Improving Your Sleep with Sleep Hygiene
Sleep doesn’t always come easy. Throughout your life, you’ll likely go through periods where you lie awake night after night, trying your best to just relax and drift off to sleep. In these moments, you may feel powerless, like you can’t control your own body.
Fortunately, you can take action. Sleep hygiene is what you can actively do to make falling asleep quickly, staying asleep, and waking up energized more likely.
Defining Sleep Hygiene
“Sleep hygiene” refers to habits, routines, and environmental factors that promote healthy sleep. Your personal sleep hygiene is an aggregate of these sleep-enhancing behaviors, plus your surroundings' influence on your sleep quality.
We encourage readers to look at their sleep hygiene holistically, considering the biological, physical, mental, and environmental components of their overall sleep health.
Why Is Sleep Hygiene Important?
When you can't fall asleep or stay asleep, it feels like your body won't listen. You desperately want to rest but can't make your mind shut down for the night.
If this is a recurring issue, you likely feel its effects. Lack of consistent, quality sleep can leave you physically exhausted, stressed, mentally drained, and emotionally vulnerable. In the long term, poor sleep can increase the risks of depression, weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, and more.
Practicing proper sleep hygiene is what you can do to improve your sleep, lowering the risks of these mental health stressors, physical side effects, and serious health conditions. Sleep-enhancing habits promote lifelong wellness, benefiting you in countless ways, including the benefits below.
How Better Sleep Benefits You
- Sleep plays an essential role in emotional regulation. Sleep helps you respond appropriately to both positive and negative stimuli.
You need quality sleep for optimal cognitive function in essential areas, including memory, learning, problem-solving, focus, and creativity.
During sleep, the body carries out tissue repair and growth.
- Sleep and your circadian system help regulate immune function.
How to Measure Sleep Quality
Sleep hygiene aims to optimize sleep quality. But what exactly does quality sleep look and feel like? To assess your sleep health, you can look at both qualitative and quantitative metrics:
- Falling Asleep and Staying Asleep– Ideally, you should be able to fall asleep in 10 to 20 minutes. Afterward, you should sleep through the night without disturbance, progressing through the sleep cycle. You'll likely wake up at some point during the night, but you should fall back asleep quickly enough not to remember it.
- Sleep Duration– How much sleep you need depends on your age. For adults, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends at least 7 hours of sleep a night.
- Waking Up Refreshed– In the morning, you should feel well-rested and ready to take on the day. To avoid mental fog and morning grogginess, you want to wake up from the light sleep stage, not Stage 3 or REM sleep. This article explains how to prevent sleep inertia by synching your bedtime and wake-up time with your sleep cycle.
- Alertness and Energy– A night of quality sleep should fuel you for the entire day. You should feel alert and energized through the morning, afternoon, and early evening. Barring other health conditions or extenuating circumstances, a full night of sleep should give you the mental focus and physical stamina you need for the next day.
- Analyzing Sleep Tracker Data– If you use a smartwatch or other sleep-tracking device, you can use this data to assess your sleep health. The latest technology will show you how long it took to fall asleep, your progression through the sleep cycle, and the total amount of light sleep versus deep sleep you got that night. After a few weeks of sleep tracking, you can average this data for a macro view of your sleep health.
Factors That Influence Sleep
To tackle sleep hygiene, you'll want to understand the basic mechanics of sleep and the internal and external forces that impact sleep quality and circadian rhythms. The list below is by no means comprehensive, but it will give you a solid foundation for building your sleep hygiene improvement plan.
- Genetics– Research shows that genetics influence your normal sleep patterns, like electroencephalogram (EEG) readings and sleep cycles. You may also be genetically predisposed to certain sleep disorders.
- Age– Aging changes your sleep architecture. As you age, you may have a harder time falling asleep, wake up more throughout the night, and spend more time in the lighter sleep stages.
- Health and Mental Health Conditions– Aside from sleep disorders, various health and mental health conditions can make quality sleep harder to achieve. For example, anxiety, chronic stress, depression, sleep apnea, gastroesophageal reflux disease, chronic pain, certain cancers, and overactive thyroid are linked with difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, chronic insomnia, and other sleep disorders.
Additional Health Factors and Habits
- Diet– Both what and when you eat can affect falling asleep. If you eat too close to bedtime, the energy required for digestion may keep you up. Certain foods can also cause agitation, like acid reflux, which makes you uncomfortable and prevents you from sleeping.
