Getting a good night’s rest is vital to your well-being because it is directly connected to your physical, cognitive, and emotional health. When you sleep well, you have more energy, better concentration, and are in a happier mood. Conversely, not sleeping well can cause you to struggle through daily tasks and puts your health at risk.
The effects of sleep can either enhance your life or hinder it. Therefore, it’s important to improve your sleep to set yourself up for success in your personal and professional life. Follow along as we share 10 proven tips to improve sleep quality.
What Is Sleep Hygiene?
When we talk about sleep hygiene, we’re talking about the environment you create in your bedroom and home and your daily routines that either help or hinder your sleep. The goal is consistent, uninterrupted sleep, right? Well, good sleep hygiene should help you get better sleep on a regular basis, and chances are if you’re reading this, that’s something you’re probably interested in.
There are several ways to improve your sleep hygiene and get a better night’s sleep, and while much of it is subjective and depends on the individual, there are some tried and true methods for improving sleep hygiene that tend to work for most people. Here are our 11 favorite sleep hygiene tips.
11 Tips to Improve Sleep Quality
1. In the evening, limit your exposure to blue light.
Blue light is the light emitted from the screens of tech devices such as smartphones, TVs, computers, and tablets. Blue light negatively impacts sleep quality because it significantly suppresses melatonin production and throws off circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are physiological changes that follow a 24-hour internal clock.
Melatonin is a hormone connected to the circadian rhythm. As part of this, the body releases extra melatonin when it’s dark outside to help encourage sleep. However, light exposure, particularly blue light, suppresses the releasing of melatonin, leaving you more awake than sleepy.
Harvard researchers found that blue light stops melatonin production two times more than green light. Blue light also modified circadian rhythms twice as much. For example, green light adjusted circadian rhythms by 1.5 hours, but blue light adjusted these rhythms by 3 hours2.
Therefore, you should avoid using smartphones, TVs, computers, and tablets about one hour or 30 minutes before your bedtime. Furthermore, try keeping these devices, especially your phone, outside your bedroom.
2. Avoid consuming caffeine late in the day.
Caffeine is a stimulant that can diminish sleep quality by delaying sleep onset, which can cause someone to not get enough sleep. Caffeine does this by binding to adenosine receptors.
Adenosine is a sleep-inducing brain chemical that gradually builds up throughout the day, eventually causing you to feel tired. However, when caffeine binds to the adenosine receptors, it temporarily blocks the adenosine, promoting wakefulness.
Research has found that caffeine consumed even 6 hours before bed can negatively affect sleep. Therefore, don’t consume caffeine too late in the day to avoid interfering with your ability to fall asleep at night. For example, if your bedtime is 9:00 p.m., you should stop drinking caffeinated beverages by 3:00 p.m.
3. Reduce the number of long or irregular afternoon naps.
Longer or irregular afternoon naps can make it hard to fall asleep later at night. Furthermore, the need to sleep during the day is likely indicative that you’re not getting enough quality rest at night. Regularly taking longer naps is also associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality.
However, you don’t have to avoid naps altogether; you just need to do them the right away. Health experts advise that your naps should last 10-20 minutes. Short naps, also known as power naps, have been found to improve alertness, among other notable benefits.
4. Attempt to sleep and wake at regular intervals.
Attempting to sleep and wake at regular intervals means that you are going to bed and waking up at the same time every day of the week. Setting a consistent sleep schedule helps regulate the body’s internal clock.
Not only can this help if you have difficulty falling asleep or waking up, but it also ensures you get enough hours of sleep. As a result, your sleep quality should improve.
Adults with irregular sleep schedules are at an increased risk for cardiometabolic issues, including poor glucose control and possibly even diabetes. Therefore, experts suggest keeping a regular schedule instead.
To get started, pick an appropriate bedtime and wake-up that allows you to get between 7 and 9 hours of rest every night. Then, make sure you stick with this schedule throughout the week, including on the weekends.
5. Consider melatonin or another sleep supplement.
At night, the body releases added amounts of the hormone melatonin as part of its natural sleep-wake cycle. The release of extra melatonin is designed to help you fall asleep, but people may need additional help in some cases.
Melatonin supplements are a popular method to help treat short-term insomnia by providing the individual with additional melatonin to promote tiredness. They usually come in pill form but can also come in powders, gummies, or liquids.
