Sleep Hygiene for Healthy Sleep
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2020
When you hear the words sleep hygiene, do you think of clean sheets? If so, you are not wrong, but sleep hygiene is much more than that.
Sleep hygiene is simply a group of habits that can improve your chances of falling asleep, staying asleep, and sleeping well. Clean, comfy sheets are only 1 part of sleep hygiene.
Why is sleep hygiene important?
Good sleep habits can help reduce your chances of developing a sleep disorder like restless legs syndrome. If you already have sleep problems, practicing good sleep habits can make those issues better, and in some cases even eliminate the problem.
There are a series of lifestyle choices, eating and drinking habits, environmental options, and evening routines that can improve your sleep or make it worse. Most people must experiment to find the right combination of sleep habits that work for them.
Eating and drinking
Many people see sleep as something separate from the rest of their day. The fact is, what you eat and drink throughout the day can greatly impact how well you sleep at night. Here are some common ways to improve your sleep through dietary choices.
Eating heavy, rich, spicy foods at night can trigger indigestion or heartburn that makes it hard to get to sleep or stay asleep. Other dishes that should be avoided close to bedtime are fried or fatty foods, citrus, and carbonated drinks. If you are hungry close to bedtime, eat foods that do not keep you up. Dairy and carbohydrates are safe for many people.1,2
Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee, tea, soda, chocolate, and some pain relievers. If you have trouble sleeping, start tracking how much of these foods and drinks you have each day and when. You may need to cut back on how much you consume. Or, you may need to stop eating or drinking these things 4 to 6 hours before bedtime.2
It is true that a drink close to bedtime can make falling asleep easier. However, this same drink can wake you up midway through the night as the body processes the alcohol.1
Smoking is another stimulant that can get in the way of a good night’s sleep. Smoking can also worsen the long-term health effects of sleep apnea since both reduce the amount of oxygen in the body.
A 30-minute walk each day is a good goal, but even 10 minutes a day of activity can help you sleep better at night. However, if you find that vigorous exercise in the evening keeps you up, move your exercise time to earlier in the day. Strenuous exercise gets the heart rate and body temperature up, which can make it harder to fall asleep.1,2
If you did not sleep well the night before, it can be tempting to lay down for a nap during the day. However, too much daytime napping can make it harder to sleep at night. That is why you should limit your naps to 20 to 30 minutes early in the day. A short nap can help improve your mood, alertness, and concentration. Long naps late in the afternoon can keep you up at night.1,2
The human body naturally wakes up when light becomes brighter in the morning and winds down in the evening as it darkens. Exposure to natural light helps your body maintain its circadian (sleep-wake) rhythms. If you tend to spend all day indoors, try to grab a few minutes outside each day. At the same time, limit your exposure to the lights from electronics and overhead lights in the evening.2
Your bedroom can be a calming place that encourages sleep, or it can be a noisy carnival of sensations that make sleep difficult. To improve your chances of getting good quality sleep, your bedroom should be as quiet, cool, and dark as possible.
The bedroom should be for sleep and sex only. You may need to invest in blackout curtains or eyeshades to block light. The temperature should be between 60° and 75°F. Earplugs or a white noise machine may help reduce sounds that disrupt your ability to sleep. If a pet wakes you up at night, consider making it sleep elsewhere.
Finally, make sure your mattress, pillows, and bed linens are comfortable. If your mattress is more than 10 years old, you may need to replace it.2
Your body responds to habits such as learning when it is time to wind down for the day. That is why an evening routine can help you sleep. An hour or 2 before bed, turn down lights and turn off all electronics. De-stress by taking a bath, reading something calming, or listening to music. Many people find it helpful to perform a gentle, evening yoga routine, stretch, meditate, or breathe deeply.2
It may sound simple but your body needs a sleep-wake routine. This means going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning, weekends included. It may take some time, but eventually, your body will be trained to sleep and wake at certain times.2
If you do not fall asleep after 20 minutes, do not try to force it. Get up and find a quiet, relaxing activity such as reading, knitting, or meditation until you are sleepy again.2