What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene refers to best practices for behaviours and environmental factors that are most conducive to sleep (Stepansky & Wyatt, 2003). Specifically, they are a list of things we can do in our lives to reduce possible disruptions in our sleep and make sure that the environment is a good place to sleep.

Although sleep hygiene may not be the answer to more challenging sleep problems, such as chronic insomnia, proper sleep hygiene can lead to better sleep outcomes (Caia et al., 2018).

Below are some tips to improve sleep hygiene for optimal sleep health.

Improving the sleep environment

Temperature. Temperatures that are too high can make it harder to fall asleep, lead to more awakenings in the middle of the night, and even reduce the amount of time we spend in deep sleep (Okamoto-Mizuno & Mizuno, 2012). On the other hand, cold temperatures can impact our heart rate response which could be related to adverse cardiac events (e.g., heart disease). Therefore, choosing a comfortable temperature can be helpful to keep sleep quality and quantity high.

Noise. Unsurprisingly, loud noises can also be a barrier to falling asleep/staying asleep. Noise cancelling headphones or other strategies to minimize sound during sleep can therefore be helpful. Some people find it useful to listen to white noise or pleasant sounds; in this case, I would encourage you to continue with the things that work well for you and that you enjoy!

Light. Reducing light exposure can help our body set the stage for sleep. If ambient light is a problem, blackout curtains can be a useful investment to optimize the sleep environment.

Mattresses/blankets. A well-chosen mattress, blanket, and pillow can also help with making sleep more conducive. For some, weighted blankets may help to reduce anxiety and stress (Eron et al., 2020). With respect to mattresses, people may have differing preferences for the firmness of the mattresses. Even other components of the sleep environment, such as pillows and pajamas, may be important to consider if the ones you are currently using are causing you grief.

Curtains drawn for light

The nighttime routine

Additional Do’s and Don’ts

1. Avoid caffeine in the evening

The half-life of caffeine is about 5 hours. Half-life is how long it takes for 50% of caffeine to be eliminated from your body. Therefore, it is best to avoid consuming additional caffeine after the late-lunch period. Otherwise, the remaining effects of caffeine could be stimulating and affect your ability to fall asleep.

2. Avoid substance use like alcohol and marijuana

Although the antidepressant effects of alcohol and marijuana can make it easier to fall asleep, the chemical breakdown of these drugs can lead to more awakenings in the middle of the night. The result is falling asleep quicker, but less refreshing, troubled sleep overall. Avoid non-prescription drugs especially during the evening for proper sleep health.

3. Limit vigorous physical activities in the evening

Although increasing physical activity during the day can be helpful to increase pressure to sleep (which helps with consolidating sleep and increasing sleep quality), intense physical activity in the evening could increase physiological arousal and make it harder to fall asleep. If you enjoy moving around in the evening, it is recommended to keep to light activities, such as walks and yoga.

Boy playing on his iPad tablet

4. Avoid eating heavy dinners

Eating a heavy dinner can lead to acid reflux in the middle of the night because you are laying down, which could affect how gravity keeps the food in your stomach. Heavy foods can also cause your metabolism to run faster and send more blood to your brain causing vivid dreams or nightmares.

5. Daily relaxation strategies are helpful

Finally, keeping to regular relaxation practice in the morning or afternoon can be a great way to reduce stress, which can help with sleep. It is recommended to engage in relaxation exercises outside of the bedtime routine because we do not want to create an association between ‘needing to relax’ and falling asleep. Efforts to sleep can sometimes move into more insidious territories of being a crutch for good sleep. Over time, this can lead to insomnia.

Final comments

I hope this post was helpful to learn more about ways to optimize your behaviours and the environment for good sleep hygiene! For those interested, here’s a couple interesting posts on feeling more energized in the morning and goals to set to optimize your sleep!

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Best wishes,