When it comes to getting the proper quality and quantity of sleep, sleep hygiene is critical. 35% of Americans report either “poor” or “fair” sleep quality¹.
There’s no magic solution for better sleep, but practicing good sleep hygiene is one of the simplest, most effective ways to improve sleep.
Much like dental hygiene or personal hygiene, sleep hygiene is about setting up your environment and routine for optimal sleep.
Many small habits add up to make a significant impact on your sleep.
Why Does Sleep Hygiene Matter?
Getting enough quality sleep is essential for our wellbeing, especially our mental health. Memory consolidation, or the process of retaining memories and discarding irrelevant information, happens during REM sleep². That is why insufficient sleep negatively affects cognitive processes, including memory processing.
Habits are powerful determinants of human behavior, and good habits like sleep hygiene are very beneficial for our health. Once we craft a sleep hygiene routine, we can flow through it automatically and seamlessly. Just as bad habits can be harmful because of how deeply they get engrained, positive habits can help us promote our goals and live healthier lives.
There’s no risk or high cost to better your sleep hygiene, but a lot to be gained from doing so. Good sleep hygiene sets you up for restful sleep that will heal and restore the body and mind. Some benefits of getting enough quality sleep include:
- Boost your immune system
- Maintain a healthy weight
Reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other health conditions³.
- Improve your mood by lowering anxiety and increasing confidence.
- Strengthen your memory and help you remember new information.
What is Bad Sleep Hygiene?
Are you tossing and turning all night long? Struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep? Super tired during the day? If so, you may not be getting the quantity or quality of sleep you need, and thus you may have poor sleep hygiene. Some of the following are signs of bad sleep hygiene:
- Screen time close to bedtime.
- Inconsistent sleep schedule (waking up and going to bed at very different times throughout the week.
- Excessive napping.
- An uncomfortable sleep environment.
- Working or checking emails right before bed.
Tips and Tricks for Good Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene is about putting yourself in an optimal position for getting restful sleep every night. While the word hygiene usually connects with washing and cleaning, that’s not quite what “sleep hygiene” is all about. Here are the top strategies for improving your sleep hygiene.
Consistent Sleep Schedule
If you try to go to bed and wake up at drastically different times each day or week, you will struggle with sleep. Keeping a consistent, regular sleep schedule is essential for getting enough sleep. Through consistency, you can train your body’s internal clock to sleep at certain times⁴. Here are some strategies for creating a consistent sleep schedule:
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (give or take 20 mins). Regardless of if it’s a weekday or weekend, try to keep your wake up time the same. It can be imperative but challenging for people who work second or third shift, but it will immensely help your sleep.
Avoid too much napping. Even if you did not get adequate sleep the night before, approach naps with caution. Too much daytime napping can disrupt nighttime sleep, making it even harder to stay on a schedule. Keep naps short (20-30 minutes), and do not nap after the early afternoon.
Slow changes. If you must alter your sleep schedule, do so gradually, not all at once. The same advice holds if you are traveling to a place with a drastically different time zone. Slowly move your sleep schedule closer to what it needs to be by an hour or so each night⁵. By doing so, you can adjust to the new schedule without drastically disrupting your body.
Put sleep first. Our society often puts work, social life, and other activities above sleep, but we need sleep to function properly. Make sleep a priority, and arrange your schedule around getting enough sleep. Instead of staying up late to cram for a test or scramble through a work project, get the sleep you need. In the morning, you’ll be more equipped to handle the task quicker and with a clearer mind.
Create a Comfortable Sleep Environment
A relaxed, comfortable sleeping environment will significantly help your sleep. Create an optimal sleep space by:
Keep the room cool. The ideal bedroom temperature for sleeping is 65 degrees Fahrenheit, but choose a temperature that is comfortable for you.
Keep the light out. Light can disrupt sleep. Use light-blocking curtains or an eye mask to keep your space nice and dark.
Shhh. Noise is another common disruptor of sleep. Drown out the noise to the best of your ability, whether it’s a snoring partner, the loud city, or neighbors. Use a white noise machine or a fan for a relaxing sound that drowns others out. You can also try earplugs.
Comfortable bedding. Create a pain-free sleeping surface by choosing a mattress and pillow that’s high quality and comfortable. Make sure your bedding is cozy and will not over or under heat you as you sleep.
