Getting a good sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your physical and mental health. Proper rest improves your mood, productivity, and overall quality of life, but it’s not always as easy as it sounds. That’s where sleep hygiene comes in. Sleep hygiene means developing and maintaining healthy sleep habits that can help you get the best rest possible — and even small changes can make a big difference.
Adopt a regular sleep schedule
Keeping regular sleeping hours is one of the most important steps in maintaining good sleep hygiene. Most adults need between six and nine hours a night, so the amount you need to feel truly rested likely falls within this range. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day trains your body to sleep and regulates your internal clock. And, yes, that includes weekends and holidays. While it may sound tempting to sleep in late on the weekend to catch up on missed sleep, you risk disrupting your sleep schedule. If you train your body to sleep when it’s bedtime, you shouldn’t have any missed sleep to catch up on, anyway!
If you do need to nap, keep it short. A quick nap of 20 to 30 minutes can help improve your mood and make you more alert, but any longer and you risk not being able to fall asleep at night. Taking long naps won’t make you feel more rested — what it will do is decrease your sleep debt, which sounds like a good thing, but in reality can make it harder to fall asleep and lead to sleep deprivation and insomnia.
Get regular exercise
Even 10 minutes of exercise a day can have a positive effect on sleep. Exercising regularly not only keeps you healthy but also promotes high-quality, continuous sleep. Ideally, try to exercise in the morning or early afternoon; aerobic exercise releases endorphins, which are good for you, but they may keep you awake if you do too much strenuous exercise in the evening or at night.
Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol before bed
Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants, which means they’re more likely to keep you awake. The effects of caffeine — which is in coffee as well as tea, soda, chocolate, and some pain medications — can linger for hours after ingestion, so it’s best to avoid it in the afternoon. And while alcohol may make it easier to fall asleep in the short-term, drinking right before bed leads to disrupted sleep once your body starts processing the alcohol a few hours later.
Don’t eat too close to bedtime
Eating a heavy dinner too close to bedtime can cause indigestion and lead to a poor night’s sleep. In particular, foods that are rich, fatty, spicy, or fried take longer to be fully digested, so avoid these options late at night. And while it’s a good idea to stay hydrated, don’t go overboard — drink too much water before bed, and you risk needing to wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.
Reserve your sleep space for sleep
This can be difficult in a small space, but if it’s at all possible, setting aside your bed as a space that’s just for sleeping can help create a strong cognitive association between the bed and sleep. Doing other things in the bedroom, like working, reading, or watching television, weakens that association and makes it harder to nod off. If you’re having trouble falling asleep once you’re in bed, many experts teach that it is better to get up and do something else — even if it’s just sitting or lying on the couch — until you feel tired.
Switch off your devices
In addition to keeping gadgets out of the bedroom as much as possible, it’s important to allow yourself adequate time to wind down before bed. Studies have shown that blue light — the kind emitted by computers, mobile phones, and televisions — delays the body’s natural circadian rhythm and suppresses melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep. Switch off your devices at least an hour before bedtime to avoid screen-induced sleep disruption.
Start a bedtime routine
Establishing a regular pre-bedtime routine can help signal to your brain that it’s time to sleep. Read a book, take a warm bath or shower, meditate, or practice mindfulness exercises — all are excellent ways to wind down at the end of the day. If you’re kept awake at night by thoughts of unfinished tasks or conversations, try making a to-do list or writing down your thoughts before bed, and then setting it aside, both literally and figuratively.
Make your bedroom comfortable
It may go without saying, but creating a comfortable, sleep-inducing bedroom space is crucial for healthy sleep hygiene. Your mattress and pillows should be comfortable, and your bedroom should be cool, dark, and quiet. Blackout curtains, sleep masks, fans, earplugs, and white noise machines can all help achieve a soothing environment conducive to getting a good night’s sleep.
Keep a sleep diary
If you’re maintaining good sleep hygiene but still having trouble sleeping, it may be helpful to consider underlying issues. Keeping a sleep diary can help diagnose any recurring factors — things like stress levels, lifestyle, medications, and activities — that are interfering with your sleep. Seeing these things written down may reveal a hidden pattern and help you kick sleeplessness for good.