What is Sleep Hygiene?

Posted by Nicole on February 10

If you have trouble sometimes sleeping at night, you might hear that you need to practice better sleep hygiene. What exactly is sleep hygiene? It just refers to healthy habits that can promote restful, regular sleep.

While there are some general practices you can follow, your body and mind are unique, so you will need to personalize sleep hygiene tips to your own needs.

We can split sleep hygiene recommendations into two basic categories: tips for your environment, and tips for your habits and routines. Let’s go over both.

Tips for a Restful Sleep Environment

  • Check if your mattress and pillow are providing appropriate support. If they are not, this is the time to replace them.
  • Most people sleep best in a room that is very dark.
  • Being too hot or cold will probably keep you up, so try and regulate your bedroom temperature.
  • Are there a lot of random, abrupt noises in the night? White noise can help to drown these out a bit, which may make it easier to fall and stay asleep.

Healthy Habits for Nightly Rest

  • Make your sleep schedule as consistent as you can. Do not vary it on weekends, and try and avoid the temptation of afternoon naps.
  • Work out daily if you can. Should you exercise before bed? This may be okay for some people, but for others it might just make it harder to fall asleep.
  • Better Health Channel suggests, “Avoid caffeinated drinks (like tea, coffee, cola or chocolate) close to bedtime. Instead, have a warm, milky drink, since milk contains a sleep-enhancing amino acid.”
  • Do not smoke, and be moderate with your use of alcohol. Better Health Channel says, “Drinking before bed may help you doze off but, since alcohol disturbs the rhythm of sleep patterns, you won’t feel refreshed in the morning.”
  • Avoid exposing yourself to blue light at night, as it can disrupt your circadian rhythms. Find out more about blue light insomnia. Consider switching off your devices and finding other things to do in the hour before you go to bed. Alternately, check if your device has a blue light filter, or if you can buy one to place over your screen.
  • Eat a nutritious diet that includes vitamin B6, magnesium, and other nutrients that your body needs.
  • Do not rely on OTC medications for sleep. Their effectiveness is questionable, and it is also possible to build a tolerance to them. Not only that, but some of them are anticholinergic. Drugs in this class have been implicated in the development of dementia. So, they are a poor choice for both your short- and long-term health.
  • Unless there is a dire emergency, you should stay away from anxiety-inducing things before bedtime. That means no looking at your bills, running your budget, answering work emails, staying up late talking about your relationship problems, etc.
  • Still can’t get your worries out of your head? A simple trick is to write them down. That way, your mind knows that you will not somehow forget to deal with them. You also will not feel like you are discounting your own concerns. You simply are externalizing them until morning.                     
  • Some people find relaxation exercises helpful before bedtime. Examples can include visualization exercises, progressively relaxing muscles, or various forms of meditation.
  • Another activity that many people find effective for relaxing before bed is to take a warm bath. Just make sure you do not overheat in the tub.
  • If you find yourself staring at the clock in dread in the small hours of the morning, it might be a good idea to remove the clock from your room, or at least turn it so that it is no longer facing you. Try not to look at it, as doing so will only reinforce your feeling that you are failing to fall asleep and will not be able to succeed in time.
  • Avoid using your bed for anything other than sleeping whenever possible. That way, your mind associates it with one and only one thing: sleep. Otherwise, your brain could get into a habit of alertness and high energy in bed.
  • Have pets? If it is at all possible, try to get their sleep schedules to line up with yours. You will probably not be able to get this to work out perfectly, but by playing with them more during the daytime and optimizing their feeding schedules, you should be able to minimize interruptions overnight.
  • Do something before bed that you personally enjoy. Relaxation exercises work for a lot of folks, but that does not mean that you need to limit yourself exclusively to them. If you find that a completely different activity works better for you like reading a book, working on a craft, or so on, go with that.
  • Make whatever you do before bed a routine. One more recommendation is that you try and be consistent with whatever it is you generally like to do before going to sleep. Just by making it into a routine, you signal your mind that it is time to start winding down each night.

A Restful Night of Sleep is Possible

Making adjustments to your sleep hygiene is going to take time at first. You might need to make some investments (like buying a new pillow), and you may also have to come up with some creative solutions.

But once you have made your sleep environment more relaxing and replaced bad habits with good ones, you should start finding it easier to get the rest you need each night.