What Is Sleep Hygiene and Why Do You Need It?

This article was written by Amy Highland, a sleep expert at sleephelp.org.

Sleep hygiene is a general term that is more often referred to as sleep habits, and they can be helpful or unhelpful. It is often discussed in cognitive behavioural therapy to treat insomnia. They are often simple things that you can change without a huge difference in your evening routine.

Positive sleep hygiene helps you to get higher quality sleep and feel more rested during the day. Negative sleep hygiene can lead to struggling to sleep regularly.

Examples of Positive Sleep Hygiene:

  • Getting light exercise a few hours before bed

  • Adding light-blocking curtains to your bedroom

  • Going to bed and getting up at a regular time

  • Reducing what you drink before bed

Examples of Negative Sleep Hygiene:

  • Staying up late finishing a television show

  • Scrolling through Facebook when you can’t sleep

  • Eating a big, spicy meal right before bed

  • Getting drunk before bed

If you find yourself struggling to fall or stay asleep, or are waking up feeling exhausted in the morning, it might benefit you to swap some of your sleep hygiene habits for some that have a more positive effect on your sleep.

When you sleep better, you will feel better, look better, and remember more. Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the best things you can do for taking care of yourself.

Make sure that you are taking all of your medicines at the right time and that you’re using your CPAP or BIPAP machines in order to be as well rested as possible.

If you want to see if a particular part of your bedtime routine affects your sleep, try keeping a sleep diary for two weeks, noting how much sleep you got and which parts of your routine that you did prior to going to sleep. You can take this to your doctor to show what you’ve observed.

Some medicines can have a wakeful effect. If you notice yourself struggling to get to sleep, this might be what is causing the problem - especially if you just tried taking a new medication. If that’s the case, try taking them earlier in the day or talk to your doctor about changing to a different dosage or a  medication that does not cause this effect for you.

If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night, you might be tempted to pick up your phone, but you should not do that. The screen on your phone emits blue spectrum light that tells your brain to wake up and pay attention, which is the last thing you want when you’re struggling to sleep. Instead, buy yourself a simple, old-fashioned alarm clock that does nothing but wake you up in the morning so you don’t have to look at your phone.

All of these are positive ways that you can help yourself to sleep better at night and thus do better in every aspect of your waking life. If you find yourself still struggling, try talking to a doctor or therapist to see if there might be another underlying cause.

Amy Highland is a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. Her preferred research topics are health and wellness, so Amy's a regular reader of Scientific American and Nature. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, a book, and cats.