Sleep hygiene and its associated benefits are becoming an increasing topic of interest lately. Like personal hygiene practices such as brushing our teeth or showering regularly to maintain our health, sleep hygiene consists of healthy habits that improve our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Being mindful of good sleep hygiene increases the likelihood of getting restful sleep. In turn, it improves mental and physical well-being, promotes productivity during the day, and enhances the overall quality of life.
If you are struggling with insomnia or feeling like you don’t get restful sleep at night, try incorporating the following nine sleep hygiene tips into your daily life.
1. Stick to a Consistent Sleep Schedule
One of the most important things you can do to improve sleep hygiene is to adhere to a regular sleep schedule—going to sleep and waking up at the same time daily, even on weekends and holidays.
The human body craves routine. It wants to keep to a predictable schedule.
When you get in and out of bed at about the same time every day, your body adjusts its sleep cycles accordingly. Since it’s used to waking up at a particular time, it changes, so you’ll be finishing up your last REM sleep stage when your alarm goes off. In turn, you’ll wake up feeling refreshed every morning.
So when you go to bed at relatively the same time every day, your body is accustomed to the routine, and you tend to fall asleep more quickly. Instead of lying awake or tossing and turning, you’ll be well on your way to getting the amount of sleep you need.
That isn’t saying to never stray from routine. Extend yourself some grace and allow occasional exceptions for social gatherings, holiday parties, etc. but try to keep those exceptions to a minimum.
2. Don’t Hit Snooze in the Morning
As tempting as it is to snooze the alarm in the morning, it’s a habit that needs breaking. While an extra 9, 18, or 27 minutes of sleep sounds blissful, this fragmented rest isn’t beneficial to your body and can negatively affect how you feel all day.
As just mentioned, if you follow a consistent schedule, you are nearing the end of your final REM sleep cycle as the alarm goes off. If you hit snooze and drift back to sleep, you’ll immediately fall back into REM sleep. You’ll be in the middle of this restorative sleep stage when the alarm sounds the second time.
Being woken abruptly during REM sleep is incredibly disruptive, making you feel disoriented and groggy (a condition known as sleep inertia). But you'll feel rested if you wake up with the first alarm.
3. Be Careful About Napping
Your body instinctively wants to nap when you don’t get enough rest or restorative sleep. At times, naps can be helpful to get you through the day. However, long naps and naps at the wrong time of day can be more harmful than good.
Short naps of 10 to 20 minutes are the best length. While most people would think this is a ridiculously short amount of time to rest, a quick nap lets your body reset, and you’ll wake up feeling alert. If you sleep longer, you’ll enter a slow-wave sleep cycle and wake up feeling groggy. This period of grogginess or impaired performance right after napping is known as “sleep inertia.”
It’s also essential you don’t nap too late in the day. Morning or lunchtime naps consist primarily of non-REM sleep, a light sleep stage. Sleeping later in the day results in more deep sleep and may affect your ability to fall asleep that night.
With this in mind, most recommend avoiding napping after 2 or 3 pm.
4. Stay Away from Caffeine After Noon
For some people, it’s a no-brainer to stop drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages come mid-afternoon. Yet others believe caffeine has little effect on their sleep, so they pay no attention to the timing of their caffeine consumption.
The truth is that it is in your best interest to skip that evening espresso with dessert. Even if you believe it helps with digestion, it wreaks havoc on your sleep hygiene.
According to the Federal Drug Administration, caffeine has a half-life of four to six hours. In other words, half of the caffeine you initially consumed is still present and active in your body four to six hours after ingesting it.
To get the best rest, eliminate all caffeinated products eight hours before bed. This guideline is based on research that shows a moderate dose of caffeine taken at bedtime, 3 hours beforehand, or 6 hours before hitting the hay significantly affects your sleep, causing noticeable disturbances.
5. Add Exercise to Your Daily Routine
Research demonstrates regular physical activity improves sleep quality for adults, particularly those suffering from chronic diseases.
