10 Habits Practically Guaranteed To Help You Sleep Better Tonight
- Sleep hygiene—a set of healthy behaviors and environmental tweaks—can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.
- Studies find that many people with chronic insomnia benefit from non-drug approaches like the following sleep hygiene checklist.
While “sleep hygiene” sounds like it refers to whether or not you’ve showered before bed, the term actually refers to a set of behaviors and environmental recommendations that sleep experts say you should adopt to get better slumber. The idea that following a set of pre-sleep to-do’s—aka a sleep hygiene checklist—could improve your sleep has been suggested as far back as 1897 when Russian physician Marie de Manacéïne wrote a book called Sleep: Its Physiology, Pathology, Hygiene and Psychology. More than a century later, studies show that following a sleep checklist (or just adopting healthy sleep habits) can help you clock better slumber.
What Is Sleep Hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is a set of healthy sleep habits that can help you fall and stay asleep. Key among them:
- Set a consistent sleep schedule
- Create a relaxing pre-bedtime routine
- Keep your bedroom cool
- Get early morning sunlight
- Dim the lights after dark
- Limit electronic devices before bed
- Avoid caffeine in the afternoon
- Don’t eat too close to bedtime
- Limit alcohol
- Only use your bedroom for sleep and sex
Why are adopting these practices helpful? Turns out your routines and behaviors during the day and especially before bedtime play a big part in setting the stage for a restful night, say sleep experts.
Replacing activities and habits that can disrupt your sleep with a sleep hygiene checklist of evidence-based practices can improve the quality of your rest and help you feel refreshed and more alert during the day.
What Good Sleep Hygiene Can Do
Adopting good sleep hygiene can make you more focused, more productive, and more present. Good sleep may help you better manage stress, sharpen your memory, and support problem-solving skills. Research suggests that after a good night’s sleep you may feel less anxious and more confident (1).
Getting quality sleep is also important for your health. Studies suggest that sleep may help strengthen your immune system, keep your weight in check, and lower your risk for serious conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
Signs Of Bad Sleep Hygiene
The most obvious sign of poor sleep hygiene is poor sleep. You may struggle to fall or stay asleep, wake during the night, or feel fatigued and foggy throughout the day.
Your mood may also suffer. One study’s findings (2) suggested that sleep disruption may be linked to problems diverting your attention away from negative thoughts and ideas, which may put you at greater risk for depression.
- Getting enough quality sleep can strengthen your immune system, keep your weight in check and lower your risk for chronic health conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
- Struggling to fall asleep, waking in the middle of the night, and daytime fatigue are signs that you aren’t getting enough quality sleep.
Daily Sleep Hygiene Checklist
Although sleep hygiene may not get to the root of issues like insomnia or sleep apnea, these scientifically credible practices create greater awareness of healthy behaviors and are a great starting point for paving the way to deeper, more restful sleep.
1. Set a consistent sleep schedule
Your body thrives on routine. Going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time every day, including weekends, creates a sleep framework and sets your body’s internal clock (3) to expect to rest at a certain time each day.
Get up at your usual time, even if you didn’t sleep well the night before. This will heighten your sleep drive—your body’s need for sleep— so you’ll sleep better the next night.
2. Create a relaxing pre-bedtime routine
Adopting a soothing activity—for example reading a book or listening to calming music—about an hour before bed helps your body transition from wakefulness to rest, according to Jenna Gress Smith, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and founder of Arizona Sleep & Health.
One meta-analysis (4) found that taking a hot shower or bath for as little as 10 minutes, 1-2 hours before bedtime improved peoples’ sleep quality. Immersing yourself in warm or hot water seems to be both physically and mentally relaxing, making it easier to fall asleep.
3. Keep your bedroom cool
The ideal setting for sleep is cool, quiet, and dark. A bedroom temperature of between 60 and 67 degrees F (5) can be conducive to healthy, restful sleep. Your body temperature naturally dips slightly in the evening; keeping your bedroom cool may help signal your body that it’s time to sleep.