Melatonin could improve sleep quality by helping people fall asleep faster. However, most health experts advise that you use melatonin for short-term insomnia, as the research on long-term use is limited. Also, keep in mind that melatonin is not a sleeping pill but rather a supplement to support the body’s natural sleep process. The benefit of this is that it is non-addictive and is generally quite safe and well-tolerated; however, don’t expect it to knock you out in the same way a heavy-duty sleeping pill would.
In addition to melatonin, there are other natural supplements that can help you sleep. Magnesium, for example, is safe and has a calming effect on the nervous system and muscles. In studies it has been shown to improve insomnia, including shortening the time it takes to fall asleep, increasing the time the person stays asleep, and even lowering levels of cortisol and raising levels of melatonin.
Related: Best Magnesium Supplements for Sleep
Valerian root is another effective, natural sleep aid that has been used for centuries. This plant is commonly added to natural sleep aid supplements, in combination with other ingredients like passionflower, lavender, chamomile, or l-theanine. Do be aware, though, that valerian root has been known to cause vivid dreams, fatigue, and gastrointestinal symptoms in some people.
6. Avoid consuming alcoholic beverages close to bedtime.
Alcoholic beverages are products that cause drunkenness, such as liquor, wine, and beer. Experts say you should avoid consuming alcoholic beverages before bed to help you sleep better. Initially, alcohol may cause you to feel tired, but alcohol is also linked to more disturbed sleep.
Instead of a nightcap that contains alcohol, opt for a hot herbal tea. Drinking hot tea is very relaxing. Plus, there are popular teas designed to support sleepiness, like chamomile. Chamomile has even been shown to be effective in the treatment of generalized anxiety, which in itself is a major contributor to many people’s insomnia.
7. Create the ideal sleep environment.
Improving your bedroom could significantly enhance your sleep quality because it can prevent unwanted distractions that negatively affect rest.
First, the room should be as dark as possible. Light exposure of any kind could interrupt your internal sleep-wake cycle, making it harder for you to doze off. To help keep your environment dark, consider putting up blackout curtains or wearing an eye mask.
Second, your sleeping environment should be quiet. Loud noises can delay sleep onset and lead to more disrupted rest. To help block out noise, you can purchase earplugs or use a white noise machine. If neighbors or those you live with are the cause of bothersome noise, consider discussing the issue with them so that you can rest better.
Lastly, your bed must be as comfortable as possible. If you have sensitive pressure points, a quality mattress should help relieve this pressure through contouring materials like memory foam and latex.
Furthermore, the bed should be supportive to help minimize or prevent back pain. Any type of discomfort could interfere with your sleep quality, so to improve the situation, make sure to get a well-made mattress that suits your specific needs.
8. Set the right temperature in your bedroom.
According to research, heat exposure can affect the sleep stages, specifically slow-wave (deep) sleep and REM sleep. However, exposure to the cold does not have this effect. As a result, experts agree that people should sleep in cooler spaces instead of hot ones.
In fact, the best temperature for sleeping is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. Of course, the “right” temperature can be subjective. For you, it might be more like 70 or 72 depending on your body type, metabolism, hormones, age, weight, current health, and a variety of other factors. Find a temperature that works for you in general and know that it may fluctuate depending on how your body is doing, and for those with menstrual cycles, throughout the month. (Your body temperature goes up during your menstrual cycle and just before, so you might need to knock down the thermostat a couple of extra degrees during this time).
9. Avoid eating late at night.
Not eating late at night could improve your sleep quality. Researchers found that eating within three hours of bedtime is associated with a greater risk for interrupted rest, which suggests that avoiding late-night meals could help get you better sleep.
Instead of eating late at night, try to plan your dinner to be more than three hours in advance of your bedtime. However, if you are hungry before bed, it is okay to have a light, healthy snack. Health experts recommend avoiding snacks with lots of sugar and choosing more protein-rich foods.
10. Practice a nighttime ritual to unwind.
You can think of a nighttime ritual as a way to let your body and brain know, “it’s bedtime”; almost like a pavlovian response. Nighttime rituals can be any number of things, but the key is, they should be things that relax you. For example, they might include making a cup of chamomile tea, writing in your journal to wind down and clear your mind, meditation, listening to some relaxing music, doing some gentle stretches or yoga, taking a warm bath, or reading a book.
