Resource Blog/Media/Walia 2024 Sleep Hygiene HERO


Sweet Dreams: 13 Steps to Better Sleep

Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute

The term “sleep hygiene” has nothing to do with cleanliness, fresh sheets or whether someone left dirty socks on the floor near the bed.


Sleep hygiene refers to the environment and habits that promote consistently good rest. As we mark Sleep Awareness Week and “spring forward” for Daylight Saving Time, it’s important to remember that your sleep routine has an important connection to your overall health.


“Sleep tends to be the first thing that gets sacrificed when life gets busy,” says Harneet Walia, M.D., chief of Clinical Transformation at Baptist Health Medical Group. “It’s important to prioritize sleep. Good quality and good quantity of sleep are vital to good health.”


Multiple research studies have affirmed that regularly getting less than seven hours of sleep per day is associated with an increased risk of chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, reduced immune function and mental distress.


Harneet Walia MD 

Harneet Walia, M.D., chief of Clinical Transformation at Baptist Health Medical Group


Here are some suggestions from Dr. Walia on how to improve your sleep:


• Move more. Activity, even just a walk in the morning or after dinner, will consume some of your energy reserves, not to mention improve your cardiovascular and metabolic health. But it’s important not to work out too late in the evening, as exercise raises body temperature, which may delay sleep.


• Get with the program. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day promotes healthy rest. A regular wind-down routine — which may include a warm shower, reading, journaling, gentle stretching or meditation — tells your body that it’s time to go to sleep.


• Be consistent. Sleeping in on weekends may feel good in the moment, but it perpetuates disruptions in your sleep. The best way to set your body clock is with a consistent sleep schedule. If you absolutely must sleep in, keep it to no more than an extra hour.


• Good morning, sunshine. Step outside each morning to experience some bright, natural light. When light enters your eye, it sends signals to your brain’s master clock. This cues your circadian system, which regulates your sleep-wake pattern, that it is time for wakefulness and activity.


• Dim the lights. Our bodies were designed for natural light in the day, and darkness at night. But with all the artificial light in the modern world, our inner clocks can be thrown off. The less exposure you have to light at night, the stronger the signal to your body that it is time to sleep.


• Set a digital curfew. Do yourself a favor by dimming your screens, wearing blue-light-blocking glasses or, better yet, going screenless after a certain hour. Electronics emit blue light waves, which can suppress melatonin production and disrupt your sleep. Most experts recommend avoiding electronics for 30 minutes or one hour before you go to sleep. Ideally, your bedroom should be free of televisions, tablets, phones and laptops.


• Keep your bedroom cool and comfy. Temperature plays a huge role in how well we sleep. Cooling our core body temperature promotes higher production of melatonin, a natural hormone that encourages sleep onset and more restful sleep. Invest in cozy bedding and find a comfortable pillow that will support your neck and back throughout the night.


• Watch when you eat. When we eat late at night, the muscles that digest and metabolize food must keep working when they should be resting. Eating also prompts the release of insulin, a hormone that helps turn food into energy and can delay your ability to fall asleep. Be sure to have your last meal at least two or three hours before bedtime to allow your food to fully digest. Eating near bedtime may exacerbate acid reflux and cause heartburn.


• Skip the alcohol. Alcohol has sedative effects that can induce feelings of relaxation, but its consumption — especially in excess — has been linked to poor sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. As alcohol is metabolized, it causes disruptions to the normal phases of sleep and can exacerbate sleep apnea.


• Cut out long naps. Taking a nap, especially in the later part of the day, can disrupt nighttime sleep. If you can’t get through the day without a snooze, keep your nap to less than 20 minutes and take it in the earlier part of the day, Dr. Walia says. 


• Don’t stay up too late. If you’re used to burning the midnight oil, retrain yourself by gradually retiring earlier. Being a night owl has health consequences, regardless of how many hours of sleep you get. The evening chronotype — a pattern of staying up and waking later in the day — is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.


• Nix the clock-watching. If you’re lying in bed and you’re unable to sleep within 20 minutes or so, don’t just lie there getting frustrated and anxious. “Leave the bedroom and do something boring,” Dr. Walia says. However, avoid bright lights and electronics during this time. “Come back to bed only when you're sleepy.”


• Avoid over-the-counter sleep aids. Reliance on medications to help you sleep can have serious side effects. While they may provide temporary relief, they do not solve long-term problems. Regular use can also mask sleep issues and keep them from being properly diagnosed. Before you resort to taking anything to get more shut-eye, talk to your doctor and get a complete evaluation.


If you’ve tried to improve your routine and you’re still tossing and turning in bed or waking up fatigued, it might be time to enlist the aid of a physician to identify the source of your sleep problems. While a few restless nights may not be a big deal, getting consistently poor sleep can take a toll.


“Taking the initiative to improve sleep quality by paying closer attention to your habits is beneficial,” Dr. Walia says. Still, she notes, sleep issues can be complex. “Some people may try to improve their habits and continue to struggle with sleep, daytime alertness and fatigue. If that’s the case, they should seek medical attention. Help is available.”


To schedule a sleep study, you will need a sleep study order from a healthcare provider. If you need an order, you can schedule an appointment with a sleep physician here. If you already have an order, visit Baptist Health Sleep Medicine Services to view the available locations and schedule your study.

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With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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