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 fall asleep faster and stay asleep until you complete the required sleep cycles.
Every healthy adult needs to complete 4 to 6 sleep cycles every night, and each cycle consists of 4 stages of sleep. You’ll need 7 to 8 hours of sleep to achieve a full 4 to 6 cycles of sleep.
According to a 2018 study, the body’s ability to function declines if you don’t sleep for 7 to 8 hours every night. Sleeping more or less than 7 to 8 hours impaired overall cognition, reasoning, and verbal abilities in the participants of the study.
To reap the maximum benefits of sleep, you need to consistently practice good sleep hygiene.
What is Sleep Hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is defined as good sleep habits. If you follow good sleep hygiene, it’s usually easier to fall asleep. Once in bed, you smoothly transition through the three stages of Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (NREM) and the fourth stage called Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.
During stage 1 and stage 2 of NREM sleep your eye movements slow down, heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature drop, and muscles relax. In stage 3, your brain waves slow down leading to deep sleep. Stage 4 is the REM sleep state when your eyes move rapidly, brain activity resembles a wakeful state, and you experience dreams. Each stage is crucial to your mental and physical well-being, so it’s important to get good quality sleep through the night.
20 Sleep Hygiene Tips
You wake up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated only when you practice healthy sleep habits. Here we list down some simple tips for you and discuss how these steps ensure sound sleep through the night.
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 ages.
- Infants under 1: 16 to 20 hours
- 1 to 2 years of age: 14 hours
- 3 to 4 years of age: 12 hours
- 5 to 12 years of age: 10 hours
- 13 to 18 years of age: 9 hours
- Adults: 7 to 8 hours
Children less than 5 years old usually spread out their sleep hours throughout the day. But from the age of 6, they usually get all their sleep at night. Your sleep needs decrease with age.
But even in adults, sleep needs vary. Some may feel relaxed and refreshed with 7 hours of sleep at a stretch, while others may need 8 hours 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 1 extra hour of sleep. Gauge your sleep needs and identify whether you need 7, 7.5, or 8 hours to feel well-rested.
Be Consistent About Your Bedtime
If you go to bed around 10 pm every night, be consistent about it. Don’t deviate from your bedtime routine even during weekends. A minor deviation of 30 minutes to an hour is fine. But it’s best to be as consistent as possible.
While working on your sleep hygiene, 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.
According to the circadian rhythm, the internal body clock, natural bedtime hours are anywhere between 8 to 11 pm. Depending on your work or household chores, pick a time in this range to reap maximum benefits of sleep.
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 between 60 to 67 degrees keeps it in sync with your body temperature at night and prevents you from waking up feeling too hot or cold.
Toddlers and babies may sleep better in a room temperature setting between 65 to 70 degrees.
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.
Ideally, it’s best to keep 2 to 3 feet of space on all three sides of your bed (except the side against). 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 makes you fall asleep faster. Your body experiences a drop in temperature while sleeping. This temperature drop after a warm bath or shower prepares 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 Ritual or Pattern
Follow the same 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 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.
Eat Tryptophan-rich Foods
Tryptophan is a sleep-inducing amino acid present in certain food items. Tart cherries, warm milk, a slice of cheese, and Greek yogurt are rich in tryptophan. Have one of these as a light snack before going to bed. Eating these snacks can quell hunger while promoting quality of sleep.
Exercise in the Morning
Exercise energizes you immediately and promotes good health. And intense physical activity in the morning tires you out by night. Avoid strenuous exercises at least 3 hours before bedtime because it’s difficult to get sleep when you feel energized.
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
Spending at least 30 mins in the sun every day teaches your brain to distinguish between natural and artificial light. 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 some time during the day.
Don’t Struggle to Sleep
If you don’t fall asleep after lying on the bed for 20 minutes, it’s best to get up and involve yourself in some activity. It can be reading your favorite book or focusing on some breathing exercises. Read a book in a different room by a soft light. 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. 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 reap 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 consistently following a variety of different practices which can boost sleep every night. 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, are some good sleep hygiene practices. All of these practices help you get 7 to 8 hours of undisturbed sleep, good for your mental and physical health.
Does sleep hygiene work?
Sleep hygiene works when sleep deprivation is not caused due to a serious physical or mental disorder. Sleep hygiene can also prevent the onset of a sleep disorder. But if you have chronic insomnia or any other sleep problem, then you’ll need medical intervention.
Why is good sleep hygiene important?
Good sleep hygiene gives you sufficient sleep 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?
Count back 7 to 8 hours from the time you wake up to determine a good bedtime for yourself. According to your natural circadian rhythm, it’s best to sleep between 8 to 11 pm. This helps to maximize the advantages of sleep.
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?
Adults need 7 to 8 hours of nighttime sleep irrespective of whether they nap or not. You may find it difficult to sleep 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.
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. Every normal adult needs anywhere between 7 to 8 hours of sleep at a stretch, to promote good health.
If you wake up often during sleep or feel sleepy during the daytime, it may be due to poor sleep hygiene. In fact, oversleeping during weekends can throw off your sleep schedule during the week. Making some simple changes to your lifestyle can keep these bad sleep hygiene practices at bay. You gain several 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.