What is sleep hygiene?
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 in hot weather might be helpful, sleep hygiene isn’t really about cleanliness.
The way I always explain it to people is that having good sleep hygiene means paying close attention to three key areas of your life that can affect your sleep:
- Lifestyle choices, such as diet, exercise, and even how you handle stress.
- The way you set up your bed and bedroom.
- Your daily and nightly routines.
Will sleep hygiene help me sleep better?
Sleep hygiene can be effective, but you might need to put consistent effort into changing one or two (or even more!) 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 some healthy sleep habits that you can try. You might find you already do some of them, which is great. If there are others that you don’t currently do, have a think about whether you’re able to try them out for a few weeks to see if they make a difference.
1. Stick to a regular sleep schedule
Our bodies like routine, and it’s no different when it comes to sleep. In the ideal world, we’d go to bed and wake up at the same time every day – easier said than done, I know!
Some people struggle to fall asleep at roughly the same time every night, no matter how hard they try. It can be stressful and frustrating going to bed at 10 p.m. because you’ve calculated that gives you just enough time to sleep, but then you end up lying awake for ages.
One technique that might help is to be very consistent about the time you set your alarm in the morning. It’s easier to control the time a loud alarm wakes you than the time your mind finally decides to stop thinking and go to sleep.
For me personally, waking up at the same time every day has been one of the keys to improving my sleep overall. I find that having that stability in the morning helps increase the chance of stability in the nighttime too.
I also tend to sleep better in general if I continue to get out of bed reasonably early on weekends. However, I can understand that social activities and the need to catch up on some sleep might not make the idea of getting up at 7 a.m. on a Sunday very appealing.
If you can resist the temptation to spend lazy weekend mornings in bed though, getting up at (more or less) the same time every day of the week might just help your sleep schedule overall.
Find out more about adjusting your sleep schedule >>
2. Decide that sleep is an essential part of your day
All too often we sacrifice precious sleep time for other activities. Sometimes they are important and that’s understandable. However, we also have a tendency to get stuck on autopilot staring at screens because, well, funny cat videos exist.
If you regularly feel like you don’t get enough sleep though, it’s worth considering how much of a priority your sleep is, and how much time you set aside for it.
Ideally, it should be a non-negotiable time of the day, with just as much importance as eating or working. Obviously, there are situations when you can’t just tell your family that you’re unavailable for the next nine hours, as much as you might wish you could sometimes!
However, once you start to see sleep as important, it might make some of the micro decisions easier, such as “shall I watch another episode or go to bed?”
Go to bed, is probably the correct answer if that question comes to mind. Just don’t then migrate to your phone in bed, giggling at cats. And as much of a contradiction as it sounds, if you’ve gone to bed feeling really stressed or upset, maybe a cheeky few minutes to cheer you up might not be so bad (but you didn’t hear that from me, okay?)
3. Don’t stay in bed if you can’t sleep
You may know from experience that lying awake for hours in the dark, endlessly changing position in the hope that you’ll hit the jackpot of the perfect position to fall asleep, steadily getting more stressed about how you’ll feel the next day, isn’t much fun.
That’s why for some people it sometimes helps to only go to bed when you feel tired rather than at the same time every night. I know this isn’t in line with the advice about having a stable sleep schedule, but it might be one to try if a sleep schedule just isn’t working for you.
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.
Personally, if I can’t fall asleep, I either make myself a cup of decaf tea, or just turn the light on and read a book for a while and try to fall asleep again a bit later.
4. Have a relaxing bedtime routine
Like many people, you might find your insomnia is linked to an overactive mind. Perhaps you find yourself in mental fifth gear right up until bedtime and just can’t unwind. Maybe you feel relaxed, but when you switch the light off, your brain switches on.
Taking some time before bed to regularly do a calming activity can go a long way to keeping those thoughts and worries in check. This is another key point so there’s an extended article about it:
Discover ideas for a calming bedtime routine >>
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 effective because they can help shift your mind’s focus away from your worries, plans, and thoughts about the future.
