The routine you normally follow at bedtime before going to sleep is basically what experts call sleep hygiene. If you pull all-nighters on a regular basis thinking you can make up for all that lost sleep on weekends, you have poor sleep hygiene. On the other hand, if you consistently follow the same sleep schedule and avoid caffeine late at night, you are practicing good sleep hygiene.
If you are trying to find ways to improve your sleep, you might want to start by examining your sleep hygiene. People who suffer from insomnia often seek help from cognitive-behavioral therapy which focuses on sleep hygiene as an essential part of sleep education.
What is so important about good sleep hygiene?
Improvements in sleep hygiene should be the first thing you go after when sleep troubles show up. This will ensure higher-quality, more restorative sleep for sufficient amount of time each night to feel your best in the morning. If you have poor sleep habits, on the contrary, you can expect poor quality sleep that will leave you feeling tired and moody.
You do realize the importance of sleep, otherwise you’d have already given up on reading this article. Getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis is crucial to maintain good health, mentally, physically and emotionally. It helps your focus and concentration throughout the day, stabilizes your mood, and allows you to be more productive and well-functioning day in and day out.
Tips for Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene
Nearly all of us can find at least one thing we could improve about our sleep hygiene. That being the case, you might want to try some of the following tips to get a better night’s sleep:
Determine how much sleep you actually need.
Before trying to change your usual bedtime routine to help you get enough sleep, you need to figure out exactly what “enough” sleep is.
The amount of sleep we need changes throughout our lives, but generally speaking adults who enjoy good health need 7 to 7.5 hours of sleep a night. Infants, toddlers, children and teens need more to varying extents.
The amount of sleep you need will depend on whether you are a short or long sleeper. Short sleepers do not require the standard amount of sleep. They can function well on less sleep and do not get fatigued during the day or experience the adverse side effects that many others do when they don’t get the recommended 7 to 7.5 hours of sleep at night. Short sleepers often do not need to get caught up on their sleep because they function perfectly well on less sleep. Current research indicates that genetics may play a role in why short sleepers can function so well on less sleep.
On the other hand, long sleepers require more sleep than the average adult, often as much as 10 to 12 hours a night. Just as with short sleepers, long sleepers do not have a diagnosable sleep disorder or abnormal sleep patterns, they just require more sleep.
When it comes to sleep, it is important to differentiate between normal sleep and what could be a sleep disorder. Adults who are either short or long sleepers typically do not experience any adverse side effects from their sleep patterns. If you are having adverse side effects from how you’re sleeping, visit a sleep doctor for a diagnosis and possible treatment.
In working through the tips that follow, set enough time aside each night so that you can get a good 7 hours of sleep. If after doing this for several nights you still wake up tired and groggy, gradually raise the number. Conversely, if you routinely bounce out of bed every morning feeling great after just 6 hours of sleep, it’s not a problem. As long as you feel refreshed and well-rested, you’re fine. It’s not important that you get the “right” number of sleep hours, just that you get enough to wake up alert, focused, and energetic.
However, if you routinely get less than 6 hours, or more than 9 hours of sleep and still do not feel refreshed and well-rested, you may be suffering from a sleep disorder. In this case you might need to see your sleep physician for a possible diagnosis and treatment.
Go to bed the same time every night.
Once you’ve determined how much sleep you actually need, establish a consistent sleep schedule that gives you enough time to regularly get the sleep you need.
Do not procrastinate or make excuses at night. Set your alarm for the same time every morning. Get up at that time even if you didn’t sleep well and woke up frequently throughout the night. You can keep a sleep journal or use a sleep tracking app to ensure that you follow your set sleep schedule.
It’s important to consistently keep the same sleep and wake times every day of the week, including weekends. Otherwise, you risk having a disorienting rebound effect when Monday arrives.
Find a nice quiet place to sleep.
