Have you ever heard the term sleep hygiene? It’s not about making sure to scrub behind your ears or put on your deodorant before you get into bed. Sleep hygiene actually refers to the habits and routines you have in place that cue your body and brain that it’s time to power down for the night and get a good night’s sleep. Without proper sleep hygiene, it’s easy for our bodies to get confused or to have difficulty falling asleep.
14 Ways to Improve Sleep Hygiene
- Take Bedtime Seriously
- Cut the Caffeine and Booze
- Eat the Right Foods
- Limit the Nap
- Use the Bed Only for Bed Things
- Go Toward the Light
- Take a Shower
- Drop the Electronics
- Save the Stress
- Control Your Sleep Environment
- Get the Right Mattress and Pillows
- Don’t Panic
- Ask for Help
Some estimates show that we spend up to a third of our lives in bed. We’re smart to do everything we can to make sure the sleep we’re getting during this time is as restorative as possible. The truth is that how we spend our day has a lot to do with how easily we’re able to fall asleep at night – especially how we behave before bedtime.
For most people, even some simple adjustments to sleep hygiene can make a big difference in the quality of regular sleep they get. In fact, changes to sleep hygiene are often the first prescribed course of action for anyone who has started to have sleep problems. Most of these tweaks are easy and relatively painless – keep reading and we’ll help you get all set for deep, healthy snoozing.
What Is Good Sleep Hygiene?
Healthy sleep hygiene is all about good habits. This means creating a sleep schedule and adjusting your environment so that your body and brain feel relaxed and ready to move into deep, restorative sleep at bedtime. Think of it as a set of rituals that will help you get a great night’s sleep, so you wake up feeling recharged and ready to tackle the day.
The term “sleep hygiene” originated from cognitive behavioral therapy, where the practice has been used for some time to help patients with chronic insomnia. Basically, your sleep hygiene is a collection of evening activities leading up to bedtime. Proper sleep hygiene prepares you for a good night’s sleep, while poor sleep hygiene sets you up for a night of tossing and turning. Pulling all-nighters and sleeping until noon on the weekends to make up for lost sleep are both classic symptoms of poor sleep hygiene.
Why Is Sleep Hygiene Important?
A bad night’s sleep can wreck your day – and when it occurs consistently, it can wreck your life and health. While you sleep, your body and brain are busy recharging, replenishing cells, rebuilding tissue, and restoring energy. Having the right habits in place that help you consistently get good regular sleep can be a serious boost to your quality of life. Consistent, restful sleep is absolutely vital to both our physical and mental health. It contributes to our productivity, our moods and our overall feelings of well-being. Plus, consistent sleep has been shown to lower your risk for many health conditions, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Good sleep hygiene helps ensure that you get high quality, restorative sleep for the right amount of time every night. By following the same set of activities at the same time every night, you can psychologically train your brain to wind down and get ready for sleep.
Each of us has a circadian rhythm – the internal clock that tells our bodies when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to wake up and get going. When this clock is out of sync, it can make falling asleep and staying asleep much more difficult. Good sleep hygiene is the best way to control that internal clock and guarantee you get the consistent, deep, restorative sleep your body needs for optimal health.
It’s not too hard to tell when you have poor sleep hygiene. First of all, your sleep will likely be interrupted all night long because you’re not moving into the deepest stages of the sleep cycle where outside noise and influences have little effect. Second, you’ll probably be sleepy all day long since your sleep isn’t restoring your mind and body. Another sign may be that you’re taking a long time to fall asleep at night.
14 Ways to Improve Sleep Hygiene
Parents often put strict boundaries around a sleep schedule for kiddos, but as we grow older, it becomes more difficult to maintain a good, regular sleep hygiene routine. But no matter your age or current sleep habits, chances are you can benefit from making some changes to the way you prepare for sleep each night.
1. Take Bedtime Seriously
A consistent bedtime is key to a great night’s sleep. This means committing to a routine, just like you have a routine for getting up in the morning. If your bedtime is at 10:30 each night, adjust your evening activities so that you’re ready to go to sleep at 10:30. Settle on a routine that works for you and then stick with it every night – even on weekends. Make sure you’re choosing a bedtime that allows you to get at least seven hours of sleep. If you still have trouble waking up or feel foggy during the day, try backing up that bedtime to get eight hours of sleep.
