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Up in the middle of the night Googling, “how to sleep better” again? Step one: Put down your phone for now—3 a.m. is no time to be doing research or staring at your phone (more on that later).
Step two: Come back to this in the morning to learn all about what could be causing your problem sleeping, proper sleep hygiene practices to adopt, and other tips to help you sleep soundly.
The sleep hygiene definition is simple: conditions or habits that help you sleep better at night. There are all kinds of sleep hygiene practices that can help if you’re having trouble sleeping, from adjusting your environment to switching up your routine.
Why Is Sleep Hygiene Important?
Just as regular hygiene practices—like brushing your teeth and showering regularly—are important for maintaining your health, improving sleep hygiene is, too. Humans need sleep to function properly, but there are plenty of things that can keep that from happening.
Bad sleep hygiene can prevent you from falling asleep quickly, cause you to wake up regularly during the night, and overall keep you from getting the recommended amount of sleep you need (7-9 hours for the average adult). Good sleep hygiene improves your chances of getting the shut-eye you need.
Good Sleep Hygiene vs. Poor Sleep Hygiene
So what exactly is good vs. bad sleep hygiene? We’ll get into the specifics in a bit, but overall good sleep hygiene is anything that helps your body know when it should be sleeping and calm down enough to prepare for it, whereas poor sleep hygiene is anything that keeps you stimulated well into the night. And, just like with any hygiene habit, proper sleep hygiene is something you have to practice regularly to keep yourself in tip-top sleeping shape.
Before we get into solving your bedtime blues, let’s talk about the root of the problem you may be facing. Insomnia is a sleep disorder in which you have a hard time falling or staying asleep. It can be acute (lasting just a night or two) or chronic—something you deal with regularly for a long period of time. There are other sleep disorders that can cause sleeplessness, too.
What are sleep disorders? Anything that’s affecting the quality, amount, or schedule of your sleep in a way that’s affecting your daily life. Figuring out precisely what’s causing your lack of shut-eye can help you get on the path to solving it.
Causes of Insomnia
Many factors can lead to sleeplessness, some that can be resolved by better sleep hygiene for insomnia, such as:
- Stress, either from a specific event or general life concerns
- A disruptive travel or work schedule
- Stimulating activities before bed
- A distracting sleep environment
- Blue light from screens
- Not getting enough activity during the day
- Too much caffeine, especially late in the day
- Too much alcohol, especially late in the day
- Eating a heavy meal or rich food, especially late in the day
There are also some causes of insomnia that can’t be fixed by sleep hygiene tips alone, will likely require medical attention to address the root cause, including:
- Mental health disorders, such as anxiety or PTSD
- Medications that affect sleep
- Chronic pain
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or acid reflux
Other Common Sleep Disorders
If you’re suffering from insomnia but feel like none of the above applies to you, it’s worth talking to your doctor about whether you have symptoms of sleep disorders such as:
- Sleep apnea: Abnormal breathing patterns during sleep, which can cause lower quality rest
- Restless leg syndrome: Uncomfortable feelings in the legs that cause an overwhelming urge to move them
- Parasomnias: Unusual behaviors that occur during sleep, such as sleepwalking or night terrors
- Shift work disorder: Dramatically disrupted circadian rhythms caused by people having to work overnight or irregular shifts
Problems Lack of Sleep Causes
If you’re reading this article, I doubt I have to tell you why you should be worried about solving problems of sleeplessness. But, just in case, let’s review. Lack of sleep can cause a wealth of short-term symptoms, including:
- Trouble thinking and concentrating, leading to poor job performance and decision-making
- Poor memory retention
- Mood changes, such as crankiness or heightened emotions
- Slower response time, which can lead to dangerous accidents
- Weakened immune system
- Lower libido
But, more than that, regular loss of sleep can lead to long-term health issues, including:
- Higher risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease
- Higher likelihood of triggering mental health issues, like anxiety and depression
- Potential negative impacts on fertility
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Of course, if you’re having trouble sleeping, you’re probably already well aware of the problems it’s causing—and more concerned with how to sleep better, stat. The following sleep hygiene tips should start to get you back on track.
1. Build a Bedroom Fit for Sleeping
If you’re wondering how to improve sleep hygiene, it’s best to start with where you get your shut-eye. The ideal sleeping environment should:
- Have a comfortable bed, pillow, and linens
- Be as dark as possible, using blackout curtains or an eye mask to block out any light you can’t get rid of
- Be as quiet as possible, using earplugs or a white noise machine to block out environmental sounds you can’t control
- Be a cool but comfortable temperature—most research suggests around 65℉ is ideal
If you have pets who move around at night, it’s best to keep them out of the bedroom (or at least out of the bed). If you have a partner who moves around and keeps you up, consider if a bigger bed would give you more space.
Finally, if you can, it’s best to only use your bedroom for sleeping, sex, and any relaxing pre-bed activities. Watching TV, using your computer, or even browsing your phone in your bedroom can prevent your body from associating that space with serene slumber.
2. Create a Sleep Hygiene Routine
Good sleep is largely regulated by your circadian rhythm—emphasis on the word rhythm. Having an irregular sleep schedule can prevent your body from knowing when it should be sleeping. Good sleep hygiene for insomnia involves helping that rhythm by keeping a regular bed and wake time—ideally even on the weekends when you’re tempted to stay up late and sleep in.
Figure out what time you need to get up in the morning, and then count back 7-9 hours from that to find your bedtime. From there, support your sleep even more by building in at least 30 minutes of time to wind down with a relaxing activity, like reading or doing a sleep meditation. Ideally, this activity will involve keeping away from screens, too, as blue light has been shown to affect sleep.
3. Think About Sleep Long Before You’re In Bed
Good sleep habits shouldn’t just happen once the sun goes down. In fact, a lot of your daytime activities can greatly affect your slumber, so you should be thinking about these tips to help you sleep all day long:
- Avoid drinking too much coffee and tea, and try to cut yourself off completely 6-8 hours before bedtime so it has time to cycle out of your system.
- While alcohol can make you fall asleep faster, it often leads to lower quality sleep, so try to avoid drinking heavily, especially close to bedtime.
- Exercising is a great way to sleep better at night because it wears your body out—just try not to work out too close to bedtime as it could hype you up.
- It shouldn’t come as a surprise that sleeping during the day can prevent you from sleeping well at night. If you must nap, try to keep it short (20-30 minutes) and earlier in the day.
Need help keeping track of everything? Use the checklist below to check on your habits every day, and you’ll be well on your way to improving sleep hygiene and sleeping better every night.
- Create the perfect sleep environment
- Get a mattress, pillow, and linens that are comfortable
- Set your thermostat to a cool temperature
- Darken your room as much as possible or use an eye mask
- Keep your environment quiet, or use a noise machine or earplugs to block out external sounds
- Avoid using your bed for other activities besides sleeping, winding down, and sex
- Build a sleep routine
- Go to bed at the same time every night
- Wake up at the same time every morning
- Block out time for your ideal amount of sleep
- Build in at least 30 minutes to wind down with a relaxing activity
- Stay away from screens at least an hour before bed
- Optimize your daytime routine for better sleep
- Avoid drinking caffeine 6-8 hours before bed
- Don’t drink too much alcohol before bedtime
- Work out in the morning, afternoon, or early evening
- Don’t nap more than 30 minutes, ideally earlier in the day
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