Sleep hygiene is in many ways the most effective approach to dealing with a range of sleep problems, especially insomnia.
It’s essentially a selection of healthy sleep habits, lifestyle choices and intelligent planning for your crucial sleep time.
In fact, if you speak to a doctor about your sleeplessness, it’s very likely that they’ll give you the same advice you’ll find here.
As a life-long insomniac and writer about sleep, I’m a big believer in the effectiveness of sleep hygiene.
It helped me go from battling insomnia for weeks on end to only the occasional bad night nowadays.
You can see in the infographic below some examples of the things which I found helped me sleep. You’ll also see that sleep hygiene is about simultaneously eliminating the bad habits and developing positive sleep habits.
Will sleep hygiene definitely help me sleep better?
Sleep hygiene can be extremely effective, but you do need to be willing to put a little effort into changing your sleep habits.
In some ways you can see sleep hygiene like a jigsaw puzzle with many different pieces of advice to consider.
The more of them you put together, the more likely it is that you’ll see the complete picture of a good night’s sleep.
Some techniques can take time to really make a difference. For example, getting up at the same time can take a week or two to help reset your bedtime. The key is to stick with it and give the techniques time to bear fruit.
So if you’re fed up with tossing and turning night after night. If sleeping pills, herbal remedies or other sedatives haven’t helped, maybe it’s time for something new.
With some commitment and openness to change, you should be able to sleep better using the advice here.
1) Get up at the same time every day
This is one of the most effective ways to improve your overall sleep, even if it might seem impossible to achieve at first. Your internal body clock is driven by consistency so you need to work with it, ideally even at weekends.
If you only try one technique, make it this one. The secret is to always get up at the same time, even if you don’t fall asleep at the same time. Gradually this helps you stabilize your bedtime too.
If your sleep pattern is currently out of control you might find it useful to read the more detailed article about resetting it:
2) Decide that sleep is an essential part of your day
All too often we sacrifice precious sleep time for other things. But if you struggle with insomnia, it’s useful to change how you think about sleep. Ideally it should be a non-negotiable time of the day with just as much importance as eating or working. Don’t allow other things or people to intrude on your schedule.
3) Don’t stay in bed if you can’t sleep
There’s nothing worse than lying in bed clock watching, endlessly changing position and steadily getting more stressed about how you’ll feel the next day. That’s why it’s a good idea to only go to bed when you feel tired.
It takes 20-30 minutes on average to fall asleep, so if you find yourself awake after that time, it’s better to get up for a while, then try to sleep again a bit later. During that time, you could repeat part of the bedtime routine coming up next.
4) Have a relaxing bedtime routine
Like many people, you might find your insomnia is directly caused by your over-active mind. In the modern day you may find yourself in mental fifth gear right up until bedtime. And when you switch the light off, your brain somehow switches on with a flood of worries and thoughts.
Taking some time before bed to regularly do something calming can mark an end to a busy day and help you unwind and sleep. This is another key point so there’s an extended article about it:
5) Calm your mind with relaxation techniques
Before you go to bed it can help to do some relaxation techniques. You can even do them whilst lying in bed to help you relax and fall asleep. There are several exercises you might like to try:
- Deep breathing exercises
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Guided meditation and visualization recordings
- Mindfulness techniques
If you’re the kind of person who finds you can’t switch your brain off at night, these techniques can be very effective because they distract your mind and shift your focus. To find out more, you can read the step-by-step guide below:
6) Create the perfect bedroom for sleeping
Your bedroom, bed and bedding can have a profound effect on the way you sleep. Take a look at the following ideas and see how many you currently do:
- Keep the bedroom tidy, clean and free from clutter.
- Buy the biggest and best bed you can reasonably afford.
- Make sure there is some air circulation. Unless it’s freezing, keep one window slightly open.
- Use black-out blinds to prevent light coming in. If that’s not possible, try using a sleep mask.
- Don’t let your bedroom get too hot or cold. The ideal sleeping temperature is between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s 18.3 to 22.2 degrees Celsius.
7) Only use the bedroom for sleep and intimacy
This is a golden rule of maintaining healthy sleep habits: you want your brain to associate your bedroom with just two things: sleep and intimacy with a partner. The only exception should be if you find it relaxing to read a book in bed.
8) Don’t use visual electronic devices in bed
Following from the previous point, it’s important to emphasize that it’s best to avoid using electronic equipment in bed. There are 3 reasons for this:
- The light from many screens is strong enough to interfere with your internal body clock. If you have to use one, turn down the screen brightness.
- Working, playing games or surfing the internet can stimulate your brain and stop you relaxing.
- They are addictive and trying to beat the next level or reading endless Facebook posts can ruin your carefully planned sleep routine.
9) Choose the right mattress
Your mattress is probably the single most important part of your bed set-up. It’s essential you have a comfortable and supportive mattress. These are the key points to bear in mind:
- Your mattress should be big enough for you and a partner to sleep on.
- Mattresses tend to need replacing every 8 years at least.
- When lying on your back, you should be able to slide your hand in-between the mattress and your back. Not too easily and not with too much force.
- Beds with slats are best as they allow air to circulate under your mattress.
If it’s too expensive to replace your mattress, a great alternative is a mattress topper. It can rejuvenate an aging mattress and give you options such as memory foam, heating or cooling.