However, give careful consideration to the intensity and timing of your exercise regarding your sleep habits.
Exercising earlier in the day lets the body calm down, and the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, so you relax and start recovering. Vigorous activity late in the day keeps your body in flight or fight mode, making it harder to wind down for sleep.
Current sleep guidelines recommend avoiding strenuous activity within three hours of bed.
6. Skip Late-Night Alcohol and Food
Along with limiting your workouts right before bed, avoiding that late-night snack or nightcap is also a good practice. Experts recommend people not eat or drink alcohol within 3-4 hours of their usual bedtime.
This likely has some people scratching their heads. They know firsthand that a drink before bed helps them fall asleep quicker. This is true since alcohol is a sedative, but overall, it leads to decreased sleep quality because it affects your sleep in many ways.
- Drinking just before bed may suppress REM sleep during your first two sleep cycles and can cause you to fall into deep sleep quicker than usual. As the night continues, it creates an imbalance between REM and slow-wave sleep.
- You may experience nightmares and colorful, intense dreams as the sleep cycles ebb and flow.
- Alcohol promotes sleepwalking and parasomnias.
- If you suffer from sleep apnea, alcohol’s sedative effect allows your airway to close more than normal.
All of this leads to insomnia-like symptoms and feeling excessively tired upon waking.
Now onto why eating close to bedtime is discouraged. Food triggers an insulin response in your body that can cause a shift in your circadian rhythm. Your body thinks it should be awake, and you may struggle to fall asleep.
An occasional light snack may be alright but eat large meals well before bedtime.
7. Remove Electronics from the Bedroom
The advent of hand-held technology has been advantageous in many ways, but it is also a significant disruptor to sleep. Instead of winding down at night reading or spending time with loved ones, more and more people spend the last of their awake time staring at their electronic devices. Unbeknownst to them, they’re severely disrupting their sleep-wake cycles.
This sleep disruption is due to blue light exposure. Blue light is a specific high-frequency wavelength emitted by LEDs, televisions, tablets, computers, and smartphones. It impacts melatonin production in the body, similar to sunlight exposure.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that fluctuates in concentration throughout the day. When we wake up and spend time in the sunlight, melatonin production decreases, and we feel alert.
As the day progresses and sunlight fades, our bodies make more melatonin. We start to get tired, preparing for sleep at night. When we expose ourselves to blue light from electronics, melatonin production drops, keeping us from getting sleepy.
Experts recommend avoiding screens for at least an hour before bed to help keep your melatonin production from disrupting your circadian schedule.
8. Create a Proper Sleeping Environment
Another aspect of good sleep hygiene is keeping your sleeping area cool, dark, and quiet. A relaxing, peaceful environment helps you fall asleep faster and stay asleep.
Ideally, you want to keep your bedroom near 65°F (18.3°C), plus or minus a few degrees. While you sleep, your body temperature decreases. A cool room helps you settle into sleep and sleep well throughout the night.
Other ways to create a conducive sleeping environment include the following.
- Ensure your pillow and mattress provides good back and neck support.
- Invest in high-quality bedding.
- Minimize clutter and keep the bedroom as neat and tidy as possible.
- Use ear plugs or a white noise machine to reduce ambient noise, creating a relaxing space.
- Stick with soothing colors. Recommended colors for sleep are blue, green, yellow, silver, pink, orange, and white. Pastel shades are always a better choice than bold, bright hues.
- Reduce ambient light from electronics by covering up status lights or turning them away from your bed.
9. Establish a Relaxing Pre-Bedtime Routine
Lastly, create a relaxing nightly routine that helps you forget the day's stresses and begin winding down for the evening. When done regularly, it tells your body it’s time to sleep and makes you fall asleep quicker.
Good relaxation habits include a cup of herbal, non-caffeinated tea, 10 minutes of easy stretching, meditation, or reading a printed book. You can also take a relaxing bath or shower. Just ensure the water temperature is moderately warm and not too extreme.