Written by: Lana Adler
Updated March 31, 2021
Sleep hygiene encompasses a set of behavioral and environmental recommendations (1) that aim to improve sleep. Examples of good sleep hygiene habits include avoiding stimulation before bed, crafting a soothing bedroom environment, and keeping a regular sleep-wake schedule. The idea is that by adhering to sleep hygiene principles, you can better prepare your body and mind for sleep at night.
Sleep hygiene is not intended to replace treatments for sleep disorders or chronic insomnia disorder (2), although many care providers incorporate sleep hygiene principles as part of the treatment plan. Rather, improving sleep hygiene is something that we can all do in our day-to-day lives to sleep better.
Why Is Sleep Hygiene Important?
More than 50% of Americans report suffering from sleep problems, yet two-thirds of these individuals do not qualify for a diagnosis of insomnia. Sleep loss can contribute to a variety of short-term and long-term consequences (3), including higher stress levels, increased sensitivity to pain, mood disorders, memory and performance problems, and chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
For most people, correcting poor sleep hygiene is the simplest way to start improving sleep. Sleep hygiene principles are generally low-risk and inexpensive, and they are easy to adopt without needing to consult a doctor.
How Does the Bedroom Environment Contribute to Sleep Hygiene?
The first step to improving sleep hygiene involves teaching your brain to associate the bedroom with sleep. Avoid watching television, reading, or working in the bedroom, and reserve the bed for sleep and sex only (4). At night, if you can't fall asleep after being in bed for about 20 minutes, get up and do a quiet activity in another room. By reducing the time you spend awake in bed, you can strengthen the mental association between bed and sleep.
To promote restful sleep, you should consider the following environmental factors:
- Room Temperature: While the ideal bedroom temperature may vary, a bedroom that's too warm (5) can interfere with sleep, so sleep experts recommend setting the thermostat between 66 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (6) (19 to 21 degrees Celsius).
- Light: A bedroom that's too bright (7) may send the wrong signals to your internal body clock, triggering the release of hormones that promote alertness instead of hormones that promote sleep. Make a habit of dimming household lights in the lead-up to bedtime, and keep screens out of the bedroom. You may also consider using blackout curtains or eye shades if your bedroom lets in light.
- Sound: Noises in the bedroom (8) can keep you awake or interrupt your sleep. Many people find they sleep better using a white noise machine, music, or other steady sleep sounds to block out unwanted noise.
As part of an optimal bedroom environment, investing in a mattress, pillow, and bedding that are suited to your personal needs may reduce discomfort overnight and lead to better sleep.
What Are Some Good Sleep Hygiene Tips?
In the lead-up to bedtime, you can lay the groundwork for quality sleep by adopting certain habits:
- Keep a Consistent Bedtime Routine: Performing the same activities in the same order every night can help you wind down for bed. A typical bedtime routine (9) might consist of brushing your teeth, changing into pajamas, and doing a calming, screen-free activity such as yoga, reading, listening to music, or taking a warm bath.
- Set Your Alarm at the Same Time Every Day: To determine when to feel sleepy, your body takes cues based on when you have been going to bed over the last few days. Establishing regular sleep and wake times, even on the weekends (10), makes it easier for you to feel sleepy at bedtime.
- Avoid Large Meals Before Bedtime: Eating large meals before bedtime may cause restless sleep (11). If you get hungry at night, opt for a healthy bedtime snack (12) that's easy to digest.
- Reduce Caffeine, Tobacco, and Alcohol: Consuming alcohol, caffeine, or tobacco too close to bedtime can make it difficult to fall asleep, so cut back on these substances to improve sleep quality. Don't forget that caffeine is often found in sugary drinks, chocolate (13), and other unexpected places.
- Don't Watch the Clock: In addition to causing disruptions to sleep hormones with the glow of your clock screen, fretting about the time is likely to make you anxious, so consider turning the clock away from you.
- Drink Less Fluids Before Bed: While it's important to stay well-hydrated during the day, drinking too much in the evening may lead to multiple bathroom trips (14) that disrupt sleep.
- Keep Stress Out of the Bedroom: Working or having a heated discussion right before lights-out may leave you over-stimulated and unable to fall asleep. Schedule these activities for earlier in the day, and write down (15) stressors in a journal so these thoughts don't bother you at night.
- Nap Wisely: To avoid feeling wide-awake at bedtime, try to limit naps to 30 minutes, and take them earlier in the day. You should eliminate naps altogether if you find they interfere with nighttime sleep.
What Else Can You Do for Better Sleep?
Regular components of a healthy lifestyle such as eating a balanced diet (16), exercising regularly (but not too close to bedtime (17), and getting exposure to bright light (18) in the morning can help regulate the sleep-wake cycle and facilitate quality sleep at night.
Many people find their sleep improves with just a few adjustments to their sleep hygiene habits. If you are still experiencing sleep problems, or if you regularly wake up feeling unrested, talk to your doctor to discuss other sleep solutions.
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