Make sure that your bedroom is as quiet and peaceful as possible. If you feel uncomfortable in absolute silence, a white noise machine may help to calm your nerves or mask noisy neighbors or plumbing. Alternatively, you can download a white noise app on your smartphone and choose from standard ambient white noise, sounds from nature, guided meditation and more. You can also try blocking out noise with acoustical padding on your walls, heavy drapes and pillows, by rearranging your furniture or using earplugs.
Sometimes what’s causing the noise is a furry pet. If your dog or cat is waking you up at night by licking your face, snoring, scratching or smothering you, it may be time to find them another comfortable place to sleep in the house.
Keep your bedroom dark and cool.
The optimum room temperature for falling asleep is 60◦ to 65◦ Fahrenheit. When you consistently keep your room cool it helps regulate your body temperature while sleeping. If you keep your bedroom dark, that also helps keep it cool while convincing your brain it’s still nighttime. If the area you live in is filled with lights, use an eye mask or install blackout curtains.
Most people are not bothered by small night lights or illuminated digital clocks, which are helpful if you need to safely find the bathroom. Turning the full light on in the middle of the night is too disruptive to easily get back to sleep.
Keep your bed is for sleep and sex only, nothing else.
Psychologically, it’s important to have one place dedicated solely for sleep. There is no need to spend a fortune on designer mattresses or bedding, as long as your bed is a comfortable and cozy place to lie down and has enough room to stretch out.
If you’re buying a new mattress, try them out in the store to get the right one so that you can look forward to getting into bed each night. Invest in comfortable bedding, and make sure that the pillows are firm enough to be supportive.
To consistently get a good night’s sleep we need to subconsciously associate being in our bedroom with sleeping. This means we should not read, eat, use our laptop or talk on the phone while in bed. Any clutter left over from work should be removed as well. Your bedroom should be regarded as your sleep haven.
Limit your screen time before going to bed.
If you have a television in your bedroom and routinely watch TV before bedtime, or even during the night if you wake up, you’re going to need to reconsider this habit.
Watching TV or closely looking at tablet or computer screens right before going to bed makes it more difficult to fall asleep. The blue light emanating from those screens has a way of convincing your brain that it’s daytime. The brain perceives blue light as sunlight and that creates sleep problems.
Aside from how intense this light is, digital devices have a way of either exciting or stressing you out because they can ping you at any time, notifying you of a work email or Facebook message. Phones and other devices should be kept away from the bed to help you avoid the temptation to pick them up. If you absolutely must have the phone or another device next to you, switch off notifications and other sounds so that you are not unnecessarily distracted or awakened.
Do your best to avoid watching TV or using any electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime. Put your laptop, e-reader, tablet and smartphone away. If it is impossible for you to tear yourself away from these devices, then at least switch on the red-light filter.
Follow a consistent routine at bedtime.
During the 30 to 60 minutes approaching bedtime, it is recommended that you follow the same routine. This gets your brain used to recognizing when it’s bedtime.
This should be a relaxing routine so that your mind and body winds down from the activities of the day and prepares for sleep. Your routine might include the following:
- Turn off all electronic devices
- Take a warm relaxing bath
- Do deep breathing exercises
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Meditate or visualize
- Engage in aromatherapy
- Read something relaxing by a soft light
Limit the frequency or length of daytime naps.
Keep track of how much time you spend napping during the day. Naps can be essential if you need an extra burst of energy during a long day, but if they become too frequent or last longer than necessary, it can impair your ability to sleep at night.
If you need to take a nap, limit it to no more than 30 minutes. Anything longer than that and you could enter deep sleep, which will cause you to wake up too groggy to function well. You will also likely find it difficult to fall asleep at bedtime later on.
Napping after 3:00 p.m. may also affect nighttime sleep. Naps should be confined to late mornings or early afternoons. And, if you feel a sudden need to spend more time napping even after sleeping well at night, it may be time to seek medical advice as something else could be causing your increased need for additional sleep.
Monitor what and when you eat and drink.