Since everyone’s circadian rhythm is a bit different, you might find that you need a bit more or less sleep than the average seven hours. In fact, being able to define what’s “enough” sleep for you is a crucial first step. If you’re a short sleeper, for example, you might pop out of bed after six hours feeling like a champion – and that’s great! Don’t try to force yourself to sleep longer than what feels good or natural. But if you feel like a slug unless you get nine hours of sleep every night, you should set your bedtime to make sure you get that nine hours. It’s more important to figure out what your body needs than to try to hit a standard number.
2. Cut the Caffeine and Booze
Avoiding caffeine before bedtime can help make sure your system is ready to relax when bedtime rolls around. The same goes for alcohol – a nightcap can make you feel temporarily drowsy, but chances are it will disturb sleep later in the night. In fact, drinking alcohol close to bedtime can prevent you from getting enough rapid-eye-movement (REM sleep) and the deep stages of sleep.
Keep in mind, though, that a morning cup of coffee is still a good idea. A bit of caffeine early in the day can certainly help you wake up, which is what you want. It’s just important to confine your coffee-drinking to the morning so that the caffeine doesn’t trick your brain into staying awake at night.
Exercise is so good for so many reasons – including helping improve your sleep. In fact, some studies show that even 10 minutes of exercise each day can help alleviate sleep problems. 10 minutes! It might sound crazy, but, yes, the exercise you get earlier in the day can actually help you out at bedtime. For best results, try to get your exercise earlier in the day rather than close to bedtime. Otherwise, the surge of adrenaline from exercise can make it difficult to fall asleep. Try to avoid aerobic exercise at least three hours before bedtime. But you can always do a few yoga stretches right before bed to help you relax and power down for the night.
4. Eat the Right Foods
If you’re eating a lot of heavy, fatty, or spicy food or large meals shortly before bedtime, it may be wrecking your sleep. Heartburn and other upper GI irritations can make getting a good night’s sleep nearly impossible. For some people, even citrus fruits and carbonated drinks can disturb sleep. If you have issues with heartburn or other gastrointestinal issues, make sure you understand the foods and drinks that are triggers for you and avoid them close to bedtime. If you find it hard to sleep on an empty stomach, try to eat a healthy, light snack before crawling into bed.
Fortunately, there are also lots of good foods that can help promote sleep – yogurt, milk, rice, cherries, bananas, milk, nuts, oats, and more can actually help you sleep better at night. Staying hydrated throughout the day also promotes good sleep. Just make sure to cut off the fluids close to bedtime or you run the risk of waking up to go to the bathroom during the night.
5. Limit the Naps
That afternoon nap feels sooooo good, especially when you hit that post-lunchtime slump that seems to always come around. But be careful – while the short, occasional 20-30-minute power nap can help raise your alertness, mood, and productivity, snoozing any longer than that during the day can lead to sleep issues at bedtime. Longer naps allow your brain to go farther into a deep sleep, which makes it hard to wake up and can leave you feeling groggy and befuddled rather than refreshed. If you’re taking long naps or napping often, you may be derailing your sleep-wake cycle. In general, you should avoid napping after 3 p.m. or you’ll likely have trouble falling asleep at night.
6. Use the Bed Only for Bed Things
If you’re having trouble sleeping, your bed should only be used for two things: sleep and romance. Not movies. Not studying or reading. Not having a snack. There can be a significant psychological benefit to keeping mental boundaries around your bed. When your subconscious connects the bed with good sleep and overall rest, it helps you relax and sleep better throughout the night.
7. Go Toward the Light
Our bodies need a certain amount of natural light exposure during the day in order to fully understand that it’s time to be awake and alert. If you think about it, light is one of the most powerful cues for our bodies’ sleep-wake cycle. After all, before we invented artificial light, we knew when to wake up and go to sleep based on sunrise and sunset. It’s easy for our bodies to get confused if we’re not experiencing natural light during the day, followed by darkness when it’s time to go to sleep.
If you’re not a person who generally enjoys the great outdoors, just try to spend a few minutes outside during the day so that your body can soak up that natural light. This helps your body recognize the darkness of the evening as the time to sleep. And if you can combine your outdoor time with some exercise, you’re delivering a one-two punch that can help you sleep that much better.
8. Take a Shower or Bath
Take a shower or bath before bedtime. The warm water can help your body relax and make you feel sleepy. Just make sure that the water is warm, not hot, or it can have the opposite effect. You may also want to try some aromatherapy – like lavender or chamomile – to help you further relax. Before you crawl into bed, take a bubble bath, light some candles, and prepare to get sleepy.
