The term “sleep hygiene” can be a bit misleading, as it doesn’t include washing your face or brushing your teeth before bed. (But remember to do those things, too!)
Sleep hygiene is science-backed practices — during the day and before bedtime — that help create the ideal conditions for healthy sleep, can mean the difference between a restful night and a restless one.
Take a break to relax and bring a sense of ease to the body and mind, so you can feel more present and better able to enjoy whatever comes next.
When you climb into bed, does it take forever to fall asleep? Or are you out like a light the minute your head hits the pillow only to wake up at 2 am, tossing and turning? If one of these describes you, you’re in good company. Or maybe not so good.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than a third of Americans aren’t getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep needed for our overall health and well-being. Some of this might be a result of poor sleep hygiene.
The most obvious signs of poor sleep hygiene are trouble falling asleep, disrupted sleep, and — of course — feeling fatigued and foggy throughout the day. Sleep deprivation slows our reflexes, sabotages decision-making and saps creativity.
A recent study showed that failing to get enough sleep can also make us feel anxious and sad. The study linked sleep deprivation to problems diverting our attention away from negative thoughts and ideas, which may put us at greater risk for depression.
Here’s the happy news: Getting good sleep is more accessible than we might imagine. For a start, we can start to practice healthy sleep hygiene habits that encourage better rest and to help you stay refreshed and aware during the day.
Here’s what it feels like during the day: You’re alert — from the time you wake up through a seemingly endless afternoon meeting, right up to your (hopefully regular) bedtime. You’re more focused, more productive, more present. Now, the stage is set for a restful night of quality sleep.
Getting quality sleep doesn't just feel good. It's important for your health. It strengthens your immune system, helps you maintain a healthy weight, and lowers your risk for serious health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
Good quality sleep can also improve your mood and even your memory. While you sleep, your brain forms new pathways to help you remember information. Whether you’re learning new computer skills or studying a new subject at school, restful sleep supports better comprehension and problem-solving skills.
Research even shows that after a good night’s sleep, you’re likely to feel less anxious and more confident.
Settle the mind, rest the body — and make it easier to wind down and drift off in the first part of this 10-day meditation course (full course available only to Headspace subscribers).
Here's how to create ideal conditions for a healthy, restful sleep:
1. Set a consistent sleep schedule. Topping sleep specialists’ lists — and hardest for many people — is keeping a regular sleep schedule. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, give or take 20 minutes, including weekends. Creating a sleep framework sets the body’s internal clock to expect to rest at a certain time each day. Contrary to what might seem logical, even if you haven’t slept well during the night, it’s best not to allow yourself to sleep in later the next morning. Getting up at your usual time will heighten your “sleep drive,” and help you sleep better the following night.
2. Create a relaxing bedtime/pre-bedtime routine. Whether it’s a warm bath, reading a book, listening to sleepcasts from Sleep by Headspace, nature sounds, sleep music, or meditating, any relaxing activity about an hour before bed helps creates a smoother transition between wakefulness and sleep.
3. Keep your room cool and comfortable. The ideal room for sleeping is cool, quiet, and dark. Studies show that a bedroom temperature of around 65 degrees Fahrenheit is most conducive to healthy, restful sleep. Your mattress and pillows should feel really comfy, allowing your body to settle down and relax.
4. Dim the lights after dark. Getting enough natural light during the day is important for keeping your circadian rhythm, or body clock, on a healthy sleep-wake cycle. Bright light from lamps and electronics at night, however, can mess that cycle up, making it harder to fall asleep. That’s because light, especially blue light from your laptop or cell phone, interferes with the release of melatonin, a hormone that tells our body that it’s time to wind down. Think about dimming the lights at home after you finish dinner, or once you get into bed. And, of course …
5. ...unplug an hour before bed. You’ve probably heard this a million times, but it’s worth repeating: Screens and sleep are incompatible. Keeping screen use to a minimum, at least an hour before bed, is essential for sound sleep. Besides the light disrupting your body clock, games, videos, work emails, and social feeds all conspire to keep your mind active — and keep you awake way later than you should be.
Make it a habit to sleep with your phone out of reach, if possible. Keeping it off your night table means it will be out of reach, especially when you can’t sleep. If you feel that it’s not possible to keep your phone in another room at night, consider putting it into “Do Not Disturb” or nighttime mode to block notifications from flashing or vibrating your phone during the night. Another idea is to keep it face-down on your nightstand so that you will not see it light up in the night. If you need help waking up, consider an old-fashioned alarm clock.
6. Steer clear of stimulants late in the day. Who doesn’t love a good cup of coffee as a late-afternoon pick-me-up? Caffeine, however, is a stimulant. If you’re having trouble sleeping, you’ll want to avoid beverages and foods that contain caffeine — coffee, non-herbal tea, colas, even chocolate — at least 6 hours prior to bedtime.
7. Avoid foods that can disrupt sleep. Citrus fruits, spicy food, fatty or fried food, and heavy meals are all tough on the digestive system and can trigger indigestion. If you’re prone to heartburn, eating too close to bedtime can mean a night of misery. That’s because it takes your stomach 3 to 4 hours to empty, so when you lie down right after a big meal, your digestive juices are still cranking. The result: burning chest pain and disrupted sleep.
8. Nix the nightcaps. Even a single glass of wine close to bedtime can impact your sleep. Though alcohol initially will make you feel drowsy, ultimately it can interfere with the quality of your sleep. Alcohol alters what’s called “sleep architecture,” the natural flow of sleep through different stages such as deep sleep, REM sleep, and light sleep. Drinking can also lead to lighter, more restless sleep, diminishing sleep depth and quality, so you’re more likely to wake up feeling fatigued.
9. Get regular exercise. A 2013 study found that a regular exercise routine can help contribute to improved sleep. The study results suggest that the effects of exercise on improving your sleep may not be immediate, however. It may take a few weeks or even months before an exercise routine creates a substantial impact on the quality and quantity of your sleep.
It’s safe to say that if you have trouble sleeping, you may want to get your workout in earlier in the day, or at least 3 hours before bedtime. Exercise stimulates your body to produce the stress hormone cortisol that keeps your brain alert. Which is perfectly normal and fine, unless you’re trying to fall asleep.
10. Only use your bed for sleep and sex. If you struggle with sleep issues, it’s important to use your bedroom just for sleep (and sex). That means no TV, no internet browsing, no late-night heart-to-hearts with a partner or spouse. In doing this, you will train your mind to see your bed as a place of rest.
Along these same lines, sleep hygiene experts recommend getting out of bed and going to another room if you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes. A relaxing activity — reading, listening to music, even a warm shower — can help get you drowsy. The goal of this technique, called stimulus control, is to break the association of bed as a place of frustration and worry (when counting sheep isn’t working).
11. Limit or avoid naps during the day. Plenty of famous people throughout history — including Salvador Dali, Albert Einstein, and Winston Churchill — have been fans of the catnap. In corporate America, some companies have embraced the idea, setting up workplace nap rooms. Although a short power nap of 20-25 minutes can lift your mood and leave you more refreshed, at least in the short term, it won’t make up for poor quality sleep at night. However, if you are experiencing trouble falling or staying asleep, it can be best to avoid naps altogether. A late-afternoon snooze will decrease your homeostatic sleep drive, making it harder to drift off at bedtime.