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Sleep Hygiene

  1. What Is Sleep Hygiene?
  2. Why Is Good Sleep Hygiene So Important?
  3. Signs of Poor Sleep Hygiene
  4. Sleep Hygiene Guidelines
  5. What About Sleeping Pills for Insomnia?
  6. What if I Still Can’t Fall Asleep After Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene?
  7. Sleep Hygiene FAQs
  8. Relevant and Related Searches

What Is Sleep Hygiene?

We spend a full third[1] of our lives sleeping (or trying to, anyway), and the quality (and quantity) of that sleep impacts how we enjoy the other two thirds. Even fairly short periods of sleep disturbances or loss of those Zs can wreak havoc on our moods, mental functioning, and physical health. To promote proper rest, many people practice what is known as good “sleep hygiene” - a set of healthy bedtime behaviors or habits that have nothing to do with cleanliness, but everything to do with encouraging a visit from the Sandman and warding off insomnia.

The following guide covers:

And several other areas key to good sleep hygiene.

Why Is Good Sleep Hygiene So Important?

Before we explore the ins and outs of sleep hygiene, it’s worth taking a look at what sleep does for us - and the effects of a lack thereof.

Sleep is key to keeping our physical and mental health ship-shape, and it’s necessary for sustained productivity and a decent quality of life. When we’re asleep, our body goes into rest and repair mode, and our brain removes toxic proteins that build up from daytime neural activity. If we don’t get enough sleep, those toxins stick around - impairing our ability to think.[2] The less we sleep, the lower our processing and problem-solving abilities (not to mention creativity), and the higher our stress levels.

But that’s not all that happens when we lose sleep - the debt takes a toll on our bodies, too. The odd bad night won’t do much harm, but regular sleep deprivation may increase the risk of a range of serious health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and obesity. It’s also linked to memory loss, depression and mood disorders.[3] When we don’t sleep well, our levels of the stress hormone cortisol shoot up, putting a strain on our immune system and making us look - and feel - older.[2] Unfortunately, a daily caffeine habit punctuated by power naps is not a sustainable substitute for good, solid sleep.

Signs of Poor Sleep Hygiene

If you frequently suffer from sleep disturbances and dread the bed, or are groggy during the day, you may need to reassess your bedtime habits. Try the suggestions below to see if they help you get more rest.

Sleep Hygiene Guidelines

The following tips may help you to forge healthier bedtime habits and combat insomnia.

The Importance of a Sleep Routine

Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day - even on weekends. This will help set your body’s internal clock, reinforcing the natural sleep-wake cycle. You might not like waking up early on a Saturday, but doing so may help you feel less fuzzy come Monday.

Are You Getting the Right Amount of Sleep?

Sleeping too little - or too much - will leave you feeling suboptimal. Research suggests that for healthy individuals, adults need a good 7-9 hours of sleep a night, while older adults can get away with 7-8. Teenagers need a solid 8-10, school-aged children 9-11, preschoolers 10-13, and toddlers a whopping 11-14 hours. Babies, of course, need even more than that. If you’re out of the range, consider making some adjustments to your sleep time.[4]

Creating a Sleep Sanctuary

To turn your bedroom into a sleep-inducing environment, take steps to make it cool, dark, quiet and comfortable. Blackout curtains and sleep masks can reduce artificial light that disrupts your circadian rhythm and keeps you awake at night. Electronics (including your phone) should be dimmed or turned off at least 30-60 minutes before bedtime, or left out of the bedroom entirely.

Position your alarm clock so that it doesn’t bother you, consider earplugs or a white noise machine to cut out distracting sounds, try keep the room well ventilated, and - if possible - make sure it’s nice and cool (between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, or roughly 18 - 24 C). Invest in a decent mattress (most wear out after a decade or so), and change your pillows and bedding if they are causing discomfort. You might find natural fibers to be more conducive to sleep.

Finally, keep stressful topics out of the bedroom. Avoid discussing big decisions or issues in bed, as they can lead to lots of sheep-counting, and get in the way of mentally associating the space with peaceful sleep.

Building a Relaxing Bedtime Routine

Jumping right into bed after eating, working or exercising doesn’t give you a chance to decompress and get ready for restful sleep. About 30-60 minutes before going to bed, make time for a hot shower or bath, cup of warm milk or non-caffeinated tea, and relaxing activities - like a massage, reading, journaling, or meditating. Avoid dwelling on work or other stressful topics, as they can push up cortisol levels - and push down your chances of getting a good night’s sleep.

Listening to Your Body

Only go to bed when you’re actually tired - and if you haven’t managed to doze off in 20 minutes or so, get up and do something relaxing for a bit, like reading or listening to music. Keep the lights dim, and wait until you start feeling drowsy before hitting the sack again. Lying in bed trying to force yourself to sleep can leave you frustrated, stressed and unable to switch off.

