The first time I heard the word “agoraphobia” was during my Psychiatry posting as a medical student. Asides the tendency of medical students to associate the symptoms of a disease they are studying to themselves, what is referred as Medical Student Syndrome or Medical Student Disease, it was interesting to note that it was the opposite of “claustrophobia,” a word I learned much earlier from novels.
I was thrilled to be putting a name to the fact that I hated open spaces. Not typical agoraphobia, but I hated a person entering or exiting my room and leaving the door ajar. It made me feel exposed, in an uncomfortable way.
Over the years, as I grew, I learned to also sleep with the lights off; how “adults” (are supposed to) sleep.
I noticed of recent though, that I slept most times with the lights on and more worriedly, did not seem to care as much if I was sleeping with my door ajar.
These made me wonder. “What is it that has made me let my guards so low?”
It was a source of concern to me.
It made me think, “Could it be that I am developing poor sleep hygiene?”
I know some may be wondering if that is even a thing – sleep hygiene. Well, I also remember from my Psychiatry posting, that one of the first things you do while managing insomnia (inability to initiate or maintain sleep) is to educate the patient on behaviors that may help them get to sleep faster or sleep soundly.
By the way, I am sleeping soundly. I simply thought that we might sleep/rest better if we practiced a better sleep hygiene.
With the increasing demands of adulthood and generally making a handsome living, we get to sleep less on most days. When we get a chance to sleep we should optimize it.
Some things you could do to improve the quality of your sleep:
1. Obey your body clock
The body has an alternating sleep-wake cycle controlled by an internal “clock” within the brain.
If you get up at the same time every day, soon, this strict routine will help to “set” your body clock and you will find yourself getting sleepy at about the same time every night. This may require you set an alarm for the first few days/weeks.
Also, note that staring at the clock in your bedroom or watching the minutes tick away while trying to sleep, can increase stress, making it harder to sleep – the reason you should turn your clock’s face away from you.
When your body signals you to rest, obey. Don’t say, “let me write a few more lines,” “read a few more pages,” or “watch a few more scenes,” do what it asks – go to bed. Likewise, do not go to bed when your body is not tired. You will be reinforcing bad habits, like laying awake. This is the time to put in the “extra” work.
2. Improve your sleeping environment
A higher quality of sleep is assured if your bedroom feels restful and comfortable. This is where the “adults” win. A dark room does help you sleep better. It signals to your brain: it is time to sleep.
If your mattress is too hard or too worn, a quality sleep is less assured. The aches from sleeping on a mattress that slouches upon laying on are enough to rob you of the rest you hoped to get. Invest in a good mattress.
I read a post on Facebook. A friend was complaining bitterly about a church situated close to his home that would not let him sleep. This was as a result of the loud and discordant sounds emanating from their speakers. If this is you, too, then getting earplugs would do you a world of good, since you cannot chase them away – even though you would have loved to. Keep in mind that the added stress of cursing does not make the prospects of a quality sleep more assured.
Make sure the room is at a right temperature; increase the temperature of your air conditioner or open up your windows, as the case may be.
You would want to reserve your bedroom exclusively for sleeping where possible, so your brain does not associate your bedroom with activity.
3. Avoid drugs that influence the brain activity, by either stimulating or depressing it.
Such would include caffeinated drinks such as coffee, coke, and also cigarettes and alcohol.
Taking a warm, milky drink instead can help you sleep faster, as it contains a sleep-enhancing amino acid.
Although alcohol may help bring on sleep, after a few hours it acts as a stimulant, increasing the number of awakenings and generally decreasing the quality of sleep later in the night.
4. Relax your mind
Ease the transition from wake time to sleep time with a period of relaxing activities an hour or so before bedtime.
Take a bath (the rise, then fall in body temperature promotes drowsiness), read a book, watch television, play some music or practice relaxation exercises.
Avoid stressful, stimulating activities — doing work, discussing emotional issues. Physical and psychologically stressful activities can cause the body to release the stress hormone, cortisol, which is associated with increasing alertness.
There are also a number of other measures you may adopt to enhance the quality of your sleep, such as exercise – exercise promotes restful sleep if it is done several hours before going to bed, having light meals for dinner and taking balanced fluid – not too little for thirst to arouse you from sleep or too much to be awakened by a need to use the bathroom.
Did you know taking afternoon naps reduces the quality of your nighttime sleep?
I know some persons go to sleep soon after they hit the bed, whereas, for some others, it is a tug of war. I hope the latter find this post useful.