See some simple relaxation techniques >>
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.
- If there are two of you, make sure you have a large enough bed.
- Use a mattress and/or mattress topper that has the right level of firmness or softness for you.
- If the bedroom feels stuffy or humid, open a window or use a dehumidifier.
- 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 sex. The only exception should be if you find it relaxing to read a book in bed.
I work from home a lot, and try to keep out of the bedroom during the daytime as much as possible. I never watch movies in bed either, even though I know I really enjoy it.
Perhaps most importantly, I have a personal rule of never engaging in stressful, difficult, painful, or sad conversations with my partner in bed at night.
I find it’s hard to fall asleep in the same space you’ve just been discussing something heavy because the ideas and emotions linger in my mind. It’s much better to have those conversations during the daytime when you’re less tired.
8. Don’t use a phones, tablet or laptop in bed
It’s often advised to avoid using electronic equipment in bed, for several reasons:
- The bright light from the screen might keep some people awake.
- Working, playing games, or surfing the internet can stimulate your brain and stop you from relaxing.
- Screens 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 the most important part of your bed, so it’s essential to have a comfortable and supportive mattress. Here are some key points to bear in mind when choosing one, or if you’re thinking of changing yours:
- Your mattress should be big enough for you and a partner to sleep on, ideally with some room to stretch out and not feel confined to a narrow section.
- Mattresses tend to need replacing every eight years on average.
- 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.
- Bed frames with slats are good choices 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. A topper can help rejuvenate an aging mattress, add some softness, make it firmer, or make it feel cooler to sleep on.
Find out about the different types of mattress toppers >>
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 isn’t so breathable.
- Polyester – lower price and can feel soft, but might also feel more artificial.
11. Make sure your bedroom is quiet
External noise and snoring are very common causes of sleeplessness. When it comes to noise, there are essentially two avenues to explore: stopping the noise at the source and reducing how much sound reaches your tired mind.
Here are a few options to try:
- 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, but don’t start a sound war in anger either – they don’t tend to end well.
- If you can’t stop the noise at the source, try using earplugs, or perhaps a white noise machine or a fan.
- Use heavy curtains by an external window or consider getting double glazing.
- Put more furniture by a shared wall to soak up some sound.
- Use some noise cancelling or sleep headphones and listen to some relaxing music.
A bedroom should be a little like a cave: cool, dark, and quiet. But I appreciate that cutting out loud noise from the outside world (or a partner’s jet engine snoring) isn’t always so easy.
If this is a serious, ongoing problem for you, you might find it helpful to read my longer article about noise in the bedroom.
See my tips for blocking out noise in bed >>
12. Avoid caffeine and energy drinks
Some people can drink an espresso after dinner and fall asleep as instantly as an instant coffee (how do they do that?!)
For the rest of us mere mortals, caffeine probably isn’t the best choice of evening drink.
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:
- 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 a 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, such as in this study review in 2013.
However, researchers have also shown 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, perhaps try to drink only a small amount.
14. Stay hydrated
Researchers in 2013 found that drinking enough water during the day was 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 activity levels. But on average, a man should aim to drink around 3 liters of water a day and a woman 2.2 liters.
I also recommend keeping a glass or bottle of water by your bed in case you wake up feeling thirsty. And when I wake up in the morning, the first thing I like to do is have a good drink of water to rehydrate my body after the night’s sleep.
15. Be careful what you eat at night
Your diet might be having a more significant impact on your sleep than you realize. The unsurprising rule of thumb is that the healthier your diet, the healthier your sleep.
Here are some key food points to keep in mind:
- Eat your biggest meal of the day for lunch. If you can’t, eat dinner earlier in the evening if possibe. The important thing is not to eat a very heavy meal late in the evening.
- Avoid sugary food before bed, especially chocolate as it contains caffeine.
- Avoid spicy, unhealthy fats, or fried food before bed.
- Avoid food with lots of processed carbohydrates at night. If you eat pasta, for example, eat wholewheat pasta.
