Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 4/3/2022
Sleep hygiene is a relatively new concept, and as such, the average person often has some misconceptions about what “sleep hygiene” actually means.
Is it about showering before you go to bed? About regularly cleaning your sheets? About washing your hands before you turn your pillow?
Believe it or not, it isn’t.
What sleep hygiene offers is far more than the idea of cleanliness in bed, and the benefits to your sleep quality are likewise far greater — at least, in theory.
To practice good sleep hygiene you need to know a few key concepts. Let’s start with the basics.
Sleep hygiene and a good sleep schedule are not really about how clean you are when you enter your bed every night (though you should definitely brush your teeth before bed).
What sleep hygiene is about is the behaviors and environment you keep for the hours of your life you spend resting.
Sleep hygiene and sleep health are really a “best practices” list of factors that you should consider when trying to improve your sleep. Sleep hygiene might mean changes to the following:
The temperature of your sleep environment
Your alcohol and caffeine consumption schedule
Your TV and smartphone usage
Poor sleep quality is bad, and if you have bad sleep habits, chances are you’re not sleeping well.
According to the National Institutes of Health, long-term sleep loss can interfere with your work, social activities, can impair your driving and reduce your overall quality of life.
Sleep problems are associated with numerous health problems as well, and can reduce the function of your immune system.
Insomnia can also affect your memory and cause memory loss, and over time it can contribute to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and even increase your risk for cancer.
The effects of sleep deprivation leading to drowsiness is one thing, but when it starts affecting your heart health, that’s a major problem.
If bad sleep hygiene is a result of bad habits in the bedroom, then to get improved sleep you may need some tips.
There are some key components of sleep hygiene that everyone can benefit from incorporating into their nightly routine for better nighttime sleep. To get the hours of sleep you need, healthy sleep habits may even start hours before bedtime.
Here are five that you’ll want to apply for the best, most immediate results:
Consistency is about good sleep patterns, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), going to bed at the same time each night can drastically improve the quality of your sleep. Of course, you’ll need to get up at the same time as well, and continue the pattern on the weekends.
Spoiler: it’s easier said than done
The CDC also says that your bedroom should be dark, quiet, relaxing and a comfortable temperature, which sounds an awful lot like a cave or wine cellar to us.
The key is making sure you’re free of disturbances from lights, sounds and sources of heat or cold that will dramatically affect your sleep quality.
Prepare your bed for sleep, adjust the bedroom temperature, maybe add some white noise to block out those sounds. Hell, maybe even consider picking up some ear plugs for improved sleep.
Avoiding bright lights and the blue light that comes from your screens can prevent your circadian rhythm from being interrupted. Preventing artificial and natural light from keeping you awake is a practical question, so consider drapes or an eye mask for deep sleep.
Regular exercise is an important component of sleep hygiene, and an important thing to have in your daily routine.
Getting some physical activity during the day can help you fall asleep with greater ease at night, so make sure that you make time in your daily schedule for some exercise. It doesn’t have to be a marathon, you don’t have to break any personal records while deadlifting and you don’t even necessarily have to hit the gym. Just get some activity in between wakeup and wind down.
If you didn’t know this one was coming, you haven’t been paying attention to every health segment on the news, the internet or these things called magazines and newspapers in the last decade.
TVs, computers and our precious smartphones are all distractions with lights you don’t want when you’re trying to drift off, so when you’re going to bed, you should leave them in another room.
Sleep hygiene starts with what you do hours before bed, but it also starts with habits and self-control. Alcohol consumption can limit the quality of your sleep, and even if you don’t end up hungover, you may experience sleep fragmentation just from getting up to go to the bathroom.
We’ve all felt that urge to nap after a night of drinking or eat a very, very big meal, but the CDC says that you should avoid consuming much of anything right before heading to bed. That means any caffeine or alcohol, but it also includes midnight snacks.
There are limits to the sleep hygiene strategies that we need to talk about. While all of these best practices are generally agreed upon, the studies conducted on sleep hygiene have mostly been conducted in laboratory settings.
Therefore, they don’t account for other factors that might affect quality of sleep like stress, anxiety, depression, home environment, relationships, the demands of work, parenting and a potentially endless list of other factors that affect your sleep while at home.
Point being: there may be much more keeping you from a good night’s sleep than the hygiene list currently accounts for. Some other options may help — you might consider over-the-counter sleep aids, for instance, and if that piques your interest, consider hims’ Sleep Tight Gummies with melatonin, chamomile and l-theanine.
Restful sleep, sound sleep and a regular sleep schedule are all about more than sleep hygiene principles: they’re about avoiding the negative effects of things that interrupt your rest.
If you’re struggling with sleep loss, insomnia or other sleep-destroying conditions and you’ve tried improving your sleep hygiene, the next step is talking to a healthcare professional about your options for medical treatment. That might include online therapy.
A healthcare provider may make additional recommendations based on your individual needs, which might include medication or other lifestyle changes. Talking to someone about these problems is an important first step to sleeping better.