Improve your sleep hygiene to stop stressing about your zzz's

June 21, 2021 - 15 min read

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What is sleep hygiene?

Why is good sleep hygiene important?

11 signs you need to improve your sleep hygiene

8 sleep hygiene tips

Should sleep hygiene be the same for everyone?

Ready to ditch poor sleep hygiene?  

We’ve all had those restless nights where it feels like the more we try to fall asleep, the harder it becomes to actually get there. Very often, poor sleep hygiene is to blame.

Struggling to sleep can also be a major source of anxiety.

If this is happening to your regularly, you may find yourself asking:

  • Do I have a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea or chronic insomnia?
  • Do I need to start taking sleep medicine or sleeping pills?
  • Is this going to last my whole life?

Before you find yourself spiraling with doubt, take a breath.

It’s quite likely that you simply have inadequate sleep hygiene habits.

Let’s take a look at what exactly sleep hygiene is, why it’s important, and how you can implement eight sleep hygiene tips to ensure a restful deep sleep.

What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene is the practice of developing healthy sleep habits to ensure a good night's sleep.

Good sleep hygiene habits can be broken down into three subgroups:

  • Actions you take during the day, such as reducing caffeine intake, drinking water, and getting regular exercise in
  • Actions you take at bedtime, such as reading or meditating before falling asleep
  • Actions you take during sleep, such as reducing sources of light and noise in your bedroom

Why is good sleep hygiene important?

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Developing good sleep habits has a number of important benefits. Let’s take a look at four of them:

1. Higher-quality sleep

The primary benefit that good sleep hygiene practices offer is that they help to improve your sleep quality.

Many people complain that they aren’t getting enough sleep, but more dangerous than this is poor quality sleep.

Seven hours of continuous REM sleep with no sleep disturbance is going to leave you feeling more refreshed and well-rested than 10 hours of irregular, interrupted sleep.

Improving your sleep hygiene will lead to more restful sleep, even if you don’t spend any more time in bed each night.

2. Improve productivity

It’s pretty well-documented that better sleep leads to improved productivity at work.

Poor sleep quality leads to:

This can affect you at work because none of these factors are conducive to being an efficient and productive employee. Bad sleep doesn’t leave you feeling very good either.

By working on positive sleep hygiene principles, you improve the quality (and possible quantity) of sleep you’re getting, which makes you sharper at work.

3. Better overall health

Sleep deprivation leads to more than just feeling tired. It can put you at risk of more serious health issues such as heart disease.

Improving the quality of the sleep you get each night, coupled with a healthy diet and regular exercise, lowers your risk of:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Strokes
  • High blood pressure

4. Increased concentration and focus

If you’re finding it tough to concentrate at work, it might be related to a sleep problem.

Sleep hygiene practices deliver a better quality of sleep. This leaves you feeling sharper and better able to concentrate on your daily responsibilities.

11 signs you need to improve your sleep hygiene

So, how do you know if it’s time to put some thought and energy into improving your sleep hygiene practices?

Here are 11 warning signs that it’s time to pay attention to your sleep pattern and make some healthy changes:

  1. You have low energy during the day
  2. You’re having difficulty concentrating
  3. You take more than 30 minutes to get to sleep
  4. You wake up more than once each night
  5. You’re finding yourself drinking more caffeine during the day to feel energized
  6. Your eyes are puffy and red or have bags under them
  7. Your skin is breaking out
  8. You lie awake for 20 minutes or more when you wake up during the night
  9. You spend less than 85% of your time in bed sleeping
  10. You feel hungry more often, and you’re gaining weight 
  11. You feel more stressed and exhausted than usual

Do any of these sound familiar?

If so, we’d recommend implementing these eight sleep hygiene tips.

8 sleep hygiene tips

Let’s take a look at some tips you can use to get better, more restful sleep at night:

1. Keep a stable sleep schedule

You may have heard of the circadian rhythm before.

This rhythm refers to the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that happen in every human over a 24-hour period.

In particular, your circadian rhythm relates to light, in that you sleep when it’s dark and wake when the sun rises.

Your body and mind work best when adhering to such a schedule, but the problem is that modern life blurs the lines between light and dark.

When it's dark outside, we typically have the lights on at home, and we sit in front of some form of light-emitting screen like a laptop or TV.

This means that our natural rhythms aren’t as powerful as usual. So in order to get a good night’s rest, we need to conform to a regular sleep schedule.

Most adults need around eight hours of sleep a night, and we generally know what time we need to wake up so we can get to work. So, this is a smart place to start.

Let’s say you need to get out of bed at 7 a.m. To achieve eight hours of sleep, you need to be asleep by at least 11 p.m.

Assuming an average of 30 minutes to fall asleep, you should set your own bedtime at 10:30 p.m. (or maybe 10 p.m. to give you a bit of leeway for those nights where falling asleep is more difficult).

