Our quality of sleep has a ripple effect on everything we do while we’re awake. It can profoundly impact our productivity, physical and mental health. And yet, we often let sleep take a backseat to the stresses and pressures of our daily lives.
Practicing good sleep hygiene is about developing good habits to help create the ideal conditions for a restful night’s sleep, and more energy throughout the day. Here are some simple steps to take for a better night’s sleep:
- Get into a bedtime routine
Prioritise relaxation before bedtime – don’t go straight from working to trying to fall asleep. Create a routine you can stick to, to help your body recognise when it’s time to rest. Go to bed at the same time every day of the week – even on weekends if you can. Take a hot bath or a shower (it will raise your body temperature and you will start to feel sleepy as your body temperature drops again1). Do some breathing exercises or stretches. Read a book. Do what works for you and establish your own rhythm.
- Get the conditions just right
Make sure your bedroom is a quiet oasis. The ideal conditions for sleeping include a cool, quiet and dark space. Research shows the ideal bedroom temperature for a good night’s rest is about 18 degrees Celsius2. Make sure your curtains block out any outside light, and keep lights dim just before going to bed. Invest in some earplugs if you are often woken up by sounds from outside (or noisy neighbours).
- Sleep when you’re sleepy
Don’t spend hours tossing and turning in bed trying to force yourself to sleep. If you don’t fall asleep after about 20 minutes or more3, get up and try to do something very calming before trying to go to sleep again when you start to feel sleepy. Don’t switch on any devices or look at any screens. Simply sit quietly on the couch with dim lighting and read something quietly, try a meditation, or listen to some gentle music. Avoid anything that is too stimulating, as your brain may take that as a signal to be more awake3.
- Keep the bed for sleeping
It’s important that your body associates your bed and bedroom with sleeping. Don’t let your bed become the space where you work late into the night stooped over your laptop, or scrolling endlessly on your phone. Also don’t let it be a space for movie marathons and late night snacking. If you use your bedroom exclusively for sleep and rest.
- Limit day-time naps
While some people benefit from short 20 minute naps, if you’re struggling to sleep at night, it’s best to avoid napping altogether. It’s especially important to avoid taking a nap after 3pm, so as not to decrease your sleep drive at night4.
- Try to get 7-8 hours
If you can, try to ensure you get at least 7 hours of sleep every night. Getting enough rest will help you have more sustained energy levels throughout the day – helping you stick to healthy habits like eating well and exercising. Too often when people aren’t getting enough sleep, it causes a negative cycle where they stop other healthy activities because they’re too tired.
- Eat (and drink) right
Pay careful attention to what you’re eating and drinking before bed. Eating a heavy meal and then lying down can cause problems for your digestion, and result in disrupted sleep. So try not to eat 2-3 hours before bed, and avoid heartburn triggers like citrus, fatty, spicy and fried foods. Also avoid caffeine and alcohol 4-6 hours before bed3. While you may think that nightcap is relaxing, alcohol actually leads to very poor quality sleep.
- Don’t check the time
If you wake up in the night, resist the temptation to reach for your phone or look at the clock to see what the time is. It can trigger negative thoughts and anxiety around how much longer you have to sleep and can cause your brain to start waking up, making it harder to go back to sleep. Put your phone out of reach if you can’t resist checking it if it’s close by.
- Exercise regularly, at the right time
Regular exercise of even just 30 minutes a day can help improve sleep quality. Just remember to only do exercise 3 hours before your bedtime. When you exercise, your body produces a stress hormone called Cortisol to keep your brain alert3 – you’ll want that to wear off before trying to sleep.
- Unplug, switch off and set to ‘Do not disturb’
An hour before trying to fall asleep, force yourself to switch off all electronic screens and devices. The blue light emitted from the screens can confuse your body clock which needs darkness and dim lights to know it’s time to wind down. Checking in on work emails, playing games and scrolling through social media all send the brain the message that it needs to be awake and paying attention.
Use your phone’s ‘Do not disturb’ mode to ensure your sleep isn’t interrupted by any vibrations, pings, or flashing screen lights. If you struggle not to look at your phone when it’s in sight, put it away in a drawer – better yet, another room – and switch to an old-school alarm clock for the sake of better sleep.;
1. Healthline. Having trouble sleeping? Try a hot bath before bed. (2019)
2. National Sleep Foundation. Sleep Hygiene.
3. Harvard Healthy Sleep. Twelve Simple Steps to Improve Your Sleep.
4. Mayo Clinic. Sleep Tips: 6 Steps To Better Sleep.