A calming bedroom environment and a series of healthy practices called sleep hygiene can set the stage for a more restful night.
Want to feel better and improve your wellbeing? Getting more rest is an important step! Good sleep is essential for good health, as it’s the time when your body heals, recharges, and restores. And practicing simple sleep hygiene techniques can ensure you get the slumber you need.
Unfortunately, our modern lifestyles contribute toward poor sleep hygiene as they often involve late-night work emails and doomscrolling that can disrupt our sleep. Poor sleep hygiene and sleep deprivation can lead to more than just a bad mood the next day. Over time, chronic sleep deprivation can also negatively impact your heart and immune functions, increase your risk for high blood pressure or stroke, and impair your cognition and problem-solving skills.
A 2014 Gallup poll found that more hours of sleep were positively associated with overall health indicators, including social, financial, community, and physical wellbeing.
This is concerning as today more than one-third of Americans aren’t getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep that we need as a foundation for our physical and mental wellbeing, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). And that data was compiled before the Covid-19 pandemic, which has unsettled even the deepest sleepers—a trend some experts are calling “Coronasomnia.”
It’s time to improve our sleep hygiene!
What Is Sleep Hygiene?
Whether you’re someone who’s always had trouble sleeping or your issues cropped up recently, there are science-backed sleep habits that can prime your body for a more restful night. These best practices are called sleep hygiene.
Good sleep hygiene helps set you up for more all-day energy, less anxiety, and better problem-solving skills.
These 10 sleep-hygiene tips can encourage sounder, more continuous sleep so you’ll wake up feeling rested and more refreshed. Try them out and see if they put you on the path to getting your best sleep possible.
10 Techniques for Good Sleep Hygiene
1. Create a relaxing bedtime routine
Whether you read, journal, take a warm shower or bath, or meditate, doing at least one relaxing activity about an hour before bed cues your brain that it’s time to wind down. Other options include gentle yoga or stretching, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and listening to music.
2. Power down an hour before bed
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but sleep and screens are not compatible. “Blue light is caffeine for your brain!” says sleep specialist Michael Breus, PhD. The blue light from digital screens is especially disruptive to our sleep-wake bio rhythms, which is why all sleep experts recommend unplugging an hour before bed. Though many people swear by amber blue-light-blocking glasses, according to The Cleveland Clinic, there hasn’t been a lot of research backing them up. Blue light has, however, been shown to affect sleep, so a better bet is to stick to the science and turn off digital devices an hour before bed.
3. Dim the lights
Light and darkness cue your circadian rhythms, or body clock, in several ways so your body knows when it’s time to go to sleep (or wake up). Bright light, whether from lamps or electronics (or even peeking through the blinds when you’re in bed) can affect the quality of your sleep—both the soundness as well as the duration. Nighttime light also suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin, which tells the body it’s time to power down. Consider dimming the lights in your home after finishing dinner. If you wake up at night and need to use the bathroom, a nightlight will be less disruptive than switching on an overhead fixture.
4. Set a consistent sleep schedule
High on the list of experts’ sleep hygiene tips—and toughest for most people—is keeping a regular sleep schedule (because … who wants to wake up at 6:30 am on Saturday or Sunday?!)
Going to bed and getting up at the same time each day creates a sleep “framework,” setting the body’s internal clock so it knows when to sleep and when it should be awake. Breus places more importance on your wake-up time. “That’s the anchor of our circadian rhythm,” he says. “If your brain knows what time to wake up, it knows how to go backward and figure out when to fall asleep.” For most people, he says, your sleep drive won’t be a problem if you’ve got your rhythm stabilized. “And the time you’re asleep will become more restful.”
Even if you had a rough night, it’s best not to sleep in the next morning, which can throw your rhythm out of whack. Getting up at your usual time will heighten your sleep drive and help you sleep better the next night.
5. Keep things cool
A warm bedroom can interfere with the body’s natural thermoregulation that happens during sleep. Simply put, if your body heats up when it’s not supposed to, you’re more likely to wake up. Keeping the room cool keeps your body cool and will help ensure a more restful night. Sleep experts say a bedroom temperature of approximately 65 degrees Fahrenheit is most conducive to good sleep.
6. Cut out caffeine six hours before bed
Do you rely on your afternoon latte as a late-day pick-me-up? Though sensitivity to caffeine varies from person to person, research shows it affects sleep quality for everyone—including your friend who claims their double espresso after dinner doesn’t keep them awake. One study found that consuming caffeine six hours before bedtime reduced total sleep time by 1 hour. (The effects are more pronounced for older adults.) A good rule of thumb: Cut out caffeine—coffee, tea, colas—by around 2 pm.
7. Knock off the nightcaps
A stiff drink or nice glass of wine initially may make you drowsy, but alcohol can actually disrupt the quality of your sleep. Research has shown that heavy alcohol consumption before bed can delay sleep onset, meaning it’s harder to fall asleep. “There’s a difference between passing out and falling asleep!” says Breus. As liver enzymes metabolize the alcohol during the night, you’re also more likely to experience sleep disruptions and a decrease in sleep quality. “Alcohol almost obliterates stage 3-to-4 sleep,” the most restorative sleep stage, says Breus. “Not only that, because you’re spending more time in REM sleep [the lighter state of sleep when you dream] you’re more easily awakened during the night.” Breus recommends drinking one glass of water for each alcoholic beverage you consume and making your alcoholic-beverage cutoff time 3 hours before bed.
8. Add movement to your day
According to Charlene Gamaldo, MD, medical director of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep Disorders, there’s solid evidence that exercise helps you fall asleep more quickly and improve sleep quality. “Moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of slow wave sleep—the deep sleep when your brain and body rejuvenate,” she said. Exercise can also help stabilize your mood and decompress your mind, “a cognitive process that is important for naturally transitioning to sleep.”
During the pandemic, when many of us may be moving less than usual, Breus recommends breaking up back-to-back zoom calls with five minutes of 20 pushups or a lunchtime walk. Better yet, challenge yourself to take 10,000 steps. “Whatever you do, you should be moving every day, especially now. It will have a very positive effect on your sleep,” he says. However, both Breus and Dr. Gamaldo caution not to work out within 4 hours of your bedtime. Doing so will raise your core body temperature and make it harder to fall asleep.
9. Create a sleep sanctuary
A comfortable mattress and pillows are essential for good sleep, but whether they’re soft or firm is your choice, and may depend on your preferred sleep position. If you’re a side sleeper (as most people are), your pillow should comfortably support your head, neck and shoulders. Pillow fill is important to think about if you suffer from allergies. Look for pillows that are hypoallergenic to lessen the chance of nighttime congestion and sniffles that can keep you awake.
With stress-free sleep a little harder to come by these days, you might also want to consider investing in some beautiful new bedding, so you look forward to getting into bed. A cozy new duvet or blanket and soft sheets can add an extra level of comfort we could all use.
10. Change locations if you’re wide awake at 2 am
Sleepless nights happen to everyone and are not always due to poor sleep hygiene. If you’re tossing and turning, experts recommend getting up and going to another room, so you don’t associate your bed with frustration and worry. A relaxing activity like reading or listening to music can help redirect anxious thoughts and calm a busy mind—which is what’s keeping you awake. And try not to look at the clock, which will only get you riled you up and lead to more stress!
If you do peek at the time, Breus offers some reassurance: Simply resting with your eyes closed for an hour equals 20 minutes of restorative sleep. And in a more relaxed state, who knows, you might even fall back asleep.
*If you’re experiencing long stretches of sleeplessness, schedule a trip to the doctor to make sure you have no underlying medical issues.
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