It can be difficult to fall asleep on an empty stomach but eating dinner several hours prior to bedtime should prevent this. Some people can get to sleep easier if they eat a small snack before bed, however it’s important to avoid a large meal right before bedtime. A large meal might make you feel sleepy, but it can disrupt your sleep a while later. Furthermore, sleeping after ingesting a large meal can exacerbate acid reflux in those suffering from this condition.
A regular diet of healthy nutritious foods contributes to higher-quality sleep. If you want to improve your sleep, you need to improve your diet. Additionally, when deciding on what to have for dinner and your nighttime snack, you need to eat foods that promote sleep and avoid the kinds of foods that will keep you up.
The good news is that there is a long list of foods that tend to help sleep, which include bananas, cherries, milk, nuts, oats, rice, yogurt, and a lot more. The foods to stay away from are easy to remember because they’re the less healthy foods that you already know to avoid because they’re too rich, fatty and/or sugary.
It is always important to stay hydrated, but you need to monitor how much water you drink in the evening as well. Use the bathroom right before bedtime so that your bladder won’t wake you up from a sound sleep.
Limit your late-night intake of other substances as well.
Consuming alcohol and/or caffeine will disrupt your sleep. Although drinking an alcoholic beverage may initially make you drowsy enough to get to sleep, it can disrupt your sleep later on. Alcohol will keep you from getting sufficient amounts of deep sleep and REM sleep. Caffeine has the opposite effect because it’s a stimulant. Caffeine will amp your nervous system up, making your brain think it’s supposed to be alert, not sleepy.
Nicotine and marijuana are examples of other substances that can impair sleep. If you use these substances, you need to limit your intake, so they do not keep you up. It would be best to avoid using them 4-6 hours before bedtime.
Get some exercise during the day.
Your activities several hours prior to bedtime can greatly affect how well you sleep. Regular exercise is good for your overall health and it will also tire your body out so that you’re ready to sleep.
However, engaging in strenuous exercise is not a good idea at night, especially within 3 hours of bedtime. It will energize you too much, keeping you awake, and make it more difficult to get to sleep.
If you’re an athlete, you know that getting good quality deep sleep is crucial to muscle recovery and to maintaining your athletic ability. This is why you should not exercise late at night.
Spend some time in the sun.
It may seem contradictory after telling you how important a dark bedroom is for a good night’s sleep but spending some time in the sun during the day can actually improve your sleep.
Our sleep-wake cycle is tied to our circadian rhythms. Our brain needs sunshine to recognize daytime and that it’s time to wake up and be alert. Therefore, the more your body is exposed to natural light, the more it stays attuned to the normal day-night rhythms. This way your brain learns to link the evening darkness with falling asleep. This is why you should avoid bright lights from electronic devices right before bedtime.
Strive to get a good dose of sunshine during morning hours. Pair sunshine with exercise if possible. It will serve to wake you up and give you the energy you need to take on the day. It will also help you become more tired as bedtime approaches.
If you can’t get to sleep, stay calm about it.
Even after implementing all these tips to improve your sleep hygiene, there will be times when you can’t get to sleep. The main thing is not to panic.
If you’ve been lying there for 20 minutes and still can’t fall asleep, get up and go somewhere else in the house. Find some relaxing activity so that your brain won’t link your bed with feelings of frustration.
The same thing applies if you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. Either way, do not dwell on the time because that will just make you anxious. Read a boring book or write in your journal. Undertake a calming activity that does not require much light. Whatever you do, DO NOT turn on the TV or any electronic devices.
Seek help if you need it.
Unfortunately, you might end up implementing all these sleep hygiene tips and faithfully follow every one of them, and still not improve your sleep.
If this happens, you may be dealing with a sleep disorder or some other health condition. Write everything down in your sleep diary and speak to your doctor about possible treatment.
What is poor sleep hygiene?
Putting it simply, someone with poor sleep hygiene would be routinely doing the opposite of the recommended tips discussed above.
But the practical answer is this:
If you get up every morning feeling unrested, wake up intermittently throughout the night, feel fatigued during daytime, or have difficulty falling asleep at night, it is highly likely that you are practicing poor sleep hygiene which might be the cause of your sleep problems.