If you find yourself counting sheep at bedtime, maybe you need better sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene involves implementing certain behaviors and practices for a good night’s sleep. Maintaining good sleep hygiene helps you to have consistent, good quality sleep.
Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep for optimal health. According to a the brain’s ability to function at its best declines if you consistently get less than 7 or more than 8 hours of sleep.
To reap the maximum benefits of sleep, you can start by consistently practicing good sleep hygiene.
What is Sleep Hygiene?
Sleep hygiene involves good sleep habits that give your body its best chances at good quality sleep. If you follow good sleep hygiene, it can be easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. Once you drift off to sleep, you transition through Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (NREM) and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.
According to sleep psychologist Dr. Jade Wu, PhD., sleep hygiene is good for preventing sleep problems from developing. “Sleep hygiene is like dental hygiene,” Dr. Wu explains, “By the time you have a cavity, brushing your teeth is not enough to cure it, but keeping up with brushing gives your teeth the best chances of staying healthy in the first place. By the time you have a sleep disorder like insomnia, sleep hygiene is not a sufficient treatment, but preventive measures like keeping your sleep timing consistent in the first place will decrease your risk of having sleep disorders.”
During stage 1 and stage 2 of sleep, your body begins to relax. In stage 3, also known as “deep sleep,” your brain performs important repair functions, such as clearing toxins from the cerebrospinal fluid. In the latter half of the night, you will also experience bouts of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, when your brain activity resembles a wakeful state, you experience dreams, and your brain is working hard to consolidate memories and process emotions. Each stage is crucial to your mental and physical well-being, and your brain will make sure you get enough of each if you have good quality night-time sleep.
20 Sleep Hygiene Tips
You wake up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated when you get good sleep, which you have the best chances of getting if you practice healthy sleep habits. Here we list down some simple tips for you and discuss how these steps can boost your sleep health.
Identify Your Sleep Needs
Our sleep needs change throughout our lifetime. Typically, adults need 7 to 8 hours, but children need more. Here we list the average sleep hours needed in different age groups.
- Infants under 1: 12 to 17 hours
- 1 to 2 years of age: 11 to 14 hours
- 3 to 6 years of age: 10 to 13 hours
- 6 to 13 years of age: 9 to 11 hours
- 14 to 17 years of age: 8 to 10 hours
- Adults: 7 to 9 hours
But even in adults, sleep needs vary. Some may feel relaxed and refreshed with 7 hours of sleep (or even less) at a stretch, while others may need 8 hours (or even more) to feel the same. This difference of an hour in your regular sleep schedule matters to your health in the long term.
If you’re waking up feeling exhausted, despite sleeping well for 7 hours, your body may need more sleep (or you may have obstructive sleep apnea). Gauge your sleep needs by giving yourself plenty of time to rest, and seeing how much sleep your body can produce on a regular basis. If you start to have consistent insomnia (trouble falling or staying asleep), you may have gone too far, and should give yourself less time in bed.
Be Consistent About Your Bedtime
Be consistent about when you get up in the morning, even on weekends. A minor deviation of 30 minutes to an hour is fine. But it’s best to be as consistent as possible.
Remember—you can’t compensate for lost sleep. You can’t pull an all-nighter and “catch up” on sleep the next night. Sleep deprivation impacts your productivity the next morning, oversleeping the following night doesn’t compensate for the lost hours of sleep. Instead, it leaves you feeling sluggish due to “social jetlag.” Getting up at the same time every day helps your body clock to know the time, so that it can make you sleepy at night and alert during the day.
Keep Your Bedroom Dark
Our brain is conditioned to sleep when it’s dark because our circadian rhythm regulates the body’s internal clock. Circadian rhythm is influenced by natural light. Bright lights prevent the secretion of the sleep hormone melatonin. Insufficient or delayed onset of melatonin disrupts sleep. Keeping our bedroom dark promotes melatonin secretion, necessary for a good night’s sleep.
Our body is prone to be alert and wakeful during the morning hours. To avoid sleep disruptions due to natural light wear eye masks or put curtains in your room.
Set Your Bedroom Temperature Within the Optimum Range
Our body temperature fluctuates throughout the day. It peaks in the afternoon and gradually drops at night. Setting your bedroom temperature so that it’s comfortably cool (mid 60 to low 70 degrees Fahrenheit) keeps it in sync with your body temperature at night and prevents sleep disruption.
