What is Sleep Hygiene?
Learn what sleep hygiene is and how to improve your bedtime habits.
Feb 12th, 2021 •
By definition, sleep hygiene is the habitual processes we establish to achieve a better night’s sleep. Whether you are aware of it or not, humans naturally gravitate towards creating routines that hinge on their particular lifestyle.
Think about when you get into the shower. Isn’t there a certain step-by-step process you take every time? Maybe you shampoo and condition your hair before washing your body, or vice versa. Maybe you shampoo, put the conditioner in your hair, and then wash your body while you let the conditioner sit before washing it out. Ladies, you know what I mean.
Subconsciously, we create patterns and routines without really meaning to, yet it gives us a sense of security and ease once we have that process down.
Your bedtime habits, also known as your sleep hygiene, are the same way. Research shows creating a wind-down routine is beneficial to your mental, physical, and behavioral health, and has been proven to boost productivity and most importantly, guarantee a good night’s sleep. BUt not all of us have healthy sleep hygiene. Yep, I’m talking to the person who aimlessly trolls Instagram and Facebook until there eye burn each night they crawl into bed.
However, when it comes to sleep hygiene, there is no one-size-fits-all. Evening routines look different for everyone depending on your age, life-stage, and line of work. Yet, there are a few basic principles we can all adopt to prepare our minds and bodies for sleep when it comes to bedtime.
How to Improve Your Sleep Hygiene
There are a variety of ways to help achieve good sleep hygiene, but it ultimately depends on your lifestyle. You may try a few different things to see what fits most naturally with your schedule and personality.
Here are a number of sleep hygiene tips that you can implement to get your best night’s sleep on a more consistent basis.
Exercise has been proven to aid in more restful sleep. However, the time in which you exercise is very important! Physical activity sometime during the day, up to a few hours before bed, helps deplete the right amount of energy so sleep comes more naturally when it’s time for bed. On the flip side, exercising too close to bed and stimulate your brain due to the increase in blood flow, making it harder to wind down.
Eat your last meal 3-4 hours before you go to sleep
There is no “prime time” to stop eating before bed. After all, everyone wakes and sleeps at different times. However, experts suggest that you eat 3-4 hours before going to sleep, so your body adequately digests food before lying down. Otherwise, tummy rumblings or acid reflux could keep you from getting comfortable.
Make sure your evening meal is not too light and not too heavy, and a good two or three hours before bedtime. High protein foods, and foods containing tyramine (e.g. bacon, ham, pepperoni, eggplant, raspberries, avocado, nuts, soy sauce, red wine), might keep you awake at night, and may be better options for lunchtime. Foods containing tryptophan (e.g. bananas, dates, nut butters, tuna, turkey, yoghurt, milk) and carbohydrates like bread or cereal, on the other hand, may help encourage drowsiness and sleep. As with everything else, a balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains will help in the long term.
Create a bedtime ritual
When it’s creeping up on that hour before bed, start thinking about winding down for bed. This can take many forms, but in essence, winding down consists of doing anything that makes you feel relaxed and relieves stress. Whether you want to soak in a bath, read your favorite novel, journal, or meditate, anything that is relaxing rather than stimulating will help promote healthy sleep hygiene.
Relaxing bedtime habits or rituals, such as reading or writing, just before bed can help to relax you and take your mind off any anxieties you might have about sleeping. Bedtime rituals are particularly important for children, especially when they reach the stage, as most do at some point, of resisting bedtime and encountering difficulties falling asleep.
Similarly, meditation, relaxation exercises, soothing music or just a period of calm deep breathing before sleep can all help to calm you down and alleviate stress and anxiety.
Go to bed at the same time every night.
Speaking of bedtime, go to bed at the same time every night, regardless of whether it’s the weekend. Yes, just like when you were a kid! Our bodies were meant to operate on a schedule. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever woken up minutes before your alarm goes off or when you didn’t set an alarm at all but still woke up at the time it is typically set.
Before the invention of artificial light, we went to bed and rose with the sun. Now, we have to have more discipline. Programming yourself to be asleep by a specific time helps you get the sleep you need on a consistent basis. And if you listen to your body, it’s not that hard. Most of the time it’s begging you to power down shortly after dark.
No TV or technology in bed
Most people know that screen time before bed is not a good idea because the blue light emitted from technology keeps your brain stimulated. Most of us also know not to “work” or do other stimulating activities in our sleep environment. The bedroom is for rest, not work. Therefore, keep your bedroom a sacred place for only sleep and sex with your partner; everything else could negatively affect your overall sleep hygiene.
Optimize Your Bedroom for Sleep
Speaking of your bedroom, it needs to look and feel like a place to sleep. Keep your room dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. Nobody sleeps well when they are too hot or cold, so make sure your interior is at an ideal temperature for sleep. If the silence it too quiet, look into getting a white noise machine.
Avoid junk foods, caffeinated drinks, alcohol, and smoking.
Eating fatty foods, drinking sugary drinks or consuming alcoholic beverages is never a good call right before bed. All of these substances interrupt sleep quality, so although you may get eight hours of sleep, it won’t be as restorative.
Avoid caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea, cola, “energy” drinks, etc, near bedtime (certainly within 3-5 hours, and preferably much longer than that), and try not to drink too much of anything too late in the day, in order to avoid bathroom trips. A hot milk or herbal tea before bed, however, may help encourage sleep.
Also avoid other stimulants, such as alcohol or tobacco, before going to bed. Alcohol may help you get to sleep in the first place, but it will disturb your sleep later, preventing you from entering the deeper restorative stages of sleep, and causing you to wake frequently during the night.
Sleep hygiene also includes your morning routine as well as your nighttime routine. Here are a few tips for maintaining healthy sleep hygiene in the AM.
Wake up at the same time every morning.
Just like setting a bedtime, your sleep-wake cycle needs to be the same time every morning. Creating a habit of getting up at the same time each day will eventually become a habit and you’ll start waking up naturally on your own.
Don’t stay in bed for longer than 5-10 minutes.
Once that alarm goes off, get up! Even if you have to put the alarm clock in a place you can’t reach so that it forces you to get out of bed to turn it off, do it. The longer you snooze, the more drowsy you’ll be.
Keep a morning routine.
Let the bright light in, wash your face, brush your teeth, make the coffee, and eat a hearty breakfast! And eventually, start making your bed.
To truly implement the best sleep hygiene, you should also have a morning routine in place. Living your life on purpose will bring you happiness, health, and productivity.
Many (although by no means all) sleep disorders can be improved, and in some cases eliminated completely, by a good regime of sleep hygiene. In fact, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), the workhorse of most modern approaches to dealing with sleep disorders, consists of two main parts: firstly, convincing a patient that their problems are manageable, and secondly establishing a good system of sleep hygiene.
There are many medical and counselling websites which deal with sleep disorders in great detail, so this page just describes briefly some simple uncontroversial measures that can safely be taken by anyone. Sleep medicine, the diagnosis and therapy of sleep disturbance and sleep disorders, is now a recognized medical subspecialty in many countries, and it is recommended that anyone who feels they may be suffering from sleep disorder consult a professional for treatment.