Calming scents. Leading up to bedtime, use calming candles, incenses, or plugins that exude calming smells like lavender⁶.
Practice a Nighttime Routine
Preparation is the key to sleep. Create a nighttime routine that puts you in a sleep-ready state of mind and helps you relax.
Be consistent. A consistent routine will help you maintain a consistent bedtime. Start your routine simultaneously each day and follow the same steps to build a powerful habit.
Unplug. Electronics fill most of our days, whether for work, communication, or entertainment. However, the blue light from electronics affects our circadian rhythm, making it harder to fall and stay asleep⁷. Sleep with your phone out of reach if possible.
Wind down and relax. Focus on letting go of the stressors from the day and winding down. Ensure you have enough time to do something that you find relaxing, like listening to soft music, reading, or meditating. Silence your notifications (especially work ones) so that you can let your mind relax.
Not sleeping? Get up. Your mind must associate your bed with sleep for the best outcome. If you are struggling to sleep and tossing and turning, don’t keep lying there. Get up and do something calming before going back to your bed and trying again.
Healthy Lifestyle Habits
Unsurprisingly, sleep is connected with other daily habits as well. How we live the rest of our day can impact our ability to get a night of adequate sleep. Here are some daily habits that can help you sleep better as well:
Make the bed for sleep. Don’t sit in your bed to play video games or watch TV. Use your bed only forsleep and sex so that your mind can associate it with those things⁸.
Avoid caffeine late in the day. An afternoon coffee pick-me-up may seem like a good idea when you’re struggling to stay awake at work, but it will only hurt your sleep. Caffeine is a stimulant, so if you consume it later in the day, it could keep you awake.
Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol makes it easier to fall asleep, but it disrupts sleep later in the night. Avoid consuming alcohol before bed.
No late dinners. Eating a big, decadent dinner before bed will cause you to digest even when it’s time for bed. If you do eat before bed, make sure it’s a lighter snack.
Don’t smoke. Nicotine disrupts sleep because of how it stimulates the body. Smoking iscorrelated with several sleep problems, so it is best to avoid nicotine use⁹.
Regular exercise. While you shouldn’t exercise too close to bedtime, daily exercise improves your sleep and overall health. One study from 2013 found that regular exercise helps improve sleep but may take some time to see results¹⁰.
Get some sunlight. Sunlight drives your circadian rhythm. Getting natural light during the day will help to encourage quality sleep. Try to work near a window and take a few breaks to get outside. As we know, getting enough sunlight can be a major challenge in the winter, so consider a sunlight lamp for those months.
Sleep Hygiene is a Unique Process
The basics of sleep hygiene are universal, but the process can vary for each individual. For example, setting up a comfortable sleep environment is essential. Still, the bedding, temperature, darkness, and quietness that people find comfortable can vary greatly. As you develop your sleep hygiene routine, make small adjustments to find your sweet spot. You do not have to change everything at once. Start with a few small changes, and continue building on your sleep hygiene until you are consistently getting quality sleep. In some cases, sleep hygiene may not be enough, and you may need to speak with a doctor about your sleep problems.
Adopting healthy sleep habits is one of the best ways to get better sleep and live a healthier lifestyle. While it will take time and some experimentation to find the best sleep hygiene for you, it will be well worth the extra Z’s you can get each night.
(1) National Sleep Foundation (December 2014) Lack of Sleep is Affecting Americans, Finds the National Sleep Foundation
(2) Pacheco, D (November 2020) Memory and Sleep
(3) Williams, V (November 2018) Mayo Clinic Minute: Lack of sleep worsens health issues
(4) Healthwise (May 2019) Sleep and Your Body Clock
(5) National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (April 2006) In Brief: Your Guide To Healthy Sleep
(6) Koulivand, PH; Khaleghi Ghadiri ,M; Gorji, A (March 2013) Lavender and the nervous system
(7) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (April 2020) Interim NIOSH Training for Emergency Responders: Reducing Risks Associated with Long Work Hours
(8) National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Population Health (July 2016) Tips for Better Sleep
(9) Zandy, M; Chang, V; Rao, DP; Do, MT (March 2020) Tobacco smoke exposure and sleep: estimating the association of urinary cotinine with sleep quality
(10) Baron, KG; Reid, KJ; Zee, PC (August 2015) Exercise to Improve Sleep in Insomnia: Exploration of the Bidirectional Effects