Avoid Clutter in Your Bedroom
Sleeping in a messy bedroom can increase anxiety, disrupting sleep. According to a 2015 study conducted by New York’s St. Lawrence University, people who have more clutter in their bedrooms take longer to fall asleep than those with neat and tidy rooms.
Leave some walking space in your bedroom after placing your bed and essential furniture. This keeps the room tidy, preventing stress-induced sleep disruptions.
Take a Warm Bath or Shower Before Going to Bed
Taking a warm bath or shower before bed causes your body to heat up, and once you step out of the bathroom, your body naturally cools down. This process of cooling can help to prepare your body for sleep.
Wear Loose, Comfortable Clothing at Bedtime
Wear loose clothes made of breathable fabric at bedtime. Loose clothing allows your muscles to relax as you sleep. Breathable fabric keeps you comfortable because they don’t trap heat.
Light Stretching at Bedtime Boosts Sleep
Light stretching at bedtime releases built-up stress. Stretching focuses our attention on breath and body, diverting us from stressors of the day. It also relaxes our cramped muscles, a result of spending long hours in one position. Most of us end up spending 13 hours a day sitting leading to cramped muscles.
Choose the Best Mattress and Pillow
Your mattress and pillow should keep your spine neutrally aligned as you sleep. Spinal misalignment triggers back pain, neck ache, and muscle stiffness. To sleep comfortably, choose a high-quality mattress with the ideal firmness level suited for your body type and sleeping position.
Usually, lightweight sleepers (weighing less than 130 pounds) need soft beds. Average weight sleepers (weighing between 130 and 230 pounds) are comfortable in a medium bed. Plus size sleepers (weighing more than 230 pounds) need firmer beds.
Side sleepers need more cushioning for their shoulders and hips. Back and stomach sleepers need more support, to keep the spine in neutral alignment. Technological advancements such as zoned mattresses balance cushion and support for the hips, shoulders, and back.
Side and back sleepers prefer mid-loft (6 to 7 inches high) pillows for comfort. We do not recommend stomach sleeping because it increases the risk of spinal misalignment. But if you’re comfortable stomach sleeping use a low-loft pillow (2 to 3 inches high) or no pillow at all.
Follow a Sleep Routine or Pattern
Follow a relaxing set of activities 30 to 45 minutes prior to sleep, every night. The ritual can include things like brushing your teeth, reading a book, writing a daily diary, or focusing on breathing exercises. These daily routines signal your brain it’s time to sleep. Avoid stimulating activities too close to bedtime, like reading the news or vigorously exercising.
Avoid Caffeine In the Late Afternoon
Caffeine is a stimulant that keeps you awake, which is why it works best as a breakfast drink. Drinking coffee or any caffeinated beverages after 2 pm can make it harder to fall asleep at night.
Balance Water Intake Through the Day
Drink more water during the morning and afternoon. Limit your water intake 2 hours before bedtime. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t drink water at all during this time. Drink enough water so you don’t wake up feeling thirsty, but avoid drinking too much, because it can lead to frequent bathroom breaks.
If you feel sluggish in the middle of the day, you may take a 30-minute nap. A nap longer than that or a nap within 6 hours of your bedtime may interfere with your nighttime sleep.
Avoid a Heavy Dinner
You need more time to digest a spicy or large meal. Undigested food can trigger acid reflux, causing sleep disruptions. It’s best to eat a light meal 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. This gives enough time for your body to digest and for your metabolism to slow down.
Exercise in the Morning
Exercise energizes you immediately and promotes good health. It helps your circadian clock to stay consistent, and helps to build up enough sleep drive (a “hunger” for sleep) by night. Avoid strenuous exercises right before bedtime because it’s difficult to get sleep when you feel too stimulated.
Limit Exposure to Blue Light Before Bedtime
Avoid screen time at least 1 hour before bedtime. Stay away from blue light sources such as TVs, laptops, tablets, e-readers, cell phones, and other electronic devices. Blue lights condition your brain to believe it’s daytime, preventing melatonin secretion and delaying sleep.
