Sleep hygiene guide: how to sleep better
In this guide we address why getting more and better sleep should be an integral part of your self-care routine.
We desperately need to celebrate sleep, expose its benefits, and seek solutions for sleep deprivation. That's because in the U.S. alone, 50-70 million people don’t get enough sleep.
It’s a disheartening statistic, particularly when you consider how important sleep is to your physical and psychological well-being.
In modern times, almost everyone experiences some type of struggle with sleep hygiene — and one of the biggest issues seems to be an unhealthy mindset around just how important sleep is.
Sleep is seen as an enemy to productivity — a human limitation that you need to overcome so you can get more done. Perhaps that’s why a popular sleep-related search term is “sleep hacks”.
However, you can only push yourself so far before “hacking” sleep leads to frightening experiences that will dramatically change your perspective. Lack of sleep causes all sorts of short-term and long-terms effects (delusion is one of many).
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It’s time we realize that you can’t fight sleep (and it is dangerous to do so). It’s much easier and healthier to embrace it and incorporate it into your self-care routine.
Sleep can be a powerful ally if it’s accepted as a critical (and enjoyable) element of your overall wellness regimen instead of treated as a necessary evil.
In this guide we provide an overview of how to improve your sleep hygiene and sleep better. We also provide a wealth of resources and references to support you in getting more sleep.
Sleep hygiene: how to sleep better
Sleep deprivation is an American (and increasingly global) epidemic and one of the contributors is the general consensus that it is a physiological limitation. Culturally, we look down on sleep, wear lack of sleep like a badge of honor, and go through great strain to stay awake.
However, the best way to get more sleep is to change your thinking about it. Accept it as both an essential — and pleasurable — element of living well. These facts about sleep from Harvard University can assist with that:
Learning — sleep is critical to your ability to learn and enables your brain to store new information and retrieve old information from your memory.
Weight — sleep regulates your metabolism and chronic sleep deprivation can cause weight gain because it disrupts the way your body processes and stores elements from the foods you eat.
Safety — individuals who are sleep deprived experience a greater risk to their personal safety and those around them as they are prone to involuntarily doze off which can cause all sorts of detrimental mistakes, mishaps and errors.
Mood — Your mood is directly tied to the amount and quality of the sleep you get and lack of sleep can lead to negative emotions such as agitation, annoyance, impatience as well as the inability to concentrate.
Health — several sleep disorders have been linked to cardiovascular issues such as hypertension, hormonal stress and irregular heartbeat.
Immunity — in addition to cardiovascular health, your sleep has a hand in boosting your immune system while sleep deprivation suppresses and makes you more susceptible to disease such as cancer.
Now that you understand the facts, it’s time to take action. One of the best ways to ensure you get enough sleep is to create and prioritize your sleep schedule.
Everyone has a circadian rhythm — or body clock — that regulates energy levels and alertness as well as physiological processes. To avoid erratic sleep/wake cycles, it’s important to stick to a regular sleep schedule to keep your circadian rhythm stable.
That means, depriving yourself all week and thinking you can just catch up on the weekend does not work. Some debts simply can’t be paid late — the only way to reap the full benefits of sleep, while avoiding sleep deprivation issues, is to be consistent.
Though 8 hours is the rule of thumb, it is best to reflect on the number of hours that give you the most energy when you wake up. Depending on your age, lifestyle and health you will need to adjust this standard figure — some need a bit less while others need much more.
Once you determine how many hours you need put some measures in place to ensure you get the appropriate amount of sleep. Then use a sleep tracker to monitor how long and well you sleep (see our recommendations that follow).
Be enthusiastic about sleep by developing an enjoyable bedtime routine. This is a series of short activities in the evening that help you wind down and prepare for glorious slumber.
Whatever calms your body and mind, and can be scheduled at least one hour before bedtime, is fair game. Here are a few ideas to consider:
Taking a warm shower
Drinking a cup of herbal tea
Reading a lightweight book
Writing in your journal
Listening to ambient music
Cuddling with a furry friend
Adjusting the thermostat
Allowing fresh air into the room
The best way to choose activities for you bedtime routine is to experiment with a few and see what works best for you.
Supporting sleep means engaging in activities that are known to improve the quality and duration of your sleep. We’ve outlined a few of the most important considerations.
Certain substances such as caffeine and alcohol can interfere with sleep, especially if consumed in excess and/or too close to bedtime. There are also less obvious culprits — such as spicy and acidic foods — that can upset your digestive process and make it hard to fall asleep.
Additionally, if you are overweight you are more apt to struggle with sleep disorders such as Sleep Apnea. So it's worth monitoring what and how you eat to identify any foods or habits that may be sabotaging your ability to rest well.
Just a moderate amount of physical activity, on a regular basis, can significantly improve sleep quality and duration. The caveat is that the effect is gradual not immediate.
If you aren't exercising regularly right now you'll have to start and commit to a workout routine for a period of time before you can reap the benefits.
Nevertheless, you don't have to run marathons to see results — even 10-minute daily walks (if done consistently) will eventually help you sleep longer and better.
Stress and anxiety can wreak havoc on your sleep hygiene and lead to a perpetual cycle of sleepiness and agitation. Under stress, the brain is overactive and unable to function properly because of excessive worrying.
