What Exactly Is Sleep Hygiene?

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“Sleep hygiene” is one of those buzzy phrases everyone is talking about. But what does it actually mean?

Sleep hygiene is a set of behaviors that the American Academy of Sleep Medicine describes as “a series of healthy sleep habits that can improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. These habits are a cornerstone of cognitive-behavioral therapy, the most effective long-term treatment for people with chronic insomnia. ”

Translation: It’s a bunch of things one should and shouldn’t do to make sure an individual getting adequate sleep, and enough energy during the day.

Tips For Better Sleep Hygiene

Sounds sensible, right? The recommended practices can vary from person to person, depending on things like work schedule, how much sleep a person typically needs each night, and whether or not the individual suffers from a sleep disorder like sleep apnea. Plus, new research continually introduces ideas to promote better sleep. But here are a few of the basic tenets of sleep hygiene we can all try to follow.

1. Make your bedroom sleep friendly.

There are lots of changes – both big and small- that people can do to their bedroom to help promote a good night’s sleep. Here are a few examples:

  • Set the room at the ideal temperature. The experts at Healthline recommend it stay somewhere around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. For those prone to sleeping hot, it might be a good idea to invest in a cooling mattress.
  • Keep the room dark and quiet.Consider using blackout curtains or an eye mask if needed. Also use white noise to drown out any distracting sounds.
  • Use the bed for its intended use. Our beds are ideally meant for two things: sex and sleep. If people start answering work emails, they may begin to associate their bedroom (and rest) with stress, which is counterproductive to creating a peaceful sleep environment.

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Related: How To Make Your Room A Sleep Haven

2. Try sticking to a regular bedtime.

Those able to stick to a nighttime routine will find their bodies naturally learn when it’s time for bed. People should find a bedtime routine that works them and then go to bed — and wake up — at the same time every day.

3. Avoid consuming too much caffeine or alcohol.

Everyone processes caffeine differently, but experts recommend avoiding caffeine during the late afternoon and evening (assuming one works a 9-5 rather than the night shift, that is). Consuming caffeine too late in the day can make it difficult for a person to fall asleep at night. Try cutting off the coffee intake after 2 pm.

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You should also be careful with your alcohol consumption.

Alcohol is a depressant and it can help people fall asleep faster, which you may have already discovered if you’ve ever overdone it with the wine or cocktails. It is not, however, helping your actual sleep quality – in fact, it could be harming it, says experts.

Drinking too much is associated with disturbances in your circadian rhythm, which means you could wake up in the middle of the night. It’s also a diuretic, leaving your running for the bathroom overnight. And it can interfere with REM sleep, an important phase of sleep associated with learning and memory consolidation. 

4. Don’t watch TV, read, or work in bed.

Doing this trains the brain to associate being in bed with being awake and focused. In reality, one wants to only use the bed for sleep and sex.

Related: Binge-Watching TV Is Hurting Your Sleep

Turning off (or at least putting away the phone) and limiting TV screen time before bed can actually improve one’s sleep quality, research suggests. That’s because studies have linked the blue and white light emitted by many electronics to the brain’s inability to release melatonin, a hormone that tells the body when it’s time to sleep.

This exposure to light during nighttime hours messes with our internal circadian rhythms, which tells us when it’s daylight and we should be awake and when it’s night, and time to sleep.

5. Keep the naps short.

According to the Mayo Clinic, people should aim to nap for 10-20 minutes. “The longer you nap, the more likely you are to feel groggy afterward.” However, they explain that young adults might be able to tolerate longer naps.

6. Exercise a few hours before going to bed.

There are plenty of reasons why exercising is good for our overall health, includuing our sleep health. In addition to helping people lose weight, experts say physical activity is key to getting good quality sleep. Choosing to hit the gym a few hours before falling asleep may also positively impact one’s sleep health.

“The reason we want to [work out] three to four hours prior to going to sleep is because when we exercise we have an increase in our core body temperature. And about three to four hours that increase in our core body temperature starts to drop.” Dr. Robert Oexman, Director of the Sleep to Live Institute in Joplin, Missouri, told Newsweek. “That’s one of our natural cues to fall asleep—a decrease in our core body temperature.”

10. Start meditating.

Meditation is a well-known type of mindfulness practice that is known to help people fall asleep – and it has the research to back it up.

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In one 2015 study from the Netherlands, participants were introduced to four different mindfulness practices: a three-minute “mindful breathing” exercise, a “loving kindness” meditation, a “body scan” exercise, and “mindfully focusing” on an everyday task.  They were then instructed to meditate twice a day for two weeks. Afterwards, those who did meditate reported not only better sleep quality, but a longer duration of sleep.

[Editor’s Note: The information provided should not be considered a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a sleep doctor or other medical expert if personal health questions come up.]

Featured image: Stock-Asso/Shutterstock

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Joe Auer

Joe Auer is the editor of Mattress Clarity. He mainly focuses on mattress reviews and oversees the content across the site.

He likes things simple and take a straightforward, objective approach to his reviews. Joe has personally tested nearly 250 mattresses and always recommends people do their research before buying a new bed. He has been testing mattresses for over 5 years now, so he knows a thing or two when it comes to mattress selection. He has been cited as an authority in the industry by a number of large publications.

Joe has an undergraduate degree from Wake Forest University and an MBA from Columbia University.

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