You’ve certainly heard of personal hygiene -- for example bathing, brushing your teeth, combing your hair -- and its importance for your presentation. Sleep hygiene, though, may be new to you, yet it is vital for getting the rest that you need.
What is Sleep Hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is a way of describing your regular habits related to sleep. It encompasses both your sleeping environment and your daily practices around going to bed.
Sleep hygiene is important because it can directly affect the quality and quantity of your sleep. By choosing good routines, you can make it easier to slip into deep, peaceful sleep. And by avoiding bad habits, you can help prevent the roller-coaster ride of struggling to fall asleep or waking up in the middle of the night without being able to get back to bed.
While having good sleep hygiene doesn’t ensure that you’ll sleep well, experts are generally in agreement that it’s one of the best and easiest ways to promote top-notch sleep and avoid insomnia.
What Are the Key Elements of Sleep Hygiene?
There are two main elements of sleep hygiene: your bedroom environment and your habits leading up to going to bed. The bedroom environment has to do with the setting: light exposure, noise, your sleeping surface, and the temperature of your bedroom.
Optimizing these can help you fall asleep easily and avoid disruptions. Your habits are all about how you prepare yourself for bed. Choosing healthy habits before bed can prime your body for falling asleep and staying asleep.
Tips to Improve Your Sleep Hygiene
1. Have a bed you love.
It all starts with your mattress. If your mattress offers you the comfort and support you need, you’ll quickly relax when you go to bed, and then you’ll wake up feeling pain-free and refreshed. In addition, you want to make sure that you have good bedding: a supportive pillow, quality sheets, and climate-appropriate blankets. Some people may also benefit from an adjustable bed frame.
2. Don't use your bed as a multi-purpose space.
An important aspect of sleep hygiene is to build positive associations that promote sleep. This means that for your body and brain, lying down in bed can be a cue that it’s time to relax and sleep. This means limiting other activities -- like eating or watching TV -- while in bed.
It can also mean getting up out of bed if you haven’t been able to fall asleep after 20-30 minutes. This can help reduce anxiety associated with being in bed but unable to fall asleep. One exception to this tip is sex. Basically, make your bed a zone for sleep and sex only.
3. Make your bedroom like a cave.
Cool and dark are two elements of your bedroom environment that both promote sleep. Consider blackout curtains if needed and try to limit other light sources. Keeping the thermostat low is also generally considered to be better for promoting good sleep.
4. Decrease screen time.
The light from our devices like laptops, tablets, and phones can stimulate the brain in ways that complicate the process of falling asleep. As much as possible, it’s best to avoid excessive screen time late in the evening or while you are in bed.
5. Seek out peace and quiet.
Noise disruptions can be a major issue for many sleepers. If you live in a noisy neighborhood or have a creaky house, consider using earplugs or getting a white noise machine. These can both blunt the effect of these noises. There are also many apps that create white noise if you don’t want to purchase a machine just for this purpose.
6. Resist napping.
Though it can be tempting to doze off in the late afternoon or after dinner, this can disrupt your sleep-wake cycle and make it hard to fall asleep when you want to at bedtime. In general, it’s best to avoid napping altogether, or if you really need to nap, try to do it early in the afternoon when it’s less likely to mess with your sleep schedule.
7. Avoid sleep-disrupting foods, drinks, and medicines.
Stimulants like nicotine or caffeine can make it harder to fall asleep as can spicy foods, heavy meals, and alcohol. Some of these can also make your sleep shallower and easier to disrupt. For this reason, consume these things in moderation (if at all) and with plenty of time before going to bed.
8. Seek out consistency for when you go to bed and wake up.
By going to bed at the same time and then waking up at the same time, even when it’s the weekend and you don’t have the same schedule, you help your body become accustomed to a regular routine.
9. Follow the same pre-bed routine.
Each night, go through the same steps to get yourself ready for bed. This can include things like brushing your teeth, stretching, meditation, aromatherapy, deep breathing, preparing your clothes for the next morning, etc. Following these same steps again help provide mental cues that bedtime is approaching.
10. Keep calm and sleep on.
Some nights it will be more difficult to fall asleep or you might wake up accidentally in the night. In these circumstances, it’s important to keep calm. Having some strategies, like taking 10 deep breaths or meditating with guided imagery, can keep you calm and prevent anxiety from setting in and keeping you up.
11. Get moving.
Exercise has a huge number of health benefits, and one of them is that getting regular exercise at some point during the day can help with regular sleep patterns.
12. Take in some sun.
Getting some sun during the day reminds your body of its sleep-wake cycle, which will help create a smooth transition to nighttime and bedtime.
13. Monitor your sleep and daytime energy.
Keeping a journal of your sleep quantity and quality and making notes about how you feel during the next day can provide a great deal of useful information to optimize your sleep hygiene. Many people also use sleep trackers to help gather and analyze this information.
14. Test out different strategies.
While there are general guidelines for sleep hygiene, what works best for you may be a modification on some of these themes. Experiment with different routines and settings to find what works best. Keeping a sleep journal can help do this in a more scientific way.
15. Talk with a health professional.
If you have persistent or worsening sleep problems or insomnia, it’s worth talking to your doctor or a nurse. Sometimes sleep issues are related to underlying conditions that need to be addressed, or your doctor can refer you for more in-depth sleep testing if appropriate.