You know that getting a good night’s sleep is very important for feeling your best, not to mention giving you the motivation to live your daily life. So you try to get at least seven hours of rest per night, exercise regularly and not drink caffeine late in the day. However, is there more you could be doing?
That’s where good sleep hygiene can go a long way. But what exactly does that mean? Here’s what you need to know about the importance of good sleep hygiene and habit changes that will help you sleep better for longer.
What is sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is a catch-all term used to refer to the healthy bedtime habits that may help you get a more consistent, uninterrupted night of sleep if you do not have a sleep disorder. This includes creating a more sleep-friendly space, establishing healthy nighttime routines and more.
The importance of good sleep hygiene
For some people, good sleep hygiene might increase our chances of getting better rest, which is a critical component of physical and mental health. Sleep is an essential function that affects all processes in the human body. It makes sense – you can’t be “on” all the time. Sleep gives your body the time it needs to rest and repair.
Sleep contributes to healthy brain function, so we can better process, respond to and remember information. It also helps stave off possible health risks. In fact, research shows that people who do not get enough sleep are more likely to suffer from depression, high blood pressure, metabolic issues, dementia, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and even cancer.
Getting a good night’s rest also helps wounds heal and restores damaged muscle. When you’re sleeping, the brain releases hormones that encourage tissue growth to repair blood vessels. During this time, your body can also make more white blood cells to attach to viruses and bacteria, making sleep an important part of illness recovery.
The effects of poor sleep hygiene
When you think of your sleep routine, what do you see? Do you sleep with a night-light on? Do you fall asleep to the hum of your television at night? In the long run, some of these habits could be hurting instead of helping. Too many stimuli can compromise your sleep hygiene by creating a bedtime environment that’s not conducive to a good night of rest. The effects of poor hygiene can include:
- Having a hard time falling asleep
- Waking up due to frequent disturbances
- Daytime sleepiness or fatigue
- Inconsistent sleep quality
How to tell if your sleep hygiene needs improvement
It can be difficult to determine if you’re experiencing symptoms of poor sleep hygiene or if your sleep is affected by something else. After all, stress and anxiety can make it hard to fall asleep. Fatigue is also a symptom of many physical and mental health issues. How do you know for sure?
The best place to start is with your primary care doctor, who will be able to rule out other health concerns and help advise you on ways to practice healthier sleep hygiene.
Another tool you can use for getting started is the Sleep Hygiene Index, a 13-question evaluation that can assess your practices and behaviors. Each question asks you to rate your experiences from 0 (never) to 4 (always) and gives you a sleep hygiene score based on your answers. Those with a higher final number are more likely to experience sleep disturbances, environmental issues or practice unstructured sleeping habits.
Sleep hygiene tips: How to create a good sleeping environment
A third of American adults don’t get enough sleep. But for some people, it can be difficult to go to bed at the same time every night or commit to a specific bedtime routine.
Before trying more intensive solutions, such as medicine, which may have side effects, it’s recommended that most people start by making a few sleep hygiene adjustments. Changing some of your sleep habits can go a long way in terms of resting better for longer. Here are a few places to start.
1. Sleep in a supportive position
Many factors can determine what kind of sleep position may be right for you, including age, body type, chronic conditions and more. It’s not just about comfort, and each position has its own health benefits and shortcomings.
Sleeping on your side
Side-sleeping is the most popular sleep position and often considered to be the healthiest. It’s thought to help with snoring, back pain and sleep apnea, and it encourages a neutral spinal alignment. It’s a particularly good position for pregnant women. Side sleepers might want to consider putting a pillow between their legs to put less pressure on their hip joint – and don’t curl into too tight of a ball, for instance a fetal position, so you can breathe easier.
Back-sleeping is said to be good for spinal alignment, but it can be harder on your lower back if your mattress isn’t supportive enough. It can also exacerbate sleep apnea, acid reflux and snoring. Back sleepers with lower back pain might want to consider putting a pillow under their knees to encourage a more neutral spine.
Sleeping on your stomach
In general, stomach-sleeping is not the best choice in terms of sleep posture – there’s a reason it’s the least popular position. It can strain your back and neck very easily because sinking front-down into the mattress puts pressure on the spine. It can also encourage poor circulation and make breathing more difficult.
2. Find the right mattress
Choosing a mattress can seem like a daunting task – it’s an important investment. But there are ways to assess what kind of mattress is right for you. Before you start looking, consider your usual sleeping position, weight and any physical issues for which you may need specific support.