Spend Some Time Out in the Sun Every Day
The more you spend time out in the sun, the better your sleep pattern syncs with the natural circadian rhythm of your body.
Morning walks are best to soak in the sun. If you don’t have time for that, try to sit by a window for at least some time during the day.
Don’t Struggle to Sleep
If you don’t start to drift asleep after lying on the bed for about 20 minutes, it’s best to get up and involve yourself in some pleasant activity. It can be reading your favorite book or focusing on some breathing exercises, as long as it’s not in the bedroom. Don’t associate your bedroom or the bed with a struggle to fall asleep. It causes anxiety, further delaying sleep.
Seek Medical Advice
If you have difficulty sleeping, despite following these sleep hygiene tips for more than 3 months, we recommend consulting a doctor or a behavioral sleep medicine specialist. They can identify the cause of sleeplessness and initiate treatment for a sleep disorder if any.
Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder. Studies show 1 in 4 Americans develop insomnia every year. While most of them recover without medical help, others may need a doctor. Sleep hygiene is actually part of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a common method used to treat insomnia.
Benefits of Maintaining Good Sleep Hygiene
If you maintain good sleep hygiene, you have a better chance of reaping all the benefits of quality sleep. Peaceful, sound sleep has many advantages. Some of them are:
- Better daytime productivity
- Reduces the chances of daytime drowsiness (dangerous especially while driving)
- Improves immune system
- Decreases risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s
- Reduces hunger pangs, which can lead to obesity
- Rebuilds and repairs muscles improving athletic performance
- Reduces aches and inflammations
- Improves mental health
What is proper sleep hygiene?
Proper sleep hygiene includes going to bed and waking up at the same time, maintaining a cool, dark bedroom ambiance, avoiding blue lights from laptops or smartphones before sleep, and being active during the day. All of these practices help you get the amount and quality of sleep you need, which is good for your mental and physical health.
Does sleep hygiene work?
Sleep hygiene works when sleep deprivation or poor quality sleep is not caused due to a serious physical or mental disorder. Sleep hygiene can also help to prevent the onset of a sleep disorder. But if you have chronic insomnia, meaning significant trouble falling/staying asleep for at least 3 months, or any other sleep problem (such as sleep apnea), then you’ll need medical intervention.
Why is good sleep hygiene important?
Good sleep hygiene gives your brain and body the necessary conditions to get sufficient sleep, which is needed for your body and mind. Getting enough sleep improves energy and productivity and reduces the chances of depression, heart diseases, stroke, obesity, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
What is a good bedtime?
This varies widely between people, depending on their natural circadian rhythm. You’ll know your ideal biological bedtime if you wake up at the same time every day, and allow yourself to go to bed when you feel sleepy at night.
Is reading in bed bad for sleep?
Reading at bedtime can promote sleep. It helps de-stress your mind, inducing quality sleep. But reading in bed can lead to an unhealthy posture. If you sit up in bed without proper backrest, your spine gets strained and may lead to back pain. If you lie down and read, you strain your neck. It’s best to sit on a comfortable chair and read a book under soft light in a different room. Blue lights from tablets or e-readers impair sleep health.
Can I sleep less if I nap?
You get the best quality sleep if the vast majority of your sleep need is met at night. You may find it difficult to sleep well at night if you nap for more than 30 minutes or after 3 pm. If you struggle to get to sleep at night, try avoiding naps. However, for some people, napping for 15 to 20 minutes may help. And if you are feeling sleepy while driving (or doing other activities that need your full alertness for safety reasons) do pull over and take a quick nap.
Are 5 hours of sleep enough?
No, five hours of sleep is not enough. Even if you are a short sleeper who doesn’t feel exhausted due to fewer hours of sleep, you are bound to experience long-term health impacts. Most adults need between 7 to 8 hours of sleep at a stretch, to promote good health. Some adults (especially older adults) need less. Everybody should listen to their bodies’ sleepy cues to make sure they’re giving themselves enough time to sleep, which is easier to do if you follow good sleep hygiene.
If you feel that your alertness and functioning is consistently not at 100%, it may be due to poor sleep. Making some simple changes to your lifestyle to improve sleep hygiene could make a big difference. You could gain many health advantages from your sleep when you consistently follow good sleep hygiene.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.