On a personal level, my general rule of thumb is that if my dinner leaves me feeling bloated, it probably wasn’t the best choice. That’s also the reason I try to avoid excessive snacking late at night, as much as I love crunching my way through a giant bowl of popcorn while watching a good movie.
16. Food that’s okay to 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).
- Bowl of high fiber, low sugar cereal.
- Handful of nuts.
- Yogurt with berries.
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’m 100% sure that I sleep better on days I do exercise, especially compared to a lazy Sunday spent binge-watching the latest Netflix series.
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 consulting your doctor. You might be surprised to find they list symptoms such as restlessness, agitation, and insomnia as possible side effects.
If you do feel you’d like to try sleeping pills to get you through a period of bad sleep, do talk to your doctor about it to get their advice.
I think it’s also a good idea to consult your doctor if you’re having ongoing sleep problems. They might identify a root cause you hadn’t considered, and to offer guidance or treatment that’s specific to your needs and sleep problems.
How many of these habits do you do now? Are there any you think would help you, or do you have any other suggestions? Let me know in the comments below as I’d love to hear from you.
I am so grateful to have come across your informative and helpful information and personal experiences. I have always been a night owl, preferring to go to bed from 11pm-12 midnight as I am awake anywhere from 1-7am, an earlier to bed. I would get up at 7am to get ready for work. I am now suffering menopause and was averaging 4 hrs a night sleep. To try to rectify this, I went on HRT but although it helps generally (no flushes through the day now); it hasn’t helped with sufficient sleep at night. A GP put me on zopiclone for one week to try to induce a regulated sleep pattern, then 3 days off; 3 days on, but this triggered sleeping when on the tablet but no sleep or virtually no sleep on the nights not taking zopiclone. I had an unpleasant experience at work and experienced nights of no sleep at all. This caused anxiety and because upset from no sleep and work situation, started a series of trying different medications (all didn’t help: sertraline for 2 weeks; then mitazapan which I stayed awake on and was horrific so stopped after just 2 nights). So I was put back on zopiclone for 2 weeks (was signed off sick with stress from work for 9 weeks). They made me redundant 2 days before Christmas 2020. Now when try to come off zooiclone, I get rebound insomnia. So now amitriptyline and on x3 10mg and 1/4 tablet of zopiclone – amitriptyline alone, is not stopping fight or flight hypnotic jerks (prevents me sleeping as happens all night). I want to be able to sleep naturally but since taking zopiclone, my body/brain doesn’t seem to know how… have you had any experience or have any advice for this?
Thanks for your comment and for sharing your experience. To answer your question first, no I haven’t had personal experience with these sleeping pills. I have always stuck with herbal and over-the-counter sleep aids instead of prescription ones. But I do know that people do sometimes have the kind of sleep problems you describe when they stop taking a sleep aid that was working well for them. I would speak to your doctor about your desire to come off the sleep aids and see if they can work with you to taper them off. They might also be able to refer you to some therapy for insomnia if it’s available where you are. Look up CBT-I and you’ll see what I mean. But you might also find some of the advice you get is similar to what you can find online easily. The difference is it would be tailored specifically to you and your situation rather than being generic advice. But in the meantime, I would suggest trying to put as many of the sleep hygiene tips into practice as you can if any seem strikingly different from what you usually do. I think for some people, just one or two adjustments can make a difference. Others might need a broader set of changes to see improvements. But my advice to people I meet in real life is always to see it as a challenge – really get stuck into trying out different techniques and lifestyle changes if appropriate in the hope that something works for you.
Your website has been very helpful in my quest for a full night’s sleep.
I recently purchased a “FitBit ” watch to look at sleep patterns. It shows that although getting enough total sleep I am getting 0% or less of deep sleep. Is there a way or sleep ad to improve this particular segment?
Thanks for your comment, and it’s good to know the website was useful for you. It sounds like something is wrong if it shows 0% deep sleep. Are the REM and light sleep quantities showing up?
