Brisbane Mind & Body Clinic

Why a Sleep Handout Won’t Help You Sleep

Sleep Hygiene handouts are everywhere. Put the phone away and you’ll sleep! Buy blue light glasses, they will help! Read a book! Have a chamomile tea! Obviously if these things work for you, then great! But for many people, this is almost insulting advice when you’re suffering from insomnia – a crippling and debilitating condition leaving you feeling half-human. 

I would like to explain why health professionals and lay people alike, wax lyrical about ‘sleep hygiene’ and why it’s unlikely to completely fix your insomnia.

What is Sleep Hygiene?

The term ‘sleep hygiene’ is about the concept of better sleep-preparation practice appeared some time ago. The earliest reference to sleep hygiene was made by American physiologist Nathaniel Kleitman. In 1939 he reviewed the evidence around sleep, including sleep duration, rituals, sleep surface, temperature and body position, but does not really reflect what we think of ‘sleep hygiene’ recommendations today. 

The modern interpretation of the term likely comes from psychologist Peter Hauri. In 1977, in his book ‘Current Concepts – the Sleep Disorders’ was described as the following;

“Sleep Hygiene Education is intended to provide information about lifestyle (diet, exercise, substance use) and environmental factors (light, noise, temperature) that may interfere with or promote better sleep. Sleep hygiene also may include general sleep facilitating recommendations, such as allowing enough time to relax before bedtime, and information about the benefits of maintaining a regular sleep schedule.”


Ok, so we know what it is. What happens next? You tell your health practitioner that you don’t sleep well, and they may give you a list of recommendations to change your lifestyle or environmental factors. For some people, this can be helpful! In Naturopathic or holistic medicine, a huge part of our philosophy is ‘removing barriers’. For sleep, this would mean ensuring the client has removed any obvious obstacles to good sleep, e.g. reducing phone screen-time, removing stimulant foods/drinks, cooling down the room etc. If you haven’t already tried the basic sleep hygiene steps, do them!

When Generic Advice Doesn’t Work

But what happens when these strategies don’t work? When you’ve tried them all and STILL can’t get to sleep until it’s very late (or early morning), or get to sleep only to wake up during the night? That’s when it’s time to seek personalised advice. There is an almost-endless list of reasons why you have trouble sleeping, and they are deeply personal. Several things are essential to know – timelines (when did it start? When does it happen?), food intake information, exercise, family history and personal medical history – and all of these things are unique to you.

Do I Need Herbs or Supplements for Sleep?

Your health practitioner will have strategies and they are worth trying, especially if they benefit your broader health and wellbeing. Dietary changes, herbs or supplements for sleep are really fantastic to help calming the nervous system and prepare you for rest. A huge factor in sleep issues come from anxiety… often about sleep! Having some support around this is really helpful. 

Introducing CBTi

A really effective area of sleep medicine is something called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia, or CBTi. This involves a range of strategies to help get your body back used to sleep, using things like cognitive restructuring, scheduling, relaxation techniques and more. It works best when tailored to you personally, and should be explained by a practitioner with a CBTi certification. To read more about how CBTi could help with your sleep, please read Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBTi): What is it?

If you’re struggling with sleep, more than once a week, it might be time to take some new steps. Whether it’s basic sleep hygiene (a good start) or personalised recommendations – I hope you can get that great night’s sleep you deserve.

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