Carrying issues from the day into the night keeps you tossing and turning and the lack of sleep impairs your mood during the day — potentially causing even more stress.
Having a method for resolving or shelving problems before bedtime — be it through meditation, journaling, or venting to a loved one — can help protect the quality of your sleep.
If it is particularly challenging for you to wind down and sleep well at night, you may consider natural remedies. Something as simple as a soothing chamomile tea, a few drops of lavender oil on your temples or a pillow spray can go a long way.
Natural supplements such as Vitamin D and Melatonin may also assist you in getting to sleep faster and resting better. We recommend that you seek a consultation with your health practitioner before consuming any supplements (even over-the-counter).
As a result of our own enlightenment around sleep, and in response to the growing epidemic, we’ve created a set of robust sleep resources to help you improve your sleep hygiene.
Our Sleep Challenge Book and Sleep Hygiene Course cover 14 simple sleep solutions that will help you get more and better sleep in only 14 nights.
The Sleep Challenge book will introduce you to the 14 most important elements of good sleep.
The Sleep Hygiene Course will guide you step-by-step through building proper sleep habits.
If you are committed to making small adjustments to your lifestyle, you will see noticeable improvements in sleep duration as well as sleep quality in just two weeks.
In addition to our sleep book and course, below are additional sleep resources we’ve tried and tested to aid you in sleeping better.
Note that to support this site we participate in select affiliate programs such as Amazon Associates and may receive a small compensation for outbound links at no extra cost to you.
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+ Sleep references and articles
Centers for Disease Control. “1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep.” https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html.
Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Benefits of Sleep.” http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep.
Harvard Health Publishing. “Improving Sleep: A guide to a good night’s rest” https://blog.content.health.harvard.edu/blog/special-reports/improving-sleep-a-guide-to-a-good-nights-rest/.
National Sleep Foundation. “What is Circadian Rhythm?” https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/what-circadian-rhythm.
Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Natural Patterns of Sleep.” http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/science/what/sleep-patterns-rem-nrem.
Max Hirshkowitz, Ph.D., et al. “National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary.” Sleep Health. https://www.sleephealthjournal.org/article/S2352-7218(15)00015-7/abstract.
Harvard Health Publishing. “Exercising to relax.” https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax.
Michael J Breus Ph.D. “Better Sleep Found by Exercising on a Regular Basis.” Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/sleep-newzzz/201309/better-sleep-found-exercising-regular-basis-0?amp.
National Sleep Foundation. “How does exercise help those with chronic insomnia?” https://www.sleepfoundation.org/ask-the-expert/how-does-exercise-help-those-chronic-insomnia.
Cherie Berkley. “What You Eat Can Sabotage Your Sleep.” WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/food-sabotage-sleep#1.
Denise Mann. “Alcohol and a Good Night's Sleep Don't Mix.” WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/news/20130118/alcohol-sleep#1.
Michael J Breus Ph.D.. “New Details on Caffeine’s Sleep-Disrupting Effects.” Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/sleep-newzzz/201312/new-details-caffeine-s-sleep-disrupting-effects.
Science Daily. “What you eat can influence how you sleep.” https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160114213443.htm/
American Psychological Association. “Stress and sleep.” https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/sleep.aspx.
Harvard Health Publishing. “Sleep and Mood.” http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/mood.
WebMD. “Tips to Reduce Stress and Sleep Better.” https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/guide/tips-reduce-stress.
Jiunn-Horng Kang, et al. “Effects of an irregular bedtime schedule on sleep quality, daytime sleepiness, and fatigue among university students in Taiwan.” BMC Public Health. https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-9-248.
Max Hirshkowitz, PhD, et al. “National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary.” Sleep Health. https://www.sleephealthjournal.org/article/S2352-7218%2815%2900015-7/fulltext.
National Sleep Foundation. “What Are the Best Hours to Sleep?” https://www.sleep.org/articles/best-hours-sleep.
Jodi Mindell, et al. “A Nightly Bedtime Routine: Impact on Sleep in Young Children and Maternal Mood.” Sleep. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2675894.
Natalie Dautovich. “Day in, Day Out – The Importance of Routine in Our Daily Lives.” National Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleep.org/articles/day-in-day-out-the-importance-of-routine-in-our-daily-lives/.
Linda Wasmer Andrews. “7 Nighttime Habits that Help You Get to Sleep.” Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/minding-the-body/201801/7-nighttime-habits-help-you-get-sleep.
L.C. Lack, et al. “The relationship between insomnia and body temperatures.” Sleep Medicine Reviews. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18603220.
National Sleep Foundation. “Best Temperature for Sleep.” https://www.sleep.org/articles/temperature-for-sleep.
WebMD. “What Happens to Your Body When You Sleep?” https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/what-happens-body-during-sleep#1.
Ying-Ying Chang, et al. “The Effects of Aromatherapy Massage on Sleep Quality of Nurses on Monthly Rotating Night Shifts.” Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5518528/.
Julie Corliss. “Mindfulness meditation helps fight insomnia, improves sleep.” Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-helps-fight-insomnia-improves-sleep-201502187726.
WebMD. “What is melatonin?” https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/what-is-melatonin#1.