Since my wife passed away in December I’ve not been able to sleep till at least 3am or later. I’ve tried all sorts of over the counter products. I always have some kind of side effects. I would give anything to go to bed and sleep.
I just stumbled upon your site to read your review of Spoonk. I have had trouble sleeping for about 8 months, as my best friend was very sick and it created an unending anxious state for me. I am now falling asleep, but wake with anxiety. Do you have any suggestions for that? I follow most of your sleep hygiene suggestions.
Thanks for your comment, and sorry to hear you’ve had a rough time with your friend being ill. I think there are two points here: how do you stop yourself waking up with anxiety, and what do you do when or if it happens. In my mind, the second is perhaps easier to tackle, as there might be many reasons you wake up, and the problem is then that your anxiety floods back (in my experience at least). I find that two things really help: first, remind yourself that it’s ok to wake up, not stress about being awake, try to relax and just enjoy the comfort of your bed and know that you will fall asleep again. Second, simple breathing exercises can really help to take your mind out of your head and focus on simple physical movements instead. Perhaps try those and see if it helps. As for the anxiety itself, I personally find if I do 5-20 mins of meditation or yoga before bed, I tend to wake up less frequently.
Nice website my sleep doctor recommended. I’m being treated for insomnia.
I have night time eating syndrome – where I eat the majority of my calories in the evening, need to sleep on a fuller stomach, and wake up during the night hungry and eat (I’m aware) in order to fall back asleep. I also have depression and anxiety if that is related.
Do you have any information to help me better understand this?
Thanks for your comment – it’s good to know the site comes recommended! Unfortunately though I can’t return the helpful words, as I don’t know enough about your particular situation to feel confident in providing any advice. What I can say though is that depression and anxiety have more and more self-help guidance available to the public, and I’ve had great success personally. Funnily enough, recently by exploring food that benefits my microbiome, which is a growing area of scientific exploration where anxiety and depression are concerned. You should look it up if you haven’t already.
I have a problem where I’ll wake up just about every two hours with a random song, usually just a small part of the song playing endlessly in my head. It’s usually a song I listened to that day or recently. Alternately I’ll have the same problem of waking up every two hours because I’ll be having a persistent dream that I’m trying to solve a problem or puzzle that only exists in the dream and is complete nonsense when I wake up. This will continue all night.
The most annoying issue I have is having to visit the bathroom at least three or four times a night. I’ve tried everything, eating things that are supposed to help bladder control, not drinking caffeine, not drinking sugary drinks, not drinking anything after 7pm, holding it longer and longer until I almost wet my pants. Nothing I’ve tried helps. Basically, I don’t sleep well, ever, and when I manage to get a pretty good amount of sleep is with an over the counter sedative sleeping pill. I’ve heard taking one every night is bad in the long term but there is no other way for me. I’ve even tried the sleep hygiene stuff, which for sure can help me fall asleep faster, but does not at all help me stay asleep.
Thanks for your comment. I can understand your frustration from what you described. I have to say I’m not a big believer in making yourself hold it in if you need to go – I think it’s adding unnecessary suffering! But have you been to the doctor to get a checkup for your general health? It might be worth doing.
I also wonder if the vivid dreams could be associated with the sleep aids you take. Does it happen when you don’t take them? Do you notice they happen more or less when you do certain things?
Thank you for information. I was facing difficulty in falling sleep but now a days when I sleep dream start continuously. I don’t like to take any medicine. Please help
Thanks for your comment. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with remembering your dreams regularly. Is that what you’re worrying about?
I am wondering about the Kindle Paperwhite ereader, if reading it in bed will disrupt sleep?
Thanks for your comment. I haven’t used one, but as I understand it, the light shines from LEDs onto the screen, and not directed towards your eyes. If you read this technology website article, it points out the difference between using tablets to read, and backlit e-readers.
I have very poor sleeping habits.
