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Sleep hygiene tips

Paving the way for a deeper sleep may simply be a matter of adjusting our habits. Our bodies aren’t meant to stay amped up and then drop into sleep like a stone. They’re meant to gradually unwind. A series of healthy practices called sleep hygiene can help create the ideal conditions for healthy, restful sleep.

What is sleep hygiene?

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.

Here’s the happy news: Getting good sleep is more accessible than you might imagine. Your routines and behaviors during the day, and especially before bedtime, can affect the quality of your rest. Replacing activities and habits that can disrupt your sleep with science-backed healthy sleep practices can mean the difference between a restful night and a restless one.

Healthy habits that encourage better sleep, to help you stay refreshed and aware during the day, are called sleep hygiene.

Try a Headspace wind-down exercise for sleep

What are the benefits of good sleep hygiene?

Here’s what it feels like: You’re alert all day long — from the time you wake up through a seemingly endless afternoon meeting, right up to your (hopefully regular) bedtime — which we’ll address in the tips below. You’re more focused, more productive, more present.

Good sleep hygiene sets the stage for a restful night when your body heals and restores itself. Getting quality sleep is 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 sleep can 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.

When you sleep better, you feel better, and you’re kinder to others.

Research shows that after a good night’s sleep, you’re likely to feel less anxious and more confident. There are so many ways that sleeping well makes your life immeasurably better. And proper sleep hygiene can help that happen.

11 tips for proper sleep hygiene

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!) Here are the proper sleep hygiene practices that 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 bridge/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 your mobile 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? (We do!) Caffeine, however, is a stimulant. If you’re having trouble sleeping, you’ll want to avoid beverages and foods that contain caffeine — coffee, tea, colas, and 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. Adult beverages 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 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.

What are the signs 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.

How can I set the stage for more sound sleep?

So, after reading this, maybe you’ve decided that you’re tired of feeling tired, and you’d like to adopt some healthy sleep habits, but you’re not sure where to start. A helpful, simple way to begin is with a meditation for sleep, a sleepcast, or sleep music from Headspace, which can lead to a calmer mind and help create the ideal conditions for healthy, restful sleep.

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