9. Drop the Electronics
The blue light coming from your smartphone, your television or your laptop is not a relaxing light. It’s easy for your brain to misinterpret that particular wavelength as sunlight. Put it away as you’re winding down for the night. That artificial light can confuse your body into thinking it’s time to wake up and get to work. Most experts recommend turning off all electronic devices at least 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime. That means no TV in your bedroom, either – binge-watch Netflix somewhere else.
10. Save the Stress
Whether it’s a heavy discussion with your partner, a business problem that needs to be solved, or world peace and climate change to ponder, bedtime is the wrong time for pondering stressful issues. Save them for tomorrow. Stressful conversations or activities right before bed just increase your adrenaline and can make it nearly impossible to fall asleep.
Instead, do some yoga stretches, guided meditation, deep breathing relaxation techniques, or read a novel. Perform an activity that gives your brain permission to stop churning over all the world’s problems. Whatever you’re stressing about, it will still be there in the morning.
Leave your phone somewhere else besides your nightstand. All those texts and Facebook notifications coming in throughout the night can be a source of psychological agitation and stress that can keep you from sleeping deeply. At the very least, make sure to turn off notifications or put your smartphone on its Do Not Disturb setting while you sleep.
11. Control Your Sleep Environment
Your bedroom should be an inviting oasis of calm and contentment, coaxing you into a deep, restful sleep. Your room should be dark – you want your body and brain to know it’s time to go to sleep. Forget the nightlights – turn off every light in the room. You might even want to go for some blackout curtains to really keep out unwanted light. Also, turn down the thermostat. People tend to sleep better in a room that’s cooler, so shoot for somewhere between 60 and 67 degrees. Keeping the temperature consistently cool throughout the night helps your body regulate its temperature.
Ideally, your sleeping space should be quiet, but many people enjoy a white noise machine that plays nature sounds, guided meditation, or classic white noise. If you need absolute quiet and you’re in a noisy area, invest in some earplugs to block out the noise. Treat yourself to quality bed linens, too. Consider researching the best weighted blanket to help soothe you into sleep. Then, diffuse some calming essential oils, put on an eye mask, and head off to dreamville.
12. Get the Right Mattress and Pillows
You’ll never get a great night’s sleep if you’re sleeping on an old, saggy or unsupportive mattress, and the same goes for your pillow. The mattress you buy should give you the right mix of comfort and support, so your spine and neck stay aligned while cushioning your hips and shoulders. Your mattress should be breathable, letting air flow away from your body so that you don’t overheat and wake up sweaty during the night.
If you’re uncomfortable and unsupported while lying on your mattress, you won’t be able to get consistently good sleep. Your mattress should cradle your body so that your muscles can fully relax and recharge while you sleep. You should feel comfort, pressure relief, and support all at the same time from your mattress. If you’re not, it might be time to think about getting a new one.
The same goes for your pillow. The wrong kind of pillow, or even just an older, worn-out pillow, can wreak havoc on your neck. In fact, neck support may be the most important factor in how to pick the best pillow. Without proper neck support, your muscles, tendons, and ligaments can become fatigued during the night and also can fall into unnatural positions that cause you to wake up in the morning with a literal pain in the neck.
13. Don’t Panic
It’s frustrating when you want to go to sleep but just can’t. Sometimes, you can begin to feel so desperate for sleep that you may even start to panic. Instead of lying there in misery, go ahead and get up if you’ve been lying there for 20 minutes or more. Don’t look at the clock, because that will just stir up more anxious feelings. Do something calming that you enjoy, like reading a chapter in a novel or listening to some calming music. Once you’ve calmed your nerves, try to sleep again. Leaving your bed keeps you from subconsciously associating your bed with that frustrating feeling of not being able to sleep. This protects your bedroom as a sacred, sleep-encouraging space.
14. Ask for Help
Everybody has trouble sleeping at some point. But if you consistently experience sleep issues and nothing seems to help, it may be time to ask for help. Talk to your doctor about your sleep hygiene. A qualified physician can determine if you have a potential sleep disorder – like obstructive sleep apnea – and prescribe an appropriate treatment.
Sleep Hygiene Tips
Keep in mind that there’s no one “right” way to get to sleep every night. You may need to experiment with a few different sleep hygiene routines to find the one that gives you the best results and the most restorative sleep. While you can’t control everything that potentially affects the quality of your sleep, developing a set of good sleep hygiene can put you soundly on the road to a great night’s sleep.