When mentioning the word hygiene, what comes to mind is usually washing hands after being exposed to germs, brushing teeth, showering regularly, etc. Sleep is not something that we usually associate with the word hygiene. However, sleep hygiene is the term commonly used to describe the “variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness.”
It’s no great secret that sleep is critical to our physical wellbeing and cognitive function. Recent studies have found that a lack of sleep or poor sleep can contribute to chronic illness, depression, and reduced learning effectiveness. Good sleep hygiene can help improve sleep quality when people make changes to their routine and environment.
Food, Drink, & Exercise
It’s obvious to most that drinking a cup of coffee right before you go to bed is probably not a good idea–but actually, general recommendations are not to drink caffeine 4-6 hours before bed. The same recommendation is given for alcohol. Although sometimes alcohol can help people fall asleep faster, it disrupts the second phase of sleep. The same goes for nicotine, generally grouped together with coffee and alcohol because of its stimulant effect that may disturb sleep.
With food and exercise, the word often used is “balance.” You don’t want to go to sleep on a grumbling stomach, but eating a heavy meal before bedtime can disrupt sleep. If the food you are eating before bed is especially heavy, rich, or carbonated it can trigger heartburn. Physical activity during the day–even as little as 10 minutes of aerobic activity–can also promote sleep at night, but exercising too close to bedtime could have the opposite effect, so it’s recommended to complete your exercises at least three hours before going to bed.
Your sleep environment may also be an underrated factor in terms of good sleep. Experts recommend using your bed only for sleeping. If you work, eat, or watch TV in bed, your body will associate your bed with wakefulness, making it more difficult to sleep. It’s also important that your room is a comfortable temperature, quiet, and dark. Making sure all electronics are turned off is also important, as the blue light that these devices emit can affect your circadian rhythms and reduce sleep time. There’s also being aware of your personal environmental triggers–such as removing a clock if you might start to get worried when you see the time and are still awake.
Having a consistent schedule and pleasant routine not only improves overall quality of life, but also promotes good sleep. Getting to sleep and waking up at the same time each day (even on weekends and holidays!) will keep your internal clock on schedule. If you do need to make a change, it’s recommended to make those changes gradually in 15-minute increments to make it easier for your body to adjust. Before going to sleep, having some winding-down time or a relaxing routine can help the body prepare for bedtime whether it’s taking a warm shower, reading, or doing some relaxing stretches. If your sleep schedule is aligned with the natural light cycle, getting some sunlight in the morning and the afternoon can help your internal clock.
So next time you hear the phrase “sleep hygiene,” remember–it’s a thing. Just like washing your hands after going to the bathroom and brushing your teeth, taking care of the way you sleep is crucial to your health and ability to function well and live your best life.
- Mastin, D.F., Bryson, J. & Corwyn, R. J Behav Med (2006) 29: 223. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-006-9047-6
- Healthy Sleep: Sleep Tips
- CCI Health: Sleep Information Sheet
- Sleep Foundation: Sleep Hygiene
- Center For Disease Control: Sleep Hygiene
- A. Green, M. Cohen-Zion, A. Haim & Y. Dagan (2017) Evening light exposure to computer screens disrupts human sleep, biological rhythms, and attention abilities, Chronobiology International, 34:7, 855-865, DOI: 10.1080/07420528.2017.1324878
- Sleep.org: Get Sleep Schedule