Set yourself up for a good night’s sleep
What is sleep hygiene?
I’ll be the first to admit that the name is a little strange! Sleep hygiene is what sleep experts and doctors use as an umbrella term for lots of different habits that are recommended to help people sleep better.
So although having an evening shower to wash away the day’s sweat and cool your body can be helpful, sleep hygiene isn’t really about cleanliness.
Will sleep hygiene help me sleep better?
Sleep hygiene can be effective, but you might need to put consistent effort into changing your sleep habits to reap the rewards.
I like to describe sleep hygiene as being 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. The key is to stick with them and be patient.
So let’s take a look at the different habits and advice for better sleep that you might like to try.
1. Get up at the same time every day
For me personally, this has been one of the keys to improving my sleep overall. Your internal body clock is driven by consistency so you need to work with it – perhaps even on weekends unless you’re super sleep deprived and really can’t resist an internal urge to catch up on sleep.
The secret is to always get up at the same time, even if you don’t fall asleep at the same time. Gradually this will help stabilize your bedtime too.
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 for some people it’s a good idea to only go to bed when you feel tired.
It can take up to 30 minutes to fall asleep. So if you find yourself awake after that time, it might be 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 overactive mind. Perhaps you 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 thoughts.
Taking some time before bed to regularly do something calming can help you unwind. 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
- Gentle yoga
- 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 – they distract your mind and shift your focus.
6. Make your bedroom a sanctuary for sleep
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.
- Use a large enough and comfortable bed and mattress.
- Make sure there’s some air circulation.
- Use opaque curtains or blackout blinds to prevent light from 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 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s 17 to 21 degrees Celsius.
7. Only use the bedroom for sleep and intimacy
It can help if your brain associates the 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
It’s often advised to avoid using electronic equipment in bed, for several reasons:
- The light from some screens is strong enough to interfere with your internal body clock.
- Working, playing games or surfing the internet can stimulate your brain and stop you from relaxing.
- They can be addictive, and trying to beat the next level or spending time on social media can ruin a carefully planned sleep routine.
If you disagree, and find it relaxing to use your smartphone or tablet in bed, then try to limit it to activities that are not too stimulating. You can also dim the screen, use the blue light filter or night mode in the main settings.
9. Choose the right mattress
Your mattress is probably the single most important part of your bed. It’s essential you have a comfortable and supportive mattress. Here are some 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 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 hypoallergenic fabric if you have allergies.
As well as feeling more comfortable, some fabrics are better at regulating your body temperature.
- 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 so breathable.
- Polyester – lower price and not as comfortable, but lasts a long time.
11. Make sure your bedroom is quiet
External noise and snoring are very common causes of sleeplessness. Fortunately, there are ways to deal with noise:
- 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 the source, try using earplugs, a white noise machine or a fan.
- Put on a set of headphones and listen to some relaxing music.
Remember, a bedroom should be a little like a cave: cool, dark and quiet.
12. Avoid caffeine and energy drinks
Some people can drink coffee after dinner and sleep fine. But if you struggle with insomnia, the chances are you’re not one of those people.
If you’re sensitive to stimulants, you might want to avoid these drinks in the afternoon, 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 other colas
- Energy and sports drinks such as Red Bull
- Sugary drinks
If you like to have a hot drink at night, either warm milk or herbal tea could form a part of your bedtime routine. You can find many sleep teas in stores, supermarkets and online nowadays.
13. Cut out the nightcap
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 affect the quality of different sleep stages in ways you might not notice, which results in you feeling less refreshed the next day.
So if you do drink alcohol in the evening, try to drink only a small amount.
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 around 3 liters of water a day and a woman 2.2 liters.
15. Food to avoid
Your diet can have a significant impact on your 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 four to six hours before bed.
- Avoid sugary food before bed, especially chocolate as it contains caffeine. Dark chocolate contains the most caffeine.
- Avoid spicy, fatty or fried food 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 help 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)
- A bowl of high fiber, low sugar cereal
- Handful of nuts
- Low-fat yogurt
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 helps keep your internal body clock in order.
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.
A poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that 83% of adults who did vigorous exercise during the day had fairly or very good sleep. In comparison, just 56% who didn’t do any exercise slept well.
Not only does exercise naturally tire you out, but 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.
This is another of the factors which makes the biggest difference for me personally. I am 100% sure that I sleep better on days I do exercise, especially compared to a lazy Sunday spent watching movies and being inactive.
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, and is good for mental well-being.
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 better not to get into the habit of relying on them.
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.
How many of these habits do you do now? Are there any you think would help you, or do you have any other suggestions? Please share your ideas in the comments below.