Sleep Resources

What is Sleep Hygiene?

By Helga George

While I will admit to some alarm the first time a doctor told me I should consider practicing “sleep hygiene,” I had no clue what it was.

The definition of sleep hygiene is surprisingly simple. It is a series of healthy sleep habits that you can use to improve your ability to fall asleep and stay that way. In other words, it’s mostly healthy habits you should implement to improve your sleep. 

Your mind, your mood, and your overall wellbeing will all be much better if you sleep well on a regular basis.

There are few things more miserable than battling chronic insomnia or a sleep disorder, so it’s worth your time to master the art of maintaining healthy sleep hygiene so you can go about getting a good night’s sleep. 

How to Improve Your Sleep Hygiene

Here are nine sleep hygiene tips to help you get sound and healthy sleep.

Go to Sleep and Get Up at the Same Time Every Day

You know how divine it is to sleep in on your day off and recover from the long work week? Well, it isn’t so good for you in the long run. One of the key principles of practicing good sleep hygiene is to go to bed and get up at the same time every day.

Having a consistent sleep and wake time helps to regulate your body’s internal clock, known as your circadian rhythm. While it may seem logical that sleeping in, especially on the weekends, would help you catch up on sleep, that’s not actually the case.. In fact, your body is programmed to follow a consistent sleep-wake schedule. If you’ve ever woken up just before your morning alarm or find your eyes getting heavy at the same time each night, you know this. Stop fighting what your body is telling you, and stick to a bedtime!  

Unplug Before Bed

If you’ve ever struggled to go to sleep shortly after watching TV, playing on your phone or sending an email, you aren’t alone. Consuming blue-light emitted from technology violates one of the key principles of sleep hygiene.

As a matter of fact, sleep experts everywhere all stress that you should avoid your computer, smartphone, and TV for at least 30 minutes before bed. Not only that – you should banish them from your bedroom entirely! 

The eyes filter light, so it makes its way to our brains. Blue light is an especially bad form of light when it comes to falling asleep.

Why is this a problem? Our bodies produce the hormone melatonin at night, which puts us to sleep. Light – and especially blue light – inhibits the production of this hormone. In the process, it also inhibits our ability to go to sleep.

If you must give in to that late-night Netflix binge, at least invest in a pair of blue-light blocking glasses to help assuage the effects of blue-light exposure.

Keep a Consistent Wind-Down Routine

This may seem obvious, but how many of us rush around madly around the house performing last-minute chores shortly before bed and then plop down expecting to go to sleep only to find you are wide awake (and frustrated)? 

Establishing a consistent bedtime routine has been scientifically proven to help you go to sleep more easily. Read a light-hearted book, take a warm bath, drink a cup of caffeine-free tea or knit – whatever relaxes you. Calming activities such as these help your brain prepare for sleep rather than keeping it stimulated.

It is especially important to have this routine at the same time every night, so it will help you go to sleep at a consistent time.

Exercise During the Day

 There is nothing like a good workout to make you sleep wonderfully. Keep in mind, that is only the case if you don’t exercise right before bed.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, there are several reasons why moderate exercise can help you to sleep better at night. 

One is that your body temperature increases as you exercise. Afterward, your body will cool down, and this decrease is thought to help you fall asleep.

Another reason is that feelings of anxiety, arousal, and depression are major factors involved in keeping people awake at night. Exercise decreases these symptoms and relieves these stressors, so you can sleep better.

It works best if you exercise during the day – and absolutely no later than three hours before your bedtime.

Speaking of things you shouldn’t do right before bedtime leads to our next sleep hygiene tip.

Avoid Alcohol Before Bed

While many people think that having a drink or several before bed will help them sleep well, that is not true. You may go to sleep initially because alcohol is a sedative that slows your heart rate, but research indicates alcohol prevents you from entering deep-slow wave sleep (aka the most restorative, restful stage of sleep). 

Doctors suggest that men limit themselves to two drinks and that women only have one at the most. And have them no later than three hours before bedtime!

Keep Your Bedroom Cool, Quiet, and Dark

You want your bedroom to be a soothing environment conducive for sleep, not a cluttered space that stresses you out.

First and foremost, keep it clean. Research shows a cluttered room stimulates your brain, which is the exact opposite of what you want to happen. Next, make sure to keep your room cool. Experts suggest a temperature between 60 and 68ºF is ideal for sleeping.

Additionally, having a quiet bedroom is extremely important for good sleep.  If there is noise that you cannot eliminate from the space (i.e., outdoor traffic, noisy neighbors, etc), consider using a white noise machine to help mask the noise. Even having a fan as background noise will help.

Finally, keep it nice and dark while you are sleeping. Do whatever it takes – blackout drapes, an eye mask. Just to be sure to get plenty of morning light when you wake up. Fling open the curtains and greet the day with a breath of fire! Remember, your brain responds to light, so it’s important to catch that morning sunshine for energy.

Avoid Large Meals and Excess Liquid Before Bed

If you’re a big fan of eating whole pepperoni pizzas, indulge earlier in the day. You won’t be able to sleep well if you eat too much before bedtime, especially fatty, carb-laden foods. It takes energy and effort to digest a large meal, and the process of digestion can keep you awake.

And while it probably seems obvious, limit the amount of non-alcoholic drinks that you have before bed, too. No one likes waking up at 2 AM for a middle-of-the-night potty run. 

Skip the Caffeine Fix after 3 PM

Speaking of things to avoid before bedtime, an obvious way to help you sleep well is to avoid caffeine 4-6 hours before bedtime. A good rule of thumb is to avoid consuming caffeine after 3 pm. Caffeine has a half-life of 6 hours, so if you consume 100 mg at 3 pm, 50 mg will still be in your system at 9 pm — yikes!

Don’t Stay in Bed if You Can’t Sleep

On those occasions when you just can’t sleep, don’t keep staring at your clock while you’re in bed. In fact, sleep experts advise turning it away from you (knowing the time will just increase your anxiety as you think about how soon the morning will come).

If you can’t get to sleep after 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing until you start to feel sleepy. For example, light stretching, meditation, praying, etc. Just make sure to leave your room and keep the lights off! The last thing you want to do is to associate your bedroom with not sleeping!

What to do if You Still Can’t Sleep

Hopefully, applying these methods will have you sleeping like a baby – and not a colicky one.

However, if you still can’t sleep well even after you made the effort to maintain healthy sleep hygiene, consider seeing your doctor or speaking with a sleep therapist. to rule out a sleep disorder as the issue.

Practicing proper sleep hygiene will keep your mental, physical, and emotional well-being intact. In fact, sleep hygiene is so important for your mental health that psychiatrists recommend the practice for their patients with serious mental disorders. With that in mind, just think what practicing sleep hygiene for a healthy person can do.


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