Poor Sleep Hygiene? 12 Tips to Help Support Sleep Quality

By: Beth Rush

Scientifically Reviewed By: Michael A. Smith, MD

We've all been there: moving at a snail's pace during the day because of a poor night's sleep. Forget being productive in the office, or handling screaming toddlers with grace when that groggy feeling catches up with you! And the thing is, you were tucked in your bed for all eight hours. The issue: that sleep was anything but uninterrupted.

Sleep is unequivocally essential for a sharp mind and a healthy body, but can you turn restless nights into restful ones? Spoiler alert: it's all about your sleep hygiene. Here's what you need to know about how your sleep habits impact quality slumber.

What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene refers to the little things you do during the day and before bed, including the sleeping environment you create when you're ready to hit the hay—all of which impact how well you sleep. It's easy to think that factors like room temperature, lighting, or even diet are trivial, but every detail matters when you want to ensure nothing disrupts your much-needed slumber.

Restful sleep plays a fundamental role in maintaining and improving physical and mental health. Yet many people don't get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep or have sustainable bedtime routines. The good news is that you can improve your sleep hygiene, which will help you fall asleep faster and minimize stimuli that could disrupt your sleep throughout the night.

What happens to your body if you don’t get enough sleep?

Your body does a lot during sleep: it consolidates memories, prioritizes healing and regulates your metabolism—all while you rest. Now, one night of disrupted sleep might not spell game over, but consistent poor sleep can impact several aspects of your health, including:

  • Cardiovascular health
  • Cognitive performance
  • Immune response
  • Digestion and more

Plus, that long-term tossing and turning can also trickle down to your day-to-day life, like family time, work productivity or helping your kids with homework.

12 sleep hygiene tips

Now that you understand what sleep hygiene is, let’s go over ways you can enhance your sleep routine. Here are 12 sleep habits you can follow to help you get a relaxing night's rest.

1. Have a fixed sleep schedule

Your body's circadian rhythm regulates cycles of alertness and sleepiness by responding to light cues. This biological system is designed to help you adapt to changes in the environment and optimize how your body uses energy. Having a fixed sleep-wake schedule helps keep your circadian rhythm in check, which in turn influences eating habits, digestion, body temperature, hormone production and more. Start by creating a nighttime routine that you can follow, whether that's showering, putting on your PJs and brushing your teeth, or doing some yoga in the evenings before your skincare routine. The trick is to set a schedule that's easy for you to follow.

Here are a few more ideas:

  • Set a time for "lights off" (and follow it as best as you can)
  • Skip the powernaps if they keep you from enjoying a good night's sleep
  • Set the alarm to go to sleep and wake up at the same time (even during weekends!)
  • Organize your daily activities around your sleep schedule; unless it's absolutely necessary, you don't want to be stressfully involved in activities after sundown

2. Make sleep a priority

In today's modern world where our attention is in high demand, saying no to social media posts, work emails or Netflix when we're ready to hit the sack is almost a superpower. Of course, this is easier said than done. Never mind prioritizing sleep when your teenager hasn't finished their math homework, or you still need to clean the kitchen after dinner. The goal is not perfection but consistency; practice making your sleep routine "non-negotiable" and over time it will become second nature.

3. Make it dark

OK, this one seems like a no-brainer, but "lights out" doesn't just mean your bedroom lights; it also refers to streetlights and the light emanating from your screen (alarm clock, phone, tablet or TV). Why do those seemingly innocent lights matter? It comes back to your circadian rhythm; we're designed to rise with the shining sun and rest when it sets, so our bodies get confused when we're constantly exposed to light, however dim it may be.

Another challenge we face once we're in bed is the convenient access to electronics; we simply grab our phones to answer a random question, text a friend, make a note for the next day or, worse, fall prey to 20 to 30 minutes of "doom" scrolling. Research suggests that using electronic devices while in bed can reduce sleep quality and duration. That's because you're exposing yourself to light—and blue light at that—which sends "stay awake" signals to your brain. Here are a few ideas to help you set the mood for sleep:

  • Keep your room extra dark with dark drapes or curtains, or even charcoal paint on an accent wall
  • Leave your electronics in another room when possible (or at least out of easy reach from your bed)
  • Keep a journal or a book on your night table

4. Keep it cool at night

There's nothing fun about waking up in the middle of the night with the sheets stuck to your sweaty back—and falling back asleep after interrupted slumber can be a challenge for some people.

So before you go to bed, lower the thermostat; how much will vary by personal preference, but on average, keep the thermostat in the mid-60s to low-70s to help your body drift off to dreamland.