- Exercise– Studies show a bidirectional relationship between exercise and sleep. Regular exercise improves sleep quality and getting ample sleep fuels an active lifestyle.
- Stress and Anxiety– Stress and anxiety are leading causes of insomnia and sleep disturbances. Unfortunately, it's a reciprocal relationship; stress and anxiety make sleeping more difficult, and lack of sleep exacerbates stress and anxiety.
- Medications– Insomnia, drowsiness, and sedation are common medication side effects.
- Caffeine Consumption– Caffeine is a temporary stimulant, though it can prevent you from falling asleep, even hours after consumption.
- Smoking– Nicotine dependence often causes sleep disturbances. According to the American Sleep Association: "Smokers take longer to fall asleep and wake up more frequently, they sleep less than nonsmokers, and have a less deep sleep. Because of this, smokers are more likely to wake up feeling tired and not well rested."
- Alcohol– Alcohol is a sedative, and regular overconsumption or binging can negatively alter your sleep architecture. According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine: "Alcohol abuse and dependence are associated with chronic sleep disturbance, lower slow wave sleep, and more rapid eye movement sleep than normal, that last long into periods of abstinence and may play a role in relapse."
- Light Exposure– Your circadian rhythm takes cues from light through photoreceptors, primarily in your retinas. In response to light (or lack thereof), you produce varying levels of melatonin, the hormone that makes you feel tired.
- Comfort and Support– Your body needs to physically relax so you can fall asleep. While your bedding provides soothing comfort, your mattress offers support and pressure relief, preventing sores and pains.
- Temperature– The body naturally drops in temperature as you prepare for sleep. You want a cool environment that supports a lower core temperature to fall asleep and stay asleep.
10 Sleep Hygiene Habits and Tips for Healthier Sleep
Because so many factors influence sleep, there are also countless ways to improve your sleep hygiene. It's also why we recommend looking at sleep hygiene holistically. You'll likely have to employ numerous strategies to improve your sleep significantly.
That said, don't overwhelm yourself with a total sleep hygiene overhaul. Start with gradual, manageable changes. For lasting health and wellness, you want to focus on maintainable routines, not quick fixes or unrealistic goals.
Without further ado, here are particle tips for improving your sleep through sleep hygiene strategies:
1. Stick to a Regular Sleep Schedule (Even on Weekends)
Your circadian rhythms regulate sleep/wake cycles, making you tired at night and alert during the day. If your internal clock doesn't align with your desired bedtime and wake time, you'll struggle to fall asleep or lack energy throughout the day.
To sync your circadian rhythms with your routines, you need consistency. Create a sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends. You can use our REM Sleep Calculator to determine your ideal sleep and wake-up times.
2. Establish Nighttime and Morning Routines
This tip goes hand in hand with setting a sleep schedule. Structuring your evenings and mornings helps your body prepare for sleep at bedtime and feel more refreshed and energized when you begin your day. Below, we’ve listed a few tips and activities for making pre-bedtime more relaxing and early mornings more manageable.
- Don’t get into bed until you’re ready to go to sleep. Reserve the space for sleep only—with sex as the sole exception.
- Avoid blue light-emitting devices (your phone, tablet, laptop, and TV) for at least one hour before bed.
- Wind down with relaxing activities, like reading, journaling, listening to music, podcasts, or audiobooks, light stretching, meditation, etc.
- Avoid late-night exercise and eating.
- Prepare for the next day. Whether that means showering, laying out an outfit, or packing lunch, you’ll fall asleep easier without a long to-do list waiting for you in the morning.
- Resist hitting snooze. Once your alarm goes off, sit up and get out of bed immediately, so you aren’t tempted to go back to sleep.
- Make your bed every day.
- Get natural light exposure as soon as possible. Open the blinds in your bedroom, and consider eating breakfast outside if the weather’s nice. Early light exposure will help you feel more energized in the mornings and can help you fall asleep sooner in the evening.
- Stretch or get in a morning workout.
- Wake yourself up with a shower or skincare routine.
3. Invest in Your Sleep Environment
Some people can fall asleep anywhere, but most need a carefully curated environment that bars light, noise, and other sleep disturbances. Getting quality sleep on a consistent basis requires a comfortable setting that lets both the mind and body relax, letting you fall asleep and stay asleep through the night. To build a proper sleep sanctuary, consider each of these bedroom components:
- Light– A dark bedroom environment helps regulate your circadian rhythms. Blackout curtains or other light-blocking fixtures will help you stay asleep after the sun rises.