Once I tried to keep a diary. I decided to do it before bed, when I had time. I also find it nice to drink some tea while writing. Anyways journaling + tea became kind of “bedtime ritual” as a side effect. I unload all thoughts on the paper, which is calming on its own and shortly after it go to bed. Main idea was keeping a diary, but I also fell asleep super easy after that ( the easiest in my life actually). Usually I am anxious person and it takes me time to fall asleep. So rituals and some calming work like a charm for me.
Thanks for your comment and for sharing this. Keeping a diary before going to bed is such a simple idea, yet one we rarely put into practice. It’s a shame because it’s actually very effective, especially if you don’t sleep well because of stress or anxiety etc. It’s also great to create a bedtime ritual, with a relaxing cup of tea being another classic, and effective technique.
Have you heard about yellow/orange-lenses glasses?
Thanks for this suggestion – yes, I have heard about them. It seems they could be a good idea for people who use electronic devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops at night. Here’s an interesting article in the New York Times blog about the idea.
Hi, thanks for this article. I just want to know why you recommend avoiding garlic before bed?
Thanks for your comment. I generally try to cover all different pieces of advice about insomnia, even those that don’t have indisputable scientific backing. I’ve seen a number of sources suggesting garlic can act as a stimulant, so decided to include it on the list. Though to be honest, I doubt it’s one of the more important ideas!
Hi – I have been struggling with poor sleep for 3 years and off and on poor sleep since my 20’s. I have adopted all of the sleep hygiene as part of my life without much success. My sleep is inconsistent. 2 out of 7 days a week I would sleep without waking. The other 5 days I would get to sleep easily but wake at varying times 12/1/3:30 and not get back to sleep. As an aside – for other reasons – I started an elimination diet (FODMAP). I am 7 weeks in and after the inevitable detox I have had 2 (most recent) amazing weeks of no waking and good sleep. Today I introduced garlic back into my diet. One roasted clove at dinner and now I am writing this at 4:00am after being awake since 1am. I didn’t expect this…so I googled garlic and sleep and got your article. In all my sleep hygiene research I had not made the connection with garlic. I knew about spicy foods but not garlic. I have to do 2 more days of garlic to test for gastro intestinal issues but I will be having it at breakfast or lunch. After 2 glorious weeks of sleep lying in bed right now sucks!!! Everyone is different but for me this could explain the inconsistency of my sleeping 2 out of 7 nights…it’s in everything!!! It’s just one of those things you don’t think would affect sleep.
Thanks for your comment. How interesting that you’ve been able to make a possible connection with the garlic affecting your sleep! I’d really appreciate it if you could find a minute to come back in a few days and say if you have any more thoughts about the impact of the garlic. If it does turn out to be a culprit for your poor sleep, how wonderful it would be to be able to eliminate the garlic and with it, the insomnia.
I read Ebooks in bed because it’s less disruptive to others. The new feature on tablets “blue shade” or some variant of “night or bed mode” filters out the blue light waves which science has found to be the most problem inducing environmental factor when it comes to trouble sleeping, and it spills from nearly every light up anything except digital clocks with red display. It helps
Thanks for your comment. That’s a very good suggestion for people who like to use digital readers. If you have that feature on your device it’s definitely worth using it.
Any thoughts on ZZZ Quil? It helps for sure, but I believe I read somewhere that it could lead to Alzhiemers. Have you heard this?
I’ve read some articles about the link, yes. But it was due to one study in 2015 suggesting that long-term use of some drugs could increase the risk. As I always say, it’s better to use any sleep aid just for a short period of time. I think if you use any sleep aid for years, it’s possibly going to have negative consequences.
I tried all of these except that I don’t come out of bed when I can’t sleep but nothing works for me. At times I don’t go to sleep for 3-4 days in a row and when I sleep it’s not more then 2-3 hours a night.
Thanks for your comment. I can understand your frustration if you go so many days in a row without sleeping. When it’s that bad, it’s probably good to speak to your doctor to get some advice, especially if it’s affecting your day to day life. I’d also have a go at staying out of bed until you feel sleepy. You might be able to stave off the feeling of frustration that can come from lying awake for hours on end.