What Is Sleep Hygiene?
By Sara Lindberg, M.Ed
What Is Sleep Hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is the term used to describe healthy sleep habits or behaviors you can practice that may help improve your ability to fall asleep and remain asleep through the night.1 Establishing and practicing good sleep hygiene throughout the day impacts both the quality and quantity of sleep you get each night. It also plays a significant role in your physical and mental health. Smart sleep habits that may improve your sleep hygiene include:
- Following a nightly routine that allows time for relaxing activities
- Getting up and going to bed around the same time each day
- Creating a healthy sleep environment that includes dim lights and the ideal thermostat temperature
- Shutting off all electronics at least 60 minutes before bed
- Limiting caffeine intake several hours before bedtime
- Getting enough physical activity earlier in the day
- Reducing stress levels
- Avoiding large meals with high-fat content before bed
Impact of Sleep Hygiene
It’s not uncommon to have ups and downs in your sleep hygiene. But as long as you’re following healthy habits and getting quality sleep, the occasional late night or interrupted sleep pattern is normal. That said, it becomes a concern when poor sleep impacts your daily routine and overall health—especially considering that more than one-third of American adults are not getting the recommended amount of sleep on a regular basis.2
Short and Long-Term Consequences of Poor Sleep
In healthy adults, short-term consequences of sleep disruption include increased stress, reduced quality of life, emotional distress, mood disorders, and cognitive, memory, and performance deficits.3
When sleep disruption becomes a long-term problem, healthy adults could face an increase in hypertension, cardiovascular disease, dyslipidemia, weight-related issues, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and gastrointestinal disorders, among others.3
Link Between Mental Health and Sleep
Mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, are linked to sleep disturbances, according to one study.4 The two often go hand-in-hand.
Sleep disturbances can happen as a result of mental health problems. But new evidence suggests that the causal relationship can also go the other way with sleep problems contributing to new and existing mental health conditions.
How Stress and Sleep are Related
Even everyday stress can do a number on your sleep routine and overall health. That’s because sleep and stress appear to have a causal relationship. According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America 2020 Survey, general stress levels are significantly above average. 5
So, it comes as no surprise that the quality and amount of sleep is being impacted by stress. And the problem goes both ways—reports show an increase in stress when quality and length of sleep decreases in addition to higher incidences of lying awake at night due to stress.
Because of the adverse physical and mental health consequences associated with disrupted sleep, it’s important to address any underlying health issues that could be causing sleep disturbances and work with your doctor on how to develop a sleep hygiene protocol.
How To Practice Sleep Hygiene
The path to better sleep starts with small changes to lifestyle habits. Establishing routines, getting regular exercise, creating a healthy sleep environment, and changing dietary habits, can positively impact the quality of your sleep. Here are some tips to practice healthy sleep hygiene.
Follow a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Sticking to a consistent sleep schedule by going to sleep and waking at the same time each day not only helps with routine but it also leads to better sleep. The amount of shut-eye you get each night also contributes to a consistent sleep schedule.
Adults need at least 7 hours of sleep each night, with older adults over 60 needing between 7 and 9 hours each night.6 If possible, try to limit or avoid daytime naps if you are experiencing trouble falling asleep.
Establish a Nightly Routine
Establishing a nightly routine that includes something you enjoy can help you relax and get ready for bed. Whether it’s reading a book, taking a bath, meditating, practicing restorative yoga, stretching, listening to soothing music, or journaling, activities that help calm your body and mind allow you to transition from wakefulness to sleep.
Create a Good Sleep Environment
An optimal sleep environment can help you fall asleep easier. Ideally, this environment should be free of electronics, kept at a comfortable temperature, and dark enough to fall asleep.
Aim to turn off all electronics including phones, TV, tablets, and laptops at least 60 minutes before bed. Turn off or dim all lights in your room, and check that the thermostat is set between 60 to 67 degrees, which is the suggested bedroom temperature.7
Incorporate Physical Activity Into Your Daily Routine
Engaging in regular physical activity can improve sleep quantity and quality.8 And if you are an evening exerciser, there’s no need to shift your activity to the morning hours. Research indicates that moderate-intensity exercise performed within 60 to 90 minutes of your bedtime should not affect your ability to sleep.9
However, you might notice sleep disturbances if you engage in vigorous activity ending 60 or more minutes before bed. So, save the hardcore workouts for earlier in the day and stick to moderate-intensity activities like yoga, walking, and low-impact swimming before bed.
Pay Attention to Food and Drink Before Bed
Optimal sleep begins with a stomach that is not too full or too empty. Ideally, avoid large meals before bed, especially ones that are high in fat since they have been associated with sleep disorders.10
Limit Caffeine Intake
Consuming this stimulant too close to when you want to drift off to sleep can really make it hard to fall asleep. If you regularly drink caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, or soda, aim to finish them earlier in the day rather than during the evening hours. Caffeine consumed six hours before bedtime can disrupt sleep.11
Seek Professional Help
Making an appointment with your doctor to discuss sleep-related problems can help you determine if you have any underlying conditions contributing to sleep disturbances. It also gives you an opportunity to develop a sleep hygiene plan that works for you.
They may refer you for a sleep study to determine if you have any sleep-related disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, insomnia, hypersomnia, or REM sleep behavior disorder.
If you are dealing with mental health issues that are impacting your sleep, consider talking with a psychologist, therapist, psychiatrist, or another mental health expert. They can help determine if symptoms related to depression, anxiety, grief, or any other mental health issue are contributing to poor sleep hygiene habits.