- Sound– Thick curtains and window treatments can go a long way to block outside noise. You may also want to soundproof your bedroom door by filling the gap between the door and the floor with an attachable draft stopper. Area rugs also help dampen reflected noise throughout the room.
- Temperature– Cooler temperatures support quality sleep. Research shows that 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal sleep temperature.
- Your Sleep Setup– The right mattress, foundation, pillows, and bedding help your body relax, eliminating the physical discomforts that prevent sleep. From your mattress, you need spine-aligning support and full-body pressure relief. Head over to our Mattress Comparison Page to learn how Nolah mattresses can improve your sleep. Meanwhile, your pillow should provide contouring and neck support, and your sheets should have a soothing texture and breathable structure for cooling.
- Cleanliness and Organization– A dirty or disorganized bedroom can cause unease and stress. To promote complete comfort and relaxation, keep your bedroom tidy.
4. Mediate Stress
As previously mentioned, stress is a leading cause of insomnia and sleep disturbance. Because stress and sleep have a reciprocal relationship, anything that relieves stress can help you sleep better, and vice versa.
Stressful circumstances may be outside your control, but you can adopt lifestyle changes to help mitigate that stress. Some of the most effective stress-management strategies include regular exercise, spending time in nature, social connectivity, improving your diet, journaling, and meditation.
5. Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise helps you fall asleep faster and increases the slow wave (deep) sleep you get each night. To improve your sleep quality, John Hopkins Medicine recommends 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a day.
Establishing an exercise routine can be intimidating for beginners. We recommend starting gradually and setting realistic benchmark goals. Below, we've listed a few resources to help you get started.
- The New York Times, How to Start Working Out
- Mayo Clinic, Fitness Program: 5 Steps to Get Started
- VeryWellFit, What a Complete Workout Schedule Looks Like
6. Eat a Balanced Diet
Nutrition and sleep have a complex, interconnected relationship that makes a nourishing diet essential to getting quality sleep, and sleep critical to maintaining a healthy weight. Below, we've linked a few nutrition education resources to help you establish and maintain a balanced diet.
- The Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services, 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
Aside from maintaining a balanced diet for overall health and wellness, here are a few food tips for falling asleep:
- Give your body enough time to digest your last meal or snack before going to bed, as digestion keeps the body active and makes it difficult to fall asleep.
- Heartburn and indigestion can keep you up at night, so avoid spicy or acidic foods later in the evening.
- Some foods contain vitamins, minerals, and other elements that may promote quality sleep. Research on the effectiveness of these diet changes is limited. Still, you may benefit from adding foods or drinks with fiber, tryptophan, magnesium, apigenin, serotonin, melatonin, or omega-3 fatty acids to your dinner or evening snack.
7. Drink Caffeine with Caution
Don't worry—you don't have to go caffeine-free to practice healthy sleep hygiene. However, you should drink caffeinated beverages in moderation and only early in your day. The time it takes to metabolize caffeine varies from person to person, so to err on the safe side, cut off caffeine at least 6 hours before bed.
8. Address Unhealthy Habits
As previously mentioned, smoking and overconsumption of alcohol have detrimental effects on sleep, in addition to their other associated risks. Below, you’ll find resources on quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy relationship with alcohol.
- The smokefree.gov website
- The American Lung Association, Quit Smoking and Vaping
CDC, Alcohol and Public Health and Alcohol Portal
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Drug and Alcohol Use Evidence-Based Resources
9. Get Outside and Embrace Sunlight
Regular sun exposure—especially in the morning—decreases sleep latency and improves sleep quality. Plus, it does wonders for your mental health. Make it a weekly, if not daily, habit to spend some time outside soaking in the sun. Eating breakfast on the porch or taking a lunchtime walk are great ways to build sun exposure into your daily routine.
10. Consider Sleeping In Your Own Bed
For couples, sleeping in different beds may sound like a big sacrifice. However, if it helps you and your partner sleep, spending your unconscious hours apart may be worth it.
"Sleep divorce" is also more common than you may think, and it doesn't necessarily mean you sleep in different beds every night. For example, many couples sleep together on the weekends but split up on work nights. Sleeping in separate rooms also doesn't have to interfere with intimacy if you're intentional about your time together.
Better Sleep for a Better You
All this information may seem overwhelming but remember—improving your sleep hygiene is a gradual process. Instead of trying to tackle all 10 tips listed above, start with one or two and slowly integrate them into your daily routines. Hopefully, you'll feel the benefits soon, and getting better sleep will boost your overall health, mood, productivity, and more.