For back-sleepers who need more spinal support, a firmer mattress may be the best choice. Whereas for side-sleepers, a softer mattress can help avoid unnecessary pressure on the hips. A medium-firm mattress may help stomach sleepers better support their spines – it’s also a great choice for those who switch positions, so they can be supported no matter how they sleep.
For those with higher body weights, a firmer mattress can help give you the support you need. People with lower body weights might want to look at softer options.
3. Use a supportive pillow
Memory foam, cotton, down – pillows come in all shapes and sizes. While a lot of selecting a pillow can be a matter of preference, the most important thing is finding one that keeps your neck parallel to the mattress. A good quality pillow will support your head and keep your neck in neutral alignment, so you’re not curved or hunched.
Cervical contour pillows are typically a great choice. These have a slight depression in the center that can help keep your head elevated, and it’s an especially good choice for back and side sleepers.
And remember, pillows aren’t just about support. There’s also hygiene to consider. It’s important to replace your pillow every 12-18 months, since older pillows can collect dust and allergens that may disturb your sleep.
4. Avoid blue light before bedtime
Bright light before bedtime can disrupt melatonin levels and make sleep harder to come by. In general, it’s best to sleep in a nice dark space. Blue light, in particular, is a sleep-disturbing culprit. It can suppress melatonin production and disrupt your body rhythms. Blue light is the kind of light emitted by your phone, television, tablets, laptops and other devices.
We recommend putting your phone away and turning off your TV about an hour before going to bed. This way, exposure to blue light is less likely to affect your sleep quality.
5. Try out different forms of white noise
For some people, white noise is the perfect sleep aid. It creates a constant, ambient sound that has been said to mask disruptions, making it easier to get and stay asleep.
What makes white noise specific is that it usually contains all frequencies in equal measure – when combined, this mix of sounds creates a steady, static hum. Think of radio or television static, a hum of a fan or air conditioner, running water, steady rain and more.
It’s also worth noting that for some, white noise may not be the answer to better sleep. It could instead stimulate the part of your brain that processes sound, making it harder to get rest. But if it’s something you’d like to try out, you don’t have to break the bank to do so.
If you don’t have a natural source of white noise readily available, you can download a free white noise app on your phone, find a sleep soundscape on a streaming platform, or even buy MP3s or CDs that let you play white noise on your stereo.
6. Keep your sleep space cool, dark and clean
When it comes to an optimal sleep environment, cool, dark and clean are the name of the game. These three factors, combined, can help signal to your body that it’s time to sleep and support your natural circadian rhythm.
What’s a good temperature for sleeping?
Studies suggest that being too hot or cold during bedtime is linked to increased restlessness and decreased rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Your body temperature slightly decreases during sleep, and a cooler (not cold) environment can help signal it’s time for bed and assist with temperature regulation. Optimal sleep temperature is typically anywhere from 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit.
How dark should your space be?
At bedtime, the best way to get and stay asleep is going completely lights out. Research shows that too much light before bed can block the body from preparing for sleep. A dark space can help encourage the production of melatonin, keep you asleep during sleep cycles and promote relaxation.
Does a clean bedroom help you sleep?
Keeping a clean sleep space can help you breathe easier in more ways than one. A tidy, uncluttered bedroom can help decrease bedtime anxiety. In fact, the more minimal your bedroom furniture and decor, the more likely you are to associate your bedroom with sleep only.
Allergy symptoms like watery eyes and breathing difficulties can negatively impact your ability to lapse into deep sleep. Regular dusting and vacuuming (yes, even vacuuming the mattress), and changing your sheets once a week or every other week can help decrease exposure to allergens, like dust mites, pollen and pet dander.
Sleep hygiene tips not doing the trick? Talk to your doctor
While improving your sleep hygiene can be a great place to start for better sleep, it may not work for everyone. If you’ve tried some of these solutions and still find yourself frequently exhausted or have trouble getting and staying asleep, make an appointment with your primary care doctor or clinicians. Primary care doctors can diagnose and treat hundreds of conditions, and they can also refer you to a sleep medicine expert if needed.
Sleep medicine experts can help diagnose and treat sleep disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea and snoring, as well as suggest healthy nighttime routine changes or other solutions such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). No matter what’s keeping you from getting a good night’s rest, our sleep medicine experts can help.