Posted by: Jack Hope | Thursday February 7, 2013

2013 Plan: Sleep Hygiene

Component: Mind – Habit Building

This is something that I’ve struggled with over and over again: sleep hygiene. But getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most important habits that I can develop for my own mental and physical health.

High quality, consistent sleep is essential.

Now when I first started getting treatment for Depressive Disorder I was prescribed a sedative to help me sleep.

Like a lot of people who struggle with Depression, I was having a hard time getting to sleep consistently and my sleeping schedule was all over the proverbial map. The pills helped me normalize my sleeping patterns again.

I’ve also been fortunate that I’ve been able to ween myself away from that regular usage without major difficulty, now only taking one perhaps once a month.

Now, I’m going to step up my sleep habits with help from the University of Maryland:

These aren’t the entirety of the recommendations from University of Maryland’s Sleep Disorders Center, just the ones that I need to address the most. Clicking on the picture will take any one interested to the University’s very informative page on the subject.

Setting a consistent bed time and wake up time has been a challenge for me, even when I was working full-time. To help me with this, I’ve recently begun using an iPhone app to track my sleeping patterns.

This app (and several similar ones) purports to be able to monitor how much sleep its users are getting and then times the alarm to go off during a period of light sleep.

I’ll admit I was more than a little skeptical, it seemed liked digital snake oil.

However, since I’ve started using it I am finding that I am having an easier time waking up in the morning and that it’s monitoring seems to reflect my actual patterns.

The software uses the accelerometer in my iPhone  (the sensor that determines which way the iPhone is facing and whether the screen should be in landscape or portrait mode) to detect the motion in my bed. How much I’m moving gives a rough indication of whether I’m in a light or deep sleep.

Thus far, the app catches every time that I wake up during the night, when I’m having trouble getting to sleep and a fairly accurate record of how much I am sleeping and even displays it in a handy little chart.

The app has an alarm that goes off during a set window of time and attempts to wake me when I’m in a ‘light sleep’ during that window. Since I started using it, waking up has been easier.

For a $3.00 investment, it seems to be doing what it says on the tin.

Of course my experience is strictly anecdotal and I’m looking forward to some professional study as to whether or not this is effective for most people.

Like a lot of people these days in our high stress world, I consume a lot of caffeine and I need to reduce my consumption.

Setting a caffeine-free period prior to bed is an important first step in gradually reducing my consumption, as well as improving the quality of my sleep.

Creating a comfortable environment for sleep is the most important and difficult component out of all of this. I have a lot of bad habits when it comes to the use of my bed and sleeping space and there is a lot I can do to improve the quality of this space.

In recent times I’ve added the use of a humidifier, to combat the uncomfortable dryness of the air. I run it especially in the evening before bed but turn it off before I go to sleep.

Using Light Signals

I’ve also started using a blue sunlight generator with a timer to help wake me up. I set the lamp to go off towards the end of the alarm window on my iPhone app. It produces bright sunlight-like light that helps me to get up.

I also use it during the morning to help combat the depressing effects of our current wintery conditions and lack of daylight here at the North Pol…. er… here at Calgary. Thanks Mom for a great Christmas gift!

I’m also using light in other ways to help prepare me for bed. About an hour before I go to bed, I’m turning off all the main lights and switching to the smaller side lamps. As I wind down further I will turn off the side lamps one by one.

Once the lights are off, unless absolutely necessary, they are staying off. I’ve set up some nightlights to ensure I can get around in the middle of the night if I wake up briefly. Keeping the main lights off should help me return to a sound sleep promptly.

As my rooms get darker, this sends another signal to my body that the day is ending.

My current room is divided into two sides, one a bedroom side with my bed and dressers and laundry basket and the other side with my treadmill and desk.

I’m now exiling all of my books and any other loose papers from the bedroom side.

It’s important that the half of my room that is my bedroom is just the bedroom, free of other uses, so as to let my body and unconscious mind know the bed is for sleep.

This also means a change in habit for me, since I read a lot in bed. But I’ve decided to change that by shifting all of my reading to the couch and strictly reserving the bed only for sleeping.

I’m also going to build the going to bed ritual around my reading habit. First, I’m going to change in to my pajamas about an hour to an hour and half before hand. This is to signal to myself that I’m going to start winding down.

Second, about 45 minutes before I go to bed, I’m going to shut down my computer and put away my cell phone. Work is done for the day, it’s time to rest.

I’m a writer by nature and as anyone who writes knows sometimes ideas can come to you at any time. However, I’m going to be very decisive about turning off the computers and other screens before bed. I’ve set up index cards and a pen on my desk to record any sudden late night inspriations.

Next, it will be time to brush my teeth and finish my preparations for bed.

After that, I am going to take a half an hour to read and also spend time with my cat, Sam. I’m making sure to do this on the couch, not on my bed.

The last thing to do in my ritual will be to go to bed. Set my iPhone and the MotionX app to track my sleep and wake me up in the morning. Hopefully, sleep will follow quickly thereafter.

In the next few weeks I’ll find out if this helps me to achieve my goals of consistent, high quality sleep, and with it a better mental state.



  1. What a well put together effective plan for sleep . I ll direct all my patients to you because this will really help them

    • Thanks very much!

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