These sorts of nighttime rituals should not only calm you, but after you’ve done them repeatedly over time, they can also let your body and mind know that it’s time to get sleepy.
11. Add regular exercise to your routine.
At this point, we all know that regular exercise is a cornerstone of good physical and mental health, but you might be surprised at how important it is in getting good sleep. Research shows that exercise has a direct impact on a person’s quality of sleep. Those who exercise less or don’t exercise at all, don’t sleep as well.
This is partly because moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of slow brain wave sleep you get. Slow wave sleep refers to deep sleep – the sleep phase when your body and brain have a chance to rejuvenate.
Another reason is that exercise can help stabilize your mood and decompress the mind as it naturally releases endorphins and elevates your core body temperature. For this reason, you ideally shouldn’t exercise 1 or 2 hours before going to bed as it might invigorate rather than calm you down. Instead, try exercising earlier in the day, or if you must work out at night, go for more moderate exercises like pilates or yoga.
If Good Sleep Hygiene Isn’t Working, You Might Be Dealing With a Sleep Disorder
If you’ve tried everything– a regular sleep schedule, a nighttime routine, exercise, eating well at the right times of day, and even thrown in a supplement or two– and you are still not sleeping, you might be dealing with a sleep disorder.
Sleep disorders are extremely common – more than 50 million people in the United States live with sleep disorders. Here are just a few of the most common ones:
- Insomnia: Insomnia is a disorder in which a person has difficulty falling or staying asleep. Insomnia hinders sleep quality by delaying sleep onset and causing more fragmented sleep patterns. Insomnia can result from bad sleep habits, depression, anxiety, illness, lack of physical activity, and certain medications.
- Sleep Apnea: Sleep apnea is when a person’s breathing repeatedly starts and stops while asleep. Most cases are Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which means the throat relaxes to the point that it blocks oxygen from entering the upper airways. However, Central Sleep Apnea is a neurological issue in which the brain cannot send the right signals to the breathing muscles. Sleep apnea interferes with sleep quality because the lack of oxygen will eventually cause them to wake up gasping for air. As a result, these individuals are less likely to experience restorative rest.
- Restless Legs Syndrome: Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is when an individual has an uncontrollable urge to move their legs while at rest. Therefore, people with this disorder experience difficulty falling asleep. The cause of RLS is not known, but experts believe it may result from a dopamine imbalance in the brain.
Related: Best Mattress for Restless Leg Syndrome
- Narcolepsy: Narcolepsy is a disorder in which people experience extreme daytime tiredness. Narcolepsy can hinder sleep quality because it makes it much harder to maintain a set sleep schedule. The cause of Narcolepsy is not known, but it may be linked to low amounts of the chemical hypocretin.
If you think you’re dealing with a sleep disorder, there are ways to treat them. Talk to your doctor or a psychologist and see what they think. Many people report great results with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia.
The Importance of Quality Sleep For Good Health
Getting quality sleep at night is important because it can directly affect your physical and mental well-being.
When you sleep, the body restores itself, which is important for physical energy and immune health. Therefore, you should have more energy when you sleep well and are less likely to get sick.
Sleep is also vital for cognitive and emotional health. For example, you concentrate better when you get good rest, which can translate to professional or academic success. Furthermore, good sleep is more likely to improve your mood, positively influencing your relationships with friends, family, and colleagues.
Conversely, the risks of insufficient sleep are detrimental to your quality of life.
First, you’re more vulnerable to illness when you don’t get adequate rest because your immune system isn’t as strong. You could also experience long-term health complications from insufficient sleep, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and early mortality. Secondly, poor rest is associated with a lack of concentration, which puts you at an increased risk for accidents, especially for those who drive or operate machinery at work. Third, insufficient sleep means that you are more likely to exhibit negative moods like irritability, which could obstruct your personal and professional relationships.
Unfortunately, sleep isn’t as simple as lying down and just closing your eyes for many people, but that’s where good sleep hygiene comes in. Sleep hygiene means making your external sleep environment and your daily habits support you in getting a good, uninterrupted night’s sleep. Remember, these habits can vary from person to person or even from time to time. The important thing is, finding what works for you and maintaining these things consistently for better sleep hygiene and ultimately, better sleep.
Jill Zwarensteyn is the Editor for Sleep Advisor and a Certified Sleep Science Coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.
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