2. Build a relaxing pre-bed routine

Heading straight from your home office to the bed isn’t going to make for a successful transition to sleep.

Creating a bedtime routine can help to relax your body and mind before bed. You’re basically telling your body, “Okay, we’re going to go to bed soon, so get ready.”

Some examples of activities you can include in your pre-bed routine include:

  • Reading for half an hour (not on your phone or computer)
  • Meditating for 10 minutes
  • Journaling for 15 minutes
  • Taking a nice warm shower or bath

3. Improve your eating habits

Generally speaking, healthier diets lead to better, deep sleep.

In particular, what you eat for dinner or close to bed can significantly impact your ability to get restful sleep.

You should avoid foods that include caffeine, such as chocolate, green tea, soda, and of course, coffee.

Alcohol is also known to reduce REM sleep, a crucial component of sleep that leaves you well-rested. So, it’s recommended that you not drink alcohol before bed.

4. Think about avoiding large meals right before bed

For many families, dinner is the largest meal of the day.

This presents a challenge to sleep for a couple of reasons. Firstly, you’re packing your body with energy close to bedtime, which is counterintuitive.

Secondly, a heavy meal takes some time to process, which your body will aim to prioritize over falling asleep.

One strategy for dealing with this is to have a larger lunch and a smaller dinner. Another is to eat dinner earlier or avoid carb-heavy foods at dinner, such as bread and potatoes.

With that said, there is no one perfect diet. It’s more about knowing your body and making the choice that is right for you. 

Another tip for improving your eating habits is to practice mindful eating. That is, slowing down and experiencing your meal, rather than eating on the or in front of the TV.

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5. Cut back on caffeine after 5 p.m. 

Many of us drink caffeinated beverages to stay awake and alert during the day.

Unfortunately, it has quite a negative impact on your sleep cycle.

Though you might find it tough to cut out coffee altogether, an easy way to improve your sleep is to reduce your caffeine intake later in the day.

We’d recommend not drinking caffeinated beverages after 5 p.m. For some people, this might still be too late in the day. 2 or 3 p.m. might be a better fit.

6. Regulate your room temperature

The relationship between room temperature and sleep quality is not well-known to most.

Many of us try to make our sleep environment as cozy as possible, but this might actually be hindering your sleep more than it’s helping.

On average, the ideal temperature for sleeping is around 65 degrees Fahrenheit, though it does vary by a few degrees from person to person. So, you should spend some time finding the perfect spot on your thermostat.

7. Make sure your room is dark enough

Years of evolution have developed our bodies to be sensitive to light, such that we wake up when the sun does.

Of course, in the modern world, there are sources of light other than just the sun. This is especially true for inner-city dwellers.

To improve your sleep quality, it’s important that you reduce sources of light in your bedroom.

You can do this by:

  • Installing blackout curtains
  • Turning off light-emitting electronic devices 
  • Wearing an eye mask to bed

8. Unplug from electronics before bed

You might have noticed that the bedtime routine tips we mentioned earlier all include activities that don’t involve electronics.

That’s because electronic devices, such as TVs, phones, and tablets, emit blue light, which delays the production of melatonin.

Melatonin is the chemical released to signal to your body that it’s time to get some sleep. 

In short, using electronics before bed is not a good idea if you’re trying to improve sleep quality. Try to switch off for 30–60 minutes before bed.

If you’re having serious problems with sleep, you might benefit from a digital detox.

Should sleep hygiene be the same for everyone?

The short answer is no, not everyone is going to have the same sleep habits, and not every tip we’ve discussed here is going to work for every person.

We all have unique needs. Some of us run just fine on six hours of sleep. Others need at least 10 hours each night.

Some will be able to handle caffeine in the evening. Others won’t be able to touch the coffee pot after 12 p.m.

Spend some time working on various sleep hygiene activities to find what works for you. And, once you do, stick to it.

Ready to ditch poor sleep hygiene?

Improving your sleep hygiene is an important yet often neglected aspect of overall health and wellbeing.

Better sleep hygiene leads to better quality sleep, improved productivity, increased concentration, and better health outcomes.

Let’s recap on the eight sleep hygiene tips we discussed today:

  1. Keep a stable sleep schedule
  2. Build a relaxing pre-bed routine
  3. Improve your eating habits
  4. Avoid large meals right before bed
  5. Cut back on caffeine after 5 p.m. 
  6. Regulate your room temperature
  7. Make sure your room is adequately dark
  8. Unplug from electronics before bed

You can use these tips as a sleep hygiene checklist to ensure you’re on the right track to a good night’s sleep.

Time to get serious about employee health and wellness? Check out how BetterUp can help here.

strengthen well-being - coaching for individuals
Published June 21, 2021

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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