Just as your body picks up on light changes, your body's circadian rhythm regulates areas in your brain that send signals to lower your core body temperature, so you can experience deep sleep. A key neurohormone for this process is the famous melatonin; it's produced in your pineal gland (a tiny gland in the center of your brain) and secreted by signals from your hypothalamus, which in turn is regulated by light. The release of melatonin lets your body know that it's time to slow down and rest; it's not only involved in your sleep-wake cycle, but it also plays a role in regulating body temperature.

5. Be consistent in your routine

Consistency is vital in life, and your sleep schedule is no exception. Start by taking inventory of your daily habits and activities. Sort through your day and figure out what is a realistic time where you can ignore everything else and just focus on getting your seven to nine hours of deep sleep. Now, we're not suggesting you ignore your responsibilities; instead, focus on tackling mainly the high-priority things so that you can make time in the evenings for your bedtime routine. You can also keep yourself accountable by asking your spouse, roommates or children to join you in optimizing their sleep routine. (Plus, when your whole family is getting better sleep, just imagine how much more harmonious everyone's relationships will be!)

6. Make time to wind down before bed

Your mind and body need time to unwind before you can drift into sleep; you'll set yourself up for a long night of tossing and turning if you don't allow yourself to slow down. Once you're done with your day, choose activities that'll help you relax (scrolling through your feed doesn't count). Breathing exercises, yoga or meditation are excellent ways to relax the body and calm the mind. You can also try journaling so busy thoughts don't keep you up at night.

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7. Don’t force sleep

So, you've done it! You got everything you needed to get done before bed, you established a healthy sleep environment and followed your routine to the T. Yet you still find yourself wide awake in your appropriately dark and cool room—what now? The answer is not to stay in bed, it'll only chase your sleep away.

When you're restless, get up and do something relaxing in a different room. Read a book (resist the urge to go for electronics), doodle or journal, listen to a podcast, do some light yoga, and try to go back to bed when you're feeling sleepy.

8. Get daylight exposure immediately upon waking

Recall how the circadian rhythm is essential for a good night's sleep? It's also part of what keeps us wide awake so that we can repeat the cycle the next day. And light plays a huge role. Exposing yourself to daylight when you wake up sends a signal to your brain (and body) that it's time to switch gears and get active; it also helps regulate your hormones and metabolism.

It can be as easy as opening your (dark) curtains to let in natural light in your bedroom, or our personal favorite, going for a brisk walk in the morning. But your phone can wait, do your best to avoid exposing yourself to blue light first thing in the morning.

9. Get regular exercise

The head-to-toe health benefits of exercise are unequivocal: it boosts cognitive performance, strengthens your heart and bones, shores up your immune defenses, builds your muscles, and yes, improves sleep quality. Specifically, your workout supports healthy sleep by reducing the time it takes to fall asleep.

However, be mindful of what time you exercise; getting your workout within an hour or two of your bedtime can be counterproductive. This is because exercise introduces a healthy dose of stress (by releasing cortisol and other hormones). It also increases heart rate and body temperature. So if you can, shift your exercise time to the morning or midday.

10. Eat balanced meals

Yes, your diet impacts your sleep quality (and the rest of you). Choose nutrient-rich and whole foods to support your body's health and your circadian rhythm. Research shows that tryptophan-rich foods (i.e., turkey, cheese, eggs, fish and milk) help your melatonin production at night, which can help you fall asleep faster. You can also add dietary supplements like melatonin, glycine, L-theanine, lemon balm or ashwagandha to help calm the body and prep yourself for restful sleep.

Pro tip: You can take a quiz to get personalized recommendations to support healthy shuteye.

11. Mind what you eat and drink at night

Making balanced food choices—lean protein, healthy fats, veggies and fiber—is critical, and so is the time when you eat them. Eating a large meal close to bedtime disrupts your sleep (your body will be too busy digesting to wind down), so make your last meal of the day at least two or three hours before bed. Limit your caffeine and alcohol intake, especially in the afternoon. Caffeine is a stimulant, so opt for herbal teas or soothing drinks like golden milk if you want to enjoy a warm drink in the evenings.

12. Make gradual changes

The last nugget of sleep wisdom: change does not happen overnight, so be patient with yourself. Incorporating many adjustments can be overwhelming and often backfire. Consider optimal sleep hygiene as a journey and focus on one step at a time. For example, start by setting your sleep environment or going to bed at the same time for two weeks before you add another sleep hack from this list. Once you're comfortable with your progress, you move to another goal, like adding more tryptophan-rich foods to your diet or getting daylight exposure after waking up. Before you know it, a deliciously restful night of sleep will become your reality and not a dream!

About the Author: Beth Rush is a nutrition editor with more than five years of experience writing and editing articles covering topics like food justice, sustainable agriculture, and plant-based recipes. You can find Beth on Twitter @bodymindmag.


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