Sleep hygiene is a list of guidelines scientifically proven to improve sleep.
Sleep can be influenced by many factors, such as:
- What you do during daytime
- What you eat and drink
- Your bedroom’s atmosphere
By doing your best to follow these simple sleep hygiene tips, your sleep will become so much better, and therefore you will feel better during the day as well.
Why not give it a try?
Whether you’re currently happy with the quality of your sleep or not, there’s always room to improve.
If you don’t feel refreshed after a night’s sleep, then the first thing to try before heading to a sleep specialist are these principles of sleep hygiene.
The sleep hygiene practices are based on taking into consideration lifestyle (diet, exercise, substance use) and environmental factors (light, noise, temperature) that may either interfere with or promote better sleep.
It could also include general advice on how to facilitate sleep better, such as allowing enough time to relax before your bedtime and maintaining a regular sleep schedule.
Test yourself and see how many of the below sleep hygiene guidelines you already incorporate to your schedule and how many of them not yet.
1. Avoid stimulants (e.g., caffeine, nicotine) for several hours before bedtime
Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants. Therefore, no surprise they cause trouble sleeping.
When designing your daily schedule, keep in mind that caffeine takes about 1 hour to kick in and that its duration of action is 3-4 hours.
Caffeine use significantly disturbs sleep in susceptible persons.
It would be wise therefore to avoid drinking coffee in the late afternoon or evening hours. Try to have your last caffeinated beverage at least 5 hours before you intend to go to sleep.
Additionally, try to drink not more than 3 cups of coffee per day.
And remember, caffeine exists in other places besides coffee. Tea, some soft and energy drinks and chocolate also contain caffeine. The only caffeinated beverage I would drink after sunset is white or green tea.
Regarding nicotine, when it is smoked, its onset is within seconds. The half-life of nicotine is 1-2 hours and while its primary effects last 10-45 minutes, it may take 2 hours for it to really wear off.
Nicotine dependency may cause nocturnal awakenings.
I seriously suggest that you quit smoking if you are currently a smoker, but if you must smoke, take your last cigarette at least 2 hours before your bedtime.
2. Avoid alcohol and marijuana around bedtime because they fragment sleep
With alcohol, it is less obvious why you should avoid it before bed. On the contrary, many people think it’s a sleep aid.
But it’s far from that.
Alcohol does have a sleep-inducing effect, however it often promotes sleep disturbance as the night progresses.
While low doses of alcohol don’t seem to cause any noticeable effects on sleep, drinking larger amounts before going to sleep causes an increase in the deeper stages of sleep while suppressing REM sleep.
REM sleep is the stage of sleep where most dreams occur.
By the end of the night, the effect wanes and a REM rebound occurs where you may experience an increase in REM sleep. This may be accompanied by intense (albeit difficult to remember) dreams in the early morning hours after a drinking night.
Alcohol causes your sleep to be more broken and less refreshing than normal.
When and how much should you drink to avoid any adverse effects on your sleep?
Drinking just 1-2 drinks might not cause any problems at all. But if you drink more than that, try to do so at least 4 hours before your bed time.
A glass of wine with dinner will likely not be an issue.
Ingesting marijuana (specifically THC) causes minimal sleep disruption. It is characterizing by a slight reduction of REM sleep.
Chronic THC ingestion causes a long-term suppression of slow-wave sleep.
If the quality of your sleep matters to you, try to avoid using cannabis regularly.
3. Exercise regularly (especially in late afternoon or early evening)
Are you familiar with that pleasurable experience of relaxing in bed after a physically hard day?
Even if you don’t, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that tiring your body makes you sleep faster and deeper.
Try engaging in daily moderate activity in the late afternoon or early evening hours.
Go for a walk, jog, swim or bike ride, or simply organize your house.
It will make your sleep deeper.
Make sure not to exercise right before bedtime though as it may make it more difficult to fall asleep quickly. Try to time your exercise session to 4-8 hours before bedtime.
In general, improving your fitness level leads to better quality sleep.
Indeed, if you’re overweight, losing some weight may be the best thing you can do to improve your sleep quality.
4. Allow at least a 1-hour period to unwind before bedtime
Take the time to prepare your body to sleep at least 30-60 minutes before your bedtime.
If you skip this unwinding, you are basically carrying all the physical and mental tensions and stress you collected throughout the day.
