There’s a good chance that if it takes you a long time to fall asleep, or you find yourself waking up frequently during the night, you could use some help with your sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene means habits that can help you get better quality sleep, like having a consistent sleep schedule or nightly routine, and good sleep hygiene is as important for your overall health and well-being as a balanced diet and regular exercise.
Sleep hygiene isn’t just a consistent bedtime routine – preparing for a good night’s sleep starts long before you turn in for the night. Making mindful decisions about your sleep during the day and making small changes to your routine can lead to much better rest and more energy throughout your day.
Below, we’ll share 11 tips to help you get better quality sleep and improve your sleep hygiene. We’ll also go over some common reasons why you may be having trouble sleeping, how much sleep adults actually need, and signs that may mean a sleep disorder.
Reasons why you’re having trouble sleeping
It’s normal to experience a poor night’s sleep every once in a while. But if you’re having regular sleep issues, there are several possible culprits.
Stress may be keeping you up at night
Stress is an important part of our biology. It keeps us alert and aware of what’s going on around us. Experiencing occasional stress is totally normal, but stress can be a big reason that you may be having trouble sleeping. Your mind might be active at night thinking about your work, school, family issues, finances or other worries, leading to less sleep than your body may need.
Your sleep habits may need work
Going to bed at a different time every night, using your phone in bed, working from your bed and taking naps during the day can all affect how well you sleep. Making small changes to your habits and following a consistent routine before going to bed can have a huge impact on how well you sleep at night.
Caffeine, alcohol and nicotine could be causing sleeplessness
Too much alcohol and caffeine, and using nicotine products like cigarettes or vapes, are harmful to your health, and they can also affect the quality of your sleep.
Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants, which keep you awake and alert. Using them too close to bedtime can make falling asleep difficult. In fact, it’s recommend you avoid having any caffeine after noon.
Alcohol is a depressant, so it might make you feel tired and help you fall asleep initially, but it can keep you from getting deep, restful sleep.
Schedule changes might be affecting your sleep
Maybe you’ve recently switched to the night shift at work, or you took a trip that had a time change resulting in jet lag. These types of schedule changes can throw off your circadian rhythm, an internal 24-hour cycle that regulates when you sleep and when you wake up.
When you go through a schedule change, your body will likely need some time to adjust and time to improve the quality of your sleep.
Your medication may have sleep-disrupting side effects
All prescription and over-the-counter medications have potential side effects, and with some medications, disrupted sleep may be one of them. These can include some antidepressants, cold medicines and decongestants, steroids and others.
If you think a medication you’re taking is affecting the quality of your sleep, reach out to your doctor to talk about the side effects.
You could have a sleep disorder
In some cases, sleep disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome can make getting a good night’s rest challenging. And if they’re not treated, they can lead to serious health conditions like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, anxiety and mental health concerns. Visiting a sleep specialist can help diagnose and treat sleep disorders so you can get better sleep.
Health conditions could be causing your lack of sleep
Health issues like diabetes, heart disease, asthma and other chronic conditions can affect your sleep. Talk with your primary care doctor or clinician if you think that another health issue is affecting your quality of sleep.
How much sleep do you need?
The amount of healthy sleep needed varies from person to person, but it’s recommended that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep every night.
You might notice that you need a little more or a little less than the recommended guidelines. If you wake up most days feeling refreshed, you’re probably getting enough sleep at night.
If you’re still sleepy or sluggish during the day even after seemingly enough sleep, you may want to reach out to your doctor to help figure out the cause.
How to get better sleep
There are several ways to improve sleep quality, including starting a bedtime routine, avoiding naps during the day, getting more sun and enjoying regular exercise. You might find that a combination of these sleep tips will work best for you.
1. Stick to a morning routine
Planning for good sleep starts in the morning. Keeping your sleep cycle regular can help promote uninterrupted good quality sleep at the same time every night. Your morning routine should include waking up at the same time every day, including weekends.
Making your bed and preparing your sleep space after you wake up in the morning can also help you sleep better. You’ll start the day with one accomplishment under your belt, and your bed will be a calm, inviting space when night rolls around.
Eating a hearty, healthy breakfast can also fit in a good morning routine. Having large meals earlier in the day and smaller meals before bed can help you fall asleep.
