I always thought “sleep hygiene” was a weird term. After all, it actually has nothing to do with hygiene. Instead, it’s “a set of behaviors that make your environment more conducive to sleep,” Dr. Tzvi Doron, a physician at Roman, tells Bustle, and it’s “recommended as the first line therapy for insomnia." If you’re anything like me, your sleep hygiene can make or break your sleep, which in turn can make or break your mood and productivity. So, it’s a concept worth familiarizing yourself with.
How energized you are when you wake up is not just about the quantity of your sleep but also about the quality of your sleep, family medicine doctor Susan Besser, MD tells Bustle. You may sleep eight hours and still wake up exhausted if you haven’t fallen into a deep sleep or you’ve been getting up throughout the night. So, sleep hygiene is not just about making sure you get eight or so hours of sleep. It’s about making sure you’re relaxed enough for that sleep to be restful.
Here are some sleep hygiene tips you can implement right now to start sleeping better at night and feeling better in the morning (and, hopefully, the entire day).
1. Go To Sleep At The Same Time Every Day
I know… this one isn’t always practical, especially on weekends. But try to have as consistent a sleep and wake-up time as possible. “This will train your body and mind to automatically be ready for bed at that time,” says Doron.
2. Reserve Your Bed For Sleep
If your bed is used only for sleep (OK, and maybe one other thing, wink wink), it’ll become a trigger that tells your body to sleep, says Doron. Working in bed, on the other hand, can trigger you to get all worked up when you enter it at the end of the day.
Watching Netflix before bed might relax you, but the light may prevent your brain from producing melatonin, Licensed Professional Counselor Amanda Ruiz tells Bustle. Doron recommends staying away from all screens starting an hour before bed. If that’s not avoidable, at least wear blue-light-blocking glasses or turn down the light on your screen.
4. Be Active During The Day
Exercise can help tire you out, says Doron. But avoid it starting four hours before bed so that you don’t get too worked up.
5. Watch What You Eat (And Drink) At Night
Most of us know that caffeine in the late afternoon or evening can keep you up, but not everyone knows that alcohol can as well, says Doron. Fluids in general are good to limit before bed so you don’t get up to go to the bathroom.
6. Keep The Temperature Down
Since we evolved to sleep at night, when the temperature naturally drops, a drop in temperature is a cue to sleep. Doron recommends keeping the room at 68 degrees so you feel this effect.
7. Keep Your Room Pitch Black
Street light or sun coming in can interrupt your sleep, so Doron suggests black-out blinds to keep everything out. But when you wake up, you should open your curtains as soon as possible because the sun triggers you to start the day, says Ruiz.
8. Use A Sound Machine
“Any sound, whether it’s white noise or rain softly falling, can help block out other extraneous sounds,” says Ruiz. “The soothing, repetitive nature of any sound machine track can help you relax.” If you don’t want to buy a whole sound machine, you can use a free app like Relax Melodies with recordings of relaxing sounds.
9. Eliminate (Or At Least Limit) Naps
Even if you’re exhausted, napping during the day will leave you less tired at night, so Ruiz recommends resisting the urge if possible or, if you must nap, capping naps at 15-30 minutes.
10. Establish A Bedtime Routine
If you do something over and over again before bed, your body starts to treat it as a signal to sleep. Ruiz suggests reading, doing crossword puzzles, crocheting, or taking a bath or shower. The latter is particularly effective because when you get out, your body temperature will drop, which provides a natural signal to sleep.
11. Keep The Clock Out Of Reach
If you’re having trouble sleeping, looking at the clock can majorly stress you out, Dr. Tanisha M. Ranger, Licensed Psychologist and Owner at Insight to Action LLC, tells Bustle. “We have all had those times of looking at the clock and doing those mathematical calculations about ‘well, if I fall asleep RIGHT NOW, I'll be able to get _ hours of sleep,’” she says. “But we never do fall asleep 'right now,' do we? All it does is stress you out. I recommend turning the clock away from where you can see it, if you'd like to fall asleep.”
12. Only Go To Bed Only When You’re Sleepy (Not Just Tired)
Ranger defines “sleepy” as actually able to fall asleep. You can be exhausted without being sleepy. If you keep going to bed when you’re not sleepy, you’ll begin to associate it with tossing and turning. “Careful of conditioning,” Ranger says. “As we recall from Pavlov and his dogs, pairing two things (the bell and food) will start to make them strongly linked. In the case of insomnia, when we spend a lot of time in bed awake and frustrated, your bed then becomes associated with frustrated sleeplessness.”
It's important to practice good sleep hygiene consistently to see a major change, says Ranger, so don’t give up if it takes a few days or weeks. You’re likely to see some improvement after a while, but if you’re still struggling with insomnia after making these changes, talk to a doctor.