4. Get early morning sunlight
According to Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist and a professor in the department of neurobiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine and host of The Huberman Lab Podcast, when it comes to sleep, the most important thing for setting your biological clock is to get at least a few minutes of sunlight in your eyes within 30-60 minutes of waking up, without sunglasses and not through a tinted window.
In his “Tookit for Sleep”, Huberman suggests 10 minutes of morning sunlight on bright days; 20 minutes on cloudy days; and 30-60 minutes on very overcast days.
Why does this belong on your sleep hygiene checklist? Morning light signals the brain to start producing cortisol and stop releasing melatonin—the hormone produced by your pineal gland that helps regulate your 24-hour sleep-wake cycle—letting your body know that your day has started.
5. Dim the lights after dark
While getting natural light during the day helps regulate your circadian rhythm (6) and sleep-wake cycle, bright light at night can disrupt your natural rhythms by tricking your brain into thinking it’s still daytime.
Exposing yourself to too much bright light from streetlights, lamps, and electronic devices has been linked to circadian-rhythm sleep-wake disorders (7).
Even a little light in the evening can have a large effect on your body clock. One study (8) published in 2019 found that melatonin was suppressed by 50% when people were exposed to around 30 lux—which is close to or less than typical indoor lighting used at night.
6. Unplug an hour before bed
Blue light from your computer and smartphone can interfere with the release of melatonin, which cues your body that it’s time to wind down. Besides the light disrupting your body clock, games, videos, work emails, and social feeds all keep your mind busy— one of the most common causes of insomnia.
Put “Power off electronics at least an hour before bed” in a prime spot on your sleep hygiene checklist. Unfortunately, just switching your phone to dark mode isn’t an easy fix: A study published in 2019 (9) found that switching to dark mode didn’t have a noticeable impact on melatonin production.
7. Cut out afternoon caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant with a half-life—which refers to the time it takes your body to metabolize half the substance you consume—of 4 to 6 hours. In other words, sipping a latte at 3 or 4 p.m. could keep you wired around bedtime.
If you’re a fitful sleeper, avoid beverages like coffee, tea, or colas at least 6 hours before bedtime.
8. Don’t eat meals late at night
Many experts say it’s better not to go to bed hungry or stuffed. When you eat a heavy meal within hours of bedtime, your discomfort may keep you awake. It’s not conducive to sleep, especially if you’re prone to heartburn.
Hearburn occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. When you are lying down, you lose gravity’s help in allowing your esophagus to clear food, bile and stomach acid. The digestive process can take hours. The result can be burning chest pain and other discomforts that can keep you awake.
Related: Much Much Melatonin Is Too Much?
9. Nix the nightcaps
Even a single glass of wine close to bedtime may impact your sleep. Though alcohol initially makes you feel drowsy, it can alter your sleep architecture—the natural flow of sleep through different stages (10). You’ll have a lighter, more fitful sleep, which may cause you to wake feeling fatigued.
Related: The Best Pillows For Side Sleepers
10. Use your bed for only sleep and sex
During Covid, WFH turned many bedrooms into makeshift offices. But bringing work into the bedroom can negatively impact your sleep by introducing stress into what should be a tranquil environment.
If you struggle with sleep issues experts say to use your bedroom only for sleep and sex. That means no TV, no internet browsing, no answering emails, or heart-to-hearts with your partner. This trains your mind to see your bed only as a place rest.
Along those lines, many experts recommend getting out of bed and going to another room if you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes. One of those relaxing wind-down activities — reading, listening to music, or taking a warm shower — can help get you drowsy. The goal of the technique, called stimulus control, is to break the association of your bed with frustration, wakefulness, and worry. Instead, you want your bed, and your bedroom, to feel like a place of comfort, conducive to sleep.
The Bottom Line
Sleep hygiene is about having healthy sleep habits. Sticking to a set sleep-wake schedule, having a relaxing bedtime routine, keeping your bedroom cool and dark, and watching what you eat and drink can affect your sleep. If you’re following a sleep hygiene checklist but continue to struggle with sleep, see your doctor, who can determine if an underlying condition is causing your sleep problems.