Daytime Naps

While the odd power nap can help you get through the day, long naps late in the day can get in the way of your nighttime sleep. Try to skip napping altogether, or - if you can’t get by without a few moments of shuteye - keep your nap to under 30 minutes, and try to take it before 5pm.

Caffeine and Other Stimulants

Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol are not the companions of restful sleep. Found in coffee, tea, cola, chocolate and even some pain medications, caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake long past your bedtime. Try to have your last cup of coffee at least 3-6 hours before bed - and do the same with your cigarettes. Ditto alcohol - while a glass of wine may initially make you feel drowsy, it interferes with the quality of your sleep and can leave you feeling poorly rested. Limit intake to one or two glasses, and get them out of the way at least three hours before retiring for the night.

Dinner Matters - Food Intake and Sleep

Feeling too full or a bit peckish can prevent you falling asleep, so make sure you eat a decent, well-portioned (and not overly spicy) meal for dinner - and try to have it a few hours before bed. If you need a late-night snack, keep it light and easy on the digestion. A banana or glass of milk is usually good. Avoid drinking too much just before bed though, or you may find yourself trotting off to the bathroom in the night.

Herbal Teas and Other Remedies for Relaxation

A cup of chamomile tea or one of the many “bedtime” herbal tea blends on the market may help you to drop off more easily. You could also try a mug of warm milk[5] (with a pinch of nutmeg for added effect[6]) to help you relax before hitting the lights. Other suggestions for winding down include meditation, progressive muscle relaxation and aromatherapy.

The Benefits of Getting Outdoors

Exposure to natural light does good things for the body’s internal clock, so make an effort to get outside as much as possible during the day - even if that means a short tea break or stroll.

The Power of Exercise

Exercise helps lower stress levels and can promote feelings of relaxation and wellbeing. Fitting in a workout in the late afternoon is ideal - as you’ll feel nice and tired come bedtime. However, leaving exercise till late in the evening - particularly if it’s vigorous - can interfere with sleep, so try to finish up your walks, runs and other fitness activities at least three hours before bed.

Sleep Hygiene Takes Time

It may take a while to cultivate healthy sleep habits - so there’s no need to panic if you don’t see immediate results. A lot of sleep hygiene involves breaking bad habits that have been entrenched over many years - so allow yourself some time to get into the new routine. If you have the odd bad night, don’t stress - just keep at it.

What About Sleeping Pills for Insomnia?

Sleeping pills and sedatives are no substitute for natural sleep. These medications may help you get to sleep, but they interfere with the quality of your snooze[2] - and the benefits that you get from a good night’s sleep. It’s best to avoid them as much as possible.

What if I Still Can’t Fall Asleep After Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene?

If you’ve tried the above sleep hygiene tips and have not found relief, it may be a good idea to talk to a medical practitioner. Many health conditions can cause sleep disturbances and daytime drowsiness, and may require special treatment. Examples include sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, narcolepsy and thyroiditis.[7]

Sleep Hygiene FAQs

Q: Is there such a thing as sleep hygiene for teens?
A: Absolutely. Sleep hygiene is important for people of all ages - and that includes teenagers. Though teens may struggle with a shifting biological clock, early school start times and busy schedules, they should try to follow the sleep hygiene guidelines above to ensure they get their full 8-10 hours a night.[8]

Q: What can I do when I’m jetlagged?
A: If you’ve recently taken a long-haul flight and your internal clock is still in another time zone, try to follow your usual routine in the new place. Go to bed only when it’s night time where you currently are, minimize caffeine intake, and get outdoors in the morning for exposure to natural light (this will help reset your body clock).[9]

  1. Scientific American. “Science Explains Why We Really Do Need to Sleep a Third of Our Lives Away.” October 1, 2015. Accessed August 29, 2017. 

  2. Huffington Post.“Poor Sleep Hygiene Is Killing You And Your Career.” April 26, 2017. Accessed August 29, 2017.  2 3

  3. Alaska Sleep Clinic. “What is Sleep Hygiene? The Best Practices to Help You Sleep Everynight.” December 3, 2014. Accessed August 29, 2017. 

  4. Sleep Health. “National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary.” March, 2015. Accessed August 30, 2017. 

  5. Huffington Post. “We Ask Sleep Experts Whether Warm Milk Can Really Help You Fall Asleep.” August 4, 2016. Accessed September 13, 2017. 

  6. Smart Cooky. “7 Incredible Nutmeg Benefits: From Inducing Sleep to Relieving Pain.” September 20, 2016. Accessed September 13, 2017. 

  7. Healthy Sleep. “Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep.” December 18, 2007. Accessed August 30, 2017. 

  8. Choc Children’s. “Sleep Hygiene for Teens.” Accessed August 30, 2017. 

  9. “Jet Lag - Time Zone Change Syndrome.” September 23, 1998. Accessed August 30, 2017.