The sleep secrets of Hildegard of Bingen medicine include the fact that Hildegard considered sleep essential to restore the body, particularly the nervous system. She viewed sleep as a vital state in which the soul remains active, even suggesting that during sleep the soul is free to continue working, possibly to seek out guiding and prophetic visions.
Hildegard’s belief in the importance of sleep conformed to her overarching belief in the balancing powers of life; sleep and wake nourished just as food and rest nourished. For Hildegard, healthy sleep was maintained by a waking period balanced with movement and exercise, consider our recent post on the rhythm of food activity rest.
Healthy Sleep Secrets Inspired by Hildegard
Hildegard recognized the importance of purposefully inviting healthy sleep. She believed that a good mood and positive thoughts prior to sleep would lend to positive dreams and increase the potential for prophecy and visions. Conversely, ignoring the requisite balance throughout the day or harboring negative thoughts prior to sleep results in restless sleep and nightmares, which she believed to be unresolved conflict or needs.
Turns out her sleep secrets have stood the test of time. Much of what she advocated translates into what modern science calls sleep hygiene.
What is Sleep Hygiene?
Sounds strange? Perhaps complicated? It’s not. Quite simply, it is about the choices we make leading up to bedtime, those behaviors that become habits; habits that may go unnoticed but impact the quality of our sleep and thus the quality of our lives.
Whether we know it or not, we already have sleep secrets and habits. We have our routines, our schedules, and preferences when it comes to winding down our days. Good sleep hygiene starts with building our understanding of just how our choices throughout the day affect our night – and thus, our day once again.
Forming healthy habits before bedtime
When it comes to healthy sleep secrets, forming habits can be a good thing. Unfortunately, most of the habits we fall into work against what we need to maintain a full, healthy sleep cycle.
Our habits are well worn, our schedules are filled, and we don’t make time to consider sleep secrets until we slip under the covers. And even then, often with laptop, tablet, phone, and TV within reach, we ask our bodies and minds to simply stop when it is time to sleep.
Many times we just rely on our bodies to tell us when it is time to sleep. While listening to our bodies is important in this regard, we tend to give-in to the head-bobs and drifting consciousness while in the middle of other tasks. Our sleep is not something we tend to invite, but rather we wait until it pulls the plug on us.
The problem with waiting to heed the sleep messaging is that it has to compete with a number of things that are anything but conducive to restful sleep. This is where sleep hygiene comes into the picture.
Sleep Secrets: Ten Tips for Sleep Hygiene
Extensive research has been directed at what impacts the quality of sleep. We’ve simplified some of the most important factors into some basic sleep secrets to help you form new habits that are more conducive to a healthy sleep experience.
As you work to forge new habits out of these sleep secrets, start with the small changes, the things you have the greatest control over. Don’t fret about what you can’t do; focus on what you can do. It takes some time to create new habits so treat each day as a new opportunity to build a better sleep routine.
1. Establish A Routine
- To set your biological clock, train your body by going to bed and getting up around the same time every day – all 7 days.
- A regular wake time in the morning helps maintain regular sleep onset at night.
- Maintaining the pattern all week avoids the volatile shifts that make Sunday night one of the most difficult nights to achieve quality sleep.
- Create a bedtime ritual to remind your body it is time for sleep. These can take many forms, just think: relaxation. Do a few relaxing stretches, sit with a cup of chamomile (caffeine free) tea, meditate, and/or take a hot bath. You know what works best for you, but don’t be afraid to experiment. When you build your ritual, try to maintain some consistent aspects. It’s a ritual after all.
2. Don’t Try to Fall Asleep
- Sleep should come naturally, but if it doesn’t, avoid spending too much time awake in bed. Your bed should not be the battleground for sleep.
- Give yourself about 20 minutes to fall asleep. If you can’t fall asleep, leave the bedroom but remain in a low-light environment. Engage in a mindless task or other calming activity, avoiding anything stimulating. Reading is fine, though boring is better in this case.
- Return to bed when you begin to feel sleepy.
3. Avoid Caffeine & Nicotine
- Coffee, tea, cola, chocolate and many medications, cold and headache remedies in particular, contain caffeine – a powerful stimulant.
- Stimulants interfere with the ability to fall asleep. This should be no surprise, but for many people the effects of stimulants can linger for hours after intake. Some people who wean off of caffeine entirely find that even their morning coffee or tea may have been disrupting their sleep later that night.
- If you can, experiment with weaning caffeine from your diet. Otherwise, avoid stimulants 4-6 hours before going to bed.
4. Avoid Alcohol
- While alcohol (depressant) does make some people drowsy and might help them fall asleep initially, it is actually disruptive to the natural sleep cycle. After the initial period of drowsiness, when your body has metabolized most of the alcohol, your sleep becomes fragmented, and you’re prone to frequent waking.
- Alcohol also relaxes the throat and diaphragm muscles, which can aggravate snoring and sleep apnea.
5. Your Bed is for Sleeping
- Unfortunately that nice flat-screen TV in your bedroom is hurting your chances for a good night’s sleep.
- Train yourself to view your bedroom as a place for sleep. Your brain will begin to associate your bed with sleep and not as a horizontal office, couch, or theater.
- If you use your bed as a place to watch TV, eat, read, or work on your laptop or tablet, your body and mind are not only too engaged to allow for the sleep transition but you are also reinforcing an association of your bed as a place of activity.
- Form new habits that isolate the bed as a place of sleep.
6. Your Bedroom as a Sleep Chamber
- To create an environment that invites relaxation and sleep, maintain a consistent, comfortable temperature. Fluctuations or excessively warm or cold temperatures will disrupt sleep.
- A cool but comfortable room temperature with enough blankets to stay warm is optimal.
- Avoid harsh, bright lighting in favor of low-watt, dimmable, or other forms of “warm” lighting.
- Insulate from outside noise and light. The addition of curtains to block excess external light and rugs to dampen sound transfer on wood floors may be helpful.
- Studies indicate that wall color can improve sleep duration. Painting the walls a warm shade of light blue seems to be the best, though mild shades of yellow and green are also effective.
7. Avoid Naps
- It is best to avoid sleeping during the day. If you can’t make it through the day, limit your naps to 30 minutes and avoid sleeping at all past 3 PM.
8. Regular Exercise
- Regular exercise is essential for a healthy, vigorous life. Exercise helps reduce stress, improve mood, maintain healthy weight and metabolism, and can improve the ability to fall asleep and remain in a deeper state of sleep. Avoid strenuous activity 3 hours before bedtime.
9. Healthy Diet
- A healthy, balanced diet will improve sleep. Don’t go to bed hungry but avoid heavy meals before bedtime. If you do feel hungry before bed, a light, carbohydrate-based snack is best. For some, a warm glass of milk, which contains the sleep-inducing enzyme tryptophan, is an easy way to feel full and help with sleep onset.
10. Keep a Sleep Journal
- Maintaining a diary or journal of your sleep experience can be a useful way to keep track of your behaviors leading up to sleep as well as the resulting attributes of each night’s sleep.
- As opposed to continually having to guess or make assumptions as to why you are struggling with sleep, journaling is realistic record of your habits and sleep outcomes, which allows you to spot patterns, make specific adjustments, and stay focused on all of the factors that contribute to maintaining your healthy sleep hygiene.