my problems and projects in the left-hand column, column #1.
  3. In the middle column, column #2, I write what (if anything) I plan to do soon about each of those problems and projects.
  4. I consider those columns #1 and #2 to be what I leave in the hands of God or the Universe or Spirit (or whatever name or idea is meaningful to you).
  5. Every so often, I move an item from the “Spirit” columns #1 and #2 over to the right-hand column—“my” column.

The items in the third column are the one or two things that I want to work on—right now.

I am constantly amazed at how the problems and projects in the “Spirit” columns move forward (on their own) as quickly as the items in “my” column. On a separate piece of paper, I also keep a list of everyday errands and put a star next to those that must get done soon. I do the other items on that list if and when I feel like it. And I sleep very deeply every night.

When you routinely stay in bed longer than you need to, you develop a classic pattern of insomnia. You sleep deeply in the beginning of the night; you have shallow sleep in the middle of the night, with long periods of being awake; and you sleep soundly when it’s time to wake up. You can break that pattern by limiting the amount of time you spend in bed to no more than eight or nine hours. This will gradually squeeze out those long, middle-of-the-night waking periods, restoring a full night’s sleep.

•Get out of bed at the same time every morning—even after a poor night’s sleep.

This resets your body’s internal sleep/wake cycle (circadian rhythm), helping you fall asleep faster and sleep throughout the night. If you find that you’re sleepy during the day, you can nap for up to 90 minutes. When you nap, set the alarm for 60 to 90 minutes of nap time. If you feel groggy when you wake up, splash cold water on your face. (Try not to nap after 2:00 p.m., which can interfere with the next night’s sleep.)

For more ways to fix root causes of common health problems, purchase Real Cause, Real Cure from

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