10) Choose high quality bedding and pillows
Choose the best quality bedding you can afford, clean it regularly and use hypo-allergenic fabric if you have allergies. As well as feeling more comfortable, some fabrics are just better at regulating your body temperature and so help you sleep.
- Cotton – most durable, soft and breathable. A higher thread count (350 or more) means it will be softer. Choose Egyptian, MicroCotton or Pima cotton if possible.
- Silk – ideal for hot summer nights and those with allergies.
- Satin – feels nice, but not very breathable.
- Polyester – lower price, not as comfortable but lasts a long time.
11) Don’t allow noise to keep you awake
External noise and snoring are very common causes of sleeplessness. Fortunately, there are ways to deal with noise nuisance:
- If a neighbor or someone in your house is creating the noise, speak to them about it honestly and calmly. Don’t suffer in silence.
- If you can’t stop the noise at source, try a good pair of earplugs or a white noise machine.
- Put on a set of headphones and listen to some relaxing music.
12) Avoid caffeine and energy drinks
Liquids are where you’re most likely to find stimulants like caffeine. Some people will say they can have an after dinner espresso and sleep fine. But if you struggle with insomnia, the chances are that you’re not one of those people.
If you’re sensitive to stimulants, you might want to avoid these drinks any time after mid-day as caffeine can stay in your body for a long time:
- Decaffeinated coffee, as it still contains trace amounts of caffeine.
- Black tea.
- Green tea, as it does contain caffeine.
- Coca-cola, Pepsi and own-brand colas.
- Energy and sports drinks such as Red Bull.
- Sugary drinks.
If you like to have a hot drink at night, then either a warm milk or relaxing herbal tea could form a part of your relaxing bedtime routine.
13) Cut out the night-cap
Some insomniacs find that alcohol helps them fall asleep faster. And researchers have also shown that to be true. But they’ve also found that alcohol can disrupt the REM sleep stage, which results in you feeling less refreshed the next day.
14) Stay hydrated
Researchers have found that drinking enough water during the day is associated with better sleep.
There are differing opinions about how much water is sufficient and it depends on factors such as your age, size and activeness. But on average a man should aim to drink 3 liters of water a day and a woman 2.2 liters.
If you enjoy fruit juice, then the best choice might be tart Montmorency cherry juice. British researchers at Northumbria University in 2011 found the melatonin it contains can help you sleep for 25 minutes longer on average.
15) Food to avoid
Your diet can have a significant impact on your quality of sleep. The unsurprising rule of thumb is that the healthier your diet, the healthier your sleep. Here are some important food points to bear in mind:
- Eat your biggest meal of the day for lunch. If you can’t, eat dinner as early as possible. The important thing is not to eat a heavy meal in the 4-6 hours before bed.
- Avoid sugary food before bed, especially chocolate as it contains caffeine. Dark chocolate contains the most caffeine.
- Avoid spicy food and food containing garlic before bed.
- Avoid food with lots of processed carbohydrates at night. If you eat pasta for example, eat wholewheat pasta.
16) Food you can eat before bed
There’s no scientific evidence that any particular food will actively make you fall asleep. However, some food is better than others to snack on before bed. Here are some ideas:
- Cottage cheese
- Peanut butter on toast (preferably on brown bread)
- Bowl of high-fiber, low sugar cereal
- Handful of nuts
- Low-fat yogurt
Some food containing the amino acid Tryptophan may also be worth considering. Tryptophan is converted by the body into the hormone Serotonin. Serotonin leads to Melatonin, which in turn leads to your internal body clock working.
Tryptophan is contained in most food that contains protein, but is found in especially high concentrations in:
- pumpkin seeds
17) Regular exercise
Tiring both your brain and your body out during the day can be an effective way of getting to sleep at night.
In 2013, a poll by the National Sleep Foundation in the US found that 83% of adults who did vigorous exercise during the day had fairly or very good sleep, compared to just 56% who didn’t do any exercise.
Not only does exercise naturally tire you out, it also helps combat stress, anxiety and depression. So by helping you relax and deal with mental turmoil, it’s helping you unwind and sleep better.
To find out more about the best timings and benefits of doing exercise before bed, have a read of this article about exercise and sleep.
18) Get some sun
Even if you can’t exercise, it’s a good idea to get out of the house for a walk or just sit in the daylight. Sunlight helps keep your body clock ticking over nicely, so try to get your daily dose of rays.
19) Quit smoking
Nicotine is a stimulant and like caffeine can result in sleeplessness. At the very least try not to smoke in the hour or two before bedtime. If you’re a heavy smoker it’s another good reason to consider quitting.
20) Avoid sleeping pills and check your medication side-effects
Tempting as it might be to have an emergency supply of sleeping pills, it’s far better not to get into the habit of relying on them to get you through rough times. Rebound insomnia when coming off sleeping pills can ruin all the hard work you put into developing healthy sleep habits.
It’s also worth checking the information leaflets of any other medication you’re taking, or consult your doctor. You might be surprised to find they list symptoms such as restlessness, agitation and insomnia as possible side effects.
If you’re not sure if sleeping pills would be right for you or not, have a read of this article discussing the benefits of taking sleeping pills.
I’m very interested in hearing your view about sleep hygiene. How many of the above are a surprise to you? Have you found that doing any of these have helped in the past?
Do you think it’s something you feel might help you in the future? Do you think it’s better to try and find ways to sleep which don’t involve medication?
Please feel free to share your story and opinion in the comments below.