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Everything You Need to Know About Sleep Hygiene

Practicing good sleep hygiene is a surefire way to improve the quality of your sleep. Here's how to do it.

If you're still chasing a good night's sleep, the secret might lie in something called sleep hygiene. Learn what it is, why it matters, and how to develop good sleep hygiene habits that will improve the quality and quantity of your sleep.

What's Sleep Hygiene?

Sleep hygiene is basically good sleep habit that can influence the quality of your sleep. You can develop and practice good sleep hygiene by adjusting the habits, behaviors, and environmental factors surrounding sleep. If you're still tossing and turning all night, improving your sleep hygiene might be what you need to get back to a restful night of sleep.

Why Does Good Sleep Hygiene Matter for Your Health?

Getting good quality sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your health, both in the short and long term. With good sleep hygiene, you can help your body gear up for a restful night of sleep and reap some of the top health benefits of sleep:

  • Reduced stress
  • Improved attention span and memory
  • Better heart health
  • Appetite regulation and metabolism
  • Lowered risk of health issues

Good sleep hygiene can also help the body enter the restorative REM sleep cycle, one of the most important stages of sleep for health. REM sleep is essential for cognitive functions like memory and learning.[1]

Having poor sleep hygiene can lead to low-quality sleep. Poor sleep can lead to a number of negative effects, including excessive sleepiness, changes in mood or stress levels, and forgetfulness or trouble with concentration. Poor sleep is also linked to higher levels of stress, decreased satiety, and shorter attention span.[2] In one meta-analysis, scientists found that poor sleep quality is causally related with negative mental health outcomes such as depression.[3]

What are Signs of Poor Sleep Hygiene?

Wondering if you might have poor sleep hygiene? Here are some of the most common signs of poor sleep hygiene:[4]

  • It's hard to fall asleep.
  • Experiencing frequent sleep disturbances.
  • If you wake up in the middle of the night, it's hard to get back to sleep.
  • Experiencing severe daytime sleepiness.
  • Waking up still feeling tired

If you feel like the amount of sleep and the quality of your sleep have decreased, looking at your sleep hygiene is a great first step. Making small improvements to your sleep hygiene can be a highly effective way to improve the quality of your sleep—and get back to feeling more alert and well-rested each morning.

9 Tips for Better Sleep Hygiene

Getting in the swing of a good sleep hygiene routine doesn't have to be daunting. Try following these tips to improve your sleep hygiene and benefit from a better night's sleep.

  1. Create a sleep schedule. This might not be the most fun tip—no one likes feeling like they have to go to bed, no matter how old they are—but it's one of the most effective ways to help your sleep in the long term. The actual time you go to bed and wake up is surprisingly less important than the consistency with which you adhere to these times. Having an irregular bedtime is associated with worse sleep quality and increased interruptionsduring sleep.[5] Creating and adhering to a consistent sleep and wake schedule helps hone the body's internal clock.[6] That means you'll start to fall asleep faster and wake up at the right time more easily—no more groggily hitting snooze.
  2. Create a pre-bed routine that's relaxing. Having a consistent routine before bed is another way you can signal to your body when it's time to start winding down. Think about activities that you find calming: reading a light book, taking a hot shower or bath, meditating, or sipping a mug of caffeine-free chamomile tea. These can help calm the mind and reduce stress; early researchindicates that meditation can even help improve sleep quality.[7] With consistency, this routine will help you prime your body to fall asleep faster.
  3. Cultivate the perfect sleep environment. The two most important factors: light and temperature. First, make sure that your room is dark. Blackout shades or a soft sleep mask are great ways to keep out light if you're sleeping while the sun is out. Next, set your thermostat between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.[8] Researchers have identified that the best temperature for sleep is approximately 65 degrees. Want to take your sleep environment to the next level? Make sure to get rid of any extra ambient noise that can keep you awake. Try using earplugs to help balance out distracting sounds that interrupt your sleep, or experiment with a white noise machine, which can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep by nearly 40 percent.[9]
  4. Disconnect from electronics. It can be tempting to scroll on your phone or tablet while in bed, or to wind down in front of the television. But research shows that the blue light that's emitted from these devices has the potential to interrupt our circadian rhythmsand decrease the quality of our sleep.[10] Plus, clicking through emails or notifications is a sure-fire way to keep your brain active and on high alert. By shutting off electronics an hour before sleep, you'll be ready to recognize when your brain starts to quiet down and ready itself for sleep.
  5. Avoid stimulants like coffee and alcohol. A post-dinner espresso or nightcap might be tempting, but it's one of the worst things you can have before bed. Caffeine is a stimulant, which works to keep the body alert and awake—the last thing you want as you're getting ready for bed. Caffeine can be hidden in many things—tea, soda, even dark chocolate—and stays in the system for a long time.[11] Research suggeststhat you should avoid ingesting caffeine for at least six hours before bedtime.[12] Alcohol disrupts the body's natural sleep cycle, making it harder to tap into REM sleep and reducing the quality of sleep. Drinking alcohol before bed can also cause acid reflux and exacerbate sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea and snoring.[13]
  6. Avoid eating certain foods right before bed. Eating right before bed can cause indigestion and heartburn, both of which create discomfort and can keep you awake. Certain types of food—like fatty, acidic, and spicy foods—are even more likely to cause these symptoms. Good sleep hygiene includes stopping eating 2-3 hours before bed, so that the body has time to fully digest and process dinner. That way, you'll be comfortably full but not over-stuffed or uncomfortable.
  1. Get regular exercise during the day. When you think of sleep hygiene, you might just think about the activities that occur right before bed. But all of your habits leading up to bed matter, too. Research has shown that exercise can help improve the quality and duration of sleep.[14] One 2013 study explained that a regular exercise routine can contribute to improved sleep—though it might take weeks or months before you see the positive impact on the quality and quantity of your sleep.[15] Make sure to get your exercise in at least three hours before bedtime, since exercise encourages the body to produce cortisol, which keeps your brain alert.[16]
  2. Restrict your bed activities to sleep. While it might be tempting to spend extra time lounging in your body, it's best practice to only use your bed for sleep. That way, your body draws a clear association: when you get into bed, it's time to wind down and fall asleep.
  1. Track your sleep with a sleep journal.These little choices add up—and the best way to see the impact is by tracking your sleep with a sleep journal. Mark down observations like:
    1. Your bedtime
    2. How long it took you to fall asleep
    3. How many times you woke up throughout the night
    4. What you ate for dinner (and when)
    5. Your alcohol and caffeine consumption throughout the day
    6. Whether you felt stressed or relaxed before bed
    7. When you woke up in the morning
    8. How you felt when you woke up in the morning

Marking down your diet, bedtimes and wake-up times, and how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally can provide a more objective vantage point for you to evaluate. This can help you see whether your diet is having an impact and keep you motivated to make healthy choices to improve your sleep hygiene.

Learning to Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

Good sleep hygiene is like any other healthy habit or routine—sustainability is far more important than perfection. Make small changes that you can adjust to over time. For instance, if you need to shift your wake-up time to be earlier, start making that change slowly by shifting your wake-up time to be 20 minutes earlier each day. Focus on consistency and cultivating healthy habits throughout the day and leading up to bedtime. Your efforts will pay off overnight with a rejuvenating deep sleep that helps your body recover, heal, and stay healthy.