2. Get some sunshine
Natural daylight plays a big role in your circadian rhythm. Daylight makes your melatonin levels drop, helping your brain know that it’s daytime and you need to be alert. Then, when the sun sets, your body will know to produce melatonin, a natural sleep aid, which can make it easier to fall asleep. Plus, just being exposed to nature can have a range of positive health benefits.
Try stepping outside right after you wake up, on your lunch break or when you get home from work, and aim to spend 30-45 minutes in the sunlight every day.
3. Cut back on caffeine
A cup of coffee in the morning or a soda on a lunch break can put a little pep in your step, but it might be affecting your sleep more than you think. It can take up to 10 hours before caffeine is completely out of your system. If you drink a coffee at two in the afternoon, it can still affect you at midnight.
Do your best to finish drinking caffeine before noon. And try to limit yourself to 200 mg of caffeine a day — that’s about the equivalent of two cups of coffee.
4. Get regular exercise
A regular routine of exercise is a great way to deepen sleep. Physical activity causes your core body temperature to increase and signals that it’s time to be awake. Throughout the day, your body cools off and signals that it’s time to rest.
Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week. If you have trouble waking up in the morning, get moving a few minutes after you get out of bed to help you feel more alert.
But keep in mind, if you enjoy more intense exercise like weightlifting, speed walking, running or high-intensity sports, do these at least four hours before bed. The temperature boost you’ll get from these activities may make it difficult to sleep.
If you can’t sleep at night, you might have to say goodbye to your afternoon nap. Sleeping during the day can throw off your sleep cycle and make it more difficult for you to fall asleep at bedtime. If you need to nap, try to keep it shorter than 90 minutes.
5. Avoid napping during the day
If you can’t sleep at night, you might have to say goodbye to your afternoon nap. Sleeping during the day can throw off your sleep cycle and make it more difficult for you to fall asleep at bedtime.
If you need to nap, try to keep it to 20 minutes or less. Studies have shown that naps longer than 20 minutes can run the risk of going into a deep sleep cycle, which can leave you more tired than before. A 20-minute power nap may be just what you need to improve your alertness during the day.
6. Limit your nighttime liquids
If you’re often waking up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, you might be drinking too close to bedtime. Limit how much you drink at least two hours before you go to bed to help avoid nighttime trips to the bathroom.
7. Eat snacks that might help you sleep
If you feel like you could have a little snack before bed, indulging might help you sleep better. There are many foods that have vitamins and nutrients that can promote better sleep. Magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron, omega-3 and vitamin D can all help you sleep.
Snacks like yogurt with bananas, apple with string cheese, hummus, almonds or peanut butter with whole-grain crackers are all good late-night choices.
8. Avoid screens before bed
Scrolling on your phone might be making it difficult for you to fall asleep. The blue light that comes from your electronics actually tells you to stay awake since it mimics natural daylight. To allow your body to relax before bed, put away your devices about 90 minutes before bedtime.
9. Adjust the temperature before bed
Adjust your thermostat so the temperature in your home is slightly different than what it may have been during the day. On average, our bodies sleep best at night when it’s around 68 to 72 degrees. And these cooler temperatures can help you fall asleep faster, too. No air conditioning at home? Learn how to sleep without AC.
10. Go to bed at the same time every night
A consistent sleep schedule can help your body feel tired at the same time every night. This will cut down on the amount of time you spend lying in bed, trying to sleep. It can also help you feel more refreshed when you wake up in the morning.
11. Create a consistent bedtime routine
A regular bedtime routine is an important part of having good sleep hygiene. It can help reduce nighttime stress and anxiety, and it may help you fall asleep at the same time each night.
Experiment with a bedtime routine to find what works best for you. It might include turning off your electronics at a certain time, enjoying a bedtime snack and doing a relaxing activity like meditating or reading. Whatever you choose to do, try to do it every night. Consistency is key.
How to know if you have a sleep disorder
It’s normal to have difficulty sleeping for a few days here and there. However, pay attention if certain sleep issues last for three weeks or more. They could be signs of a sleep disorder.
Some common symptoms of sleep disorders include:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Morning headaches
- Mood changes and irritability due to lack of sleep
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep for more than three weeks
- Regular nightmares or night terrors
- Waking up choking or gasping.
When to talk to a doctor about difficulty sleeping
If you have been having trouble sleeping for more than three weeks, or if you notice any symptoms of sleep disorders, make an appointment with a primary care doctor or clinician. They can help determine if you might benefit from supplements, medication or seeing a sleep specialist