For me, sleep is a sacred space and my bedroom is a temple. I see it as sacrilege to enter that space unclean of the impurities of day-to-day life.
During your final waking hour, try to dissolve all your worries and tensions by meditating or engaging in a quiet and relaxing activity that you enjoy.
Let go of everything that happened to you during the day.
Clean your mind and calm your body.
An important consideration for your winding down time would be to avoid exposing yourself to light, which can decrease your sleep hormone (melatonin) levels.
This includes screens.
Yes, your computer and smart phone screens can hurt your sleep if you are exposed to their light just before bedtime.
If you can’t go to sleep without watching your favorite TV show, then consider using glasses that block blue light in the hours before bedtime. Alternatively, you can use your operating system’s blue light settings.
Here’s how this setting is configured on Windows 10.
Right click on your desktop, click “Display settings,” then on “Night light settings.” You’ll see the following window:
Just schedule night light to turn on sunset to sunrise and you’re all set!
5. Keep your bedroom environment quiet, dark, and comfortable
Maintaining a comfortable sleep environment is very important.
Make sure your room is quiet and dark. Noise and light (even dim light) may interfere with your sleep.
If there’s light outside during even part of your sleep hours, make sure to cover your windows so that the daylight doesn’t interfere with your sleep.
The temperature in the room should also be comfortable. Try to keep it not higher than 75 degrees Fahrenheit (about 24 degrees Celsius).
If it’s warmer than that, turn on the AC!
6. Maintain a regular sleep schedule
Keeping regular bedtimes and rise times is critical since our sleep runs on a circadian rhythm.
We have a biological clock that signals when it’s time to sleep, when it’s time to enter deep sleep and when it’s time to wake up.
To understand what changing your sleep schedule can do to your body, just think about the last time you experienced jet lag.
Jet lag is caused because the environment changed but your biological clock hasn’t yet. It takes a few days for environmental stimuli (specifically, light) to make your brain adjust your sleep schedule.
This is an extreme example though. You can experience a similar phenomena on a smaller scale by going to sleep just a few hours later than what you’re used to.
Occasionally, reality dictates being flexible with your sleep times, but as a rule, try to keep them pretty consistent.
If possible, try making sure that your fixed schedule involves sleeping during the dark hours, as close as possible to sunset, and waking up around sunrise.
7. Remove electronic devices from your bedroom
Electronic devices emit not only light, but also sound, heat and electromagnetic radiation which may influence your sleep.
Not to mention if that Facebook notification or SMS actually wakes you up when you were just about to drift off to sleep…
If possible, see to it that there will be no electronic devices whatsoever in your bedroom.
8. Eat foods that improve sleep quality
Some foods can help bring drowsiness and would therefore be great bedtime snacks.
What is so special about these foods, you may be wondering?
Well, to understand this, we have to be familiar with melatonin first.
Melatonin is a hormone which regulates your sleepiness. Your brain produces constantly, making drowsy and ready for sleep.
Light, by the way, destroys melatonin, which explains why you should sleep in a completely dark room.
To produce melatonin, your body uses an amino acid called tryptophan.
Tryptophan cannot be produced by the body; it must be obtained from the food we eat.
Which foods are high in tryptophan?
- Seeds, especially pumpkin and squash seeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and flaxseeds.
- Nuts, especially pistachio nuts, cashew nuts, almonds and hazelnuts (filberts).
- Soy products, such as soybeans, tofu and tempeh.
- Whole grains, especially whole oats and buckwheat.
- Beans and legumes (especially white beans, black beans and lentils).
So if you find yourself looking for something to eat at midnight, why not grab a high-tryptophan, melatonin-production-supporting snack?
Another option is to eat foods with naturally-occurring melatonin, such as fresh cranberries, tart cherries, walnuts and pistachios.
Sleep Hygiene: Conclusion
The above sleep hygiene tips will benefit almost anyone, even mild insomniacs.
To use your shut-eye time optimally, avoid using marijuana. Avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine for several hours before bedtime. Exercise daily 4-8 hours before bed. One hour before bedtime, take the time to relax and unwind. Have a tryptophan (or melatonin) -rich snack if you’re hungry. Then, go sleep in your comfortable, quiet, dark and devoid of electronics room. Repeat daily, at the same hours.
Some people though, especially those who suffer from severe insomnia, will likely need to include some other approaches.
If you still need additional help, I’d recommend trying a mindfulness-based approach, such as a guided meditation.