Sleep hygiene: How to get better sleep
Written bytherapist.com team
Last updated: 10/13/2022
I’m a night owl by biological design. This means I’m wired to stay up late and sleep in.
In the very late evening hours, it can be hard to shut my mind off. In fact, sometimes it’s when I’m most creative.
Unfortunately, I’ve got a regular schedule to keep—for work, for my relationships, and for all sorts of everyday life reasons—which means I need to get to bed at a certain time. But being in bed by 10:00 p.m. doesn’t guarantee me a good night’s sleep.
If I’ve been working late, I’ll be thinking about it. If I recently finished watching a very stimulating show on Netflix, I’ll be thinking about it. And if I’ve got a number of stressful things on my to-do list for the following day or week, you guessed it—I’ll be thinking about that, too.
It’s nights like these that I end up lying awake in bed, incapable of escaping my own racing mind. The next morning, I often end up paying the price for it.
Sleep: Tricky to Master, But Necessary
I know I’m not the only one who struggles with their sleep habits (a.k.a sleep hygiene). Even if you have a relatively regular sleep routine, life has its way of throwing things off. Dealing with stress, experiencing physical pain, or anticipating something exciting are all common reasons why people tend to struggle with their sleep from time to time.
The amount of sleep you need each night varies depending on your age and lifestyle, but most sleep experts agree that the average adult needs at least seven hours. Bear in mind it only takes one night of bad quality sleep to affect the brain and body. Chronic sleep problems or insomnia, on the other hand, can be detrimental to your health over the long run.
Sleep hygiene sure can be tricky, but with a few tips and potentially the help of a sleep therapist, restless nights and poor quality sleep can become a thing of the past. If you’re willing to put in the effort, you can improve your sleep to feel happier and healthier while you’re awake.
4 Tips for Good Sleep Hygiene
Unless you have a medical condition affecting your sleep, better sleep hygiene sleep starts with your lifestyle habits. Here’s where to start…
1. Establish a Routine
Setting a regular routine for yourself can help the body establish a healthy sleep-wake cycle. A routine for better sleep might include:
- Establishing a regular time for going to bed that allows you to get enough sleep
- Waking up at the same time every day
- Staying out of the bedroom and avoiding laying in bed during the day
- Limiting naps, especially in the evening
- Creating a wind-down routine to promote relaxation
2. Invest in Comfort
Many people experience poor sleep quality due to environmental factors. For optimal sleep, you’ll want your bedroom to be quiet, dark, and at a cool temperature. There are some things you can do to create a more comfortable environment that promotes better sleep, including:
- Reducing any noise
- Removing all light sources
- Keeping the room at a cool temperature (60-67 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal)
- Investing in the right mattress and pillow
- Trying calming aromas like lavender, rose, or chamomile
3. Limit Distractions
Certain activities before bedtime can make it difficult for the mind to shut off and allow for sleep. For instance, many people have the habit of using their phone, tablet, or laptop before bed.
This can pose a problem because the blue light emitted from device screens can reduce the body’s melatonin production—a naturally occurring substance that helps regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Too much blue light before bed can make it difficult to fall asleep and wake up in the morning.
To promote better sleep, try limiting the use of devices at least 30 minutes before bed and silence your phone or turn the notifications off. If you’re tempted to check your phone during the night, place it out of reach or on the other side of the room.
In addition, be mindful of other distractions beyond digital ones, such as a snoring partner or troublesome pet. Most sleep experts recommend not allowing pets to sleep in your bed. If disruptive, your partner’s distracting sleep habits may need to be addressed by a doctor or sleep therapist.
4. Consider Your Body
Giving your body the things it needs during the day can help you achieve better sleep at night. This might include:
- Getting regular light exercise (at least 90 minutes before your regular bedtime)
- Increasing exposure to sunlight by getting outside or opening blinds
- Avoiding large meals before bed, especially spicy or sugary foods
- Avoiding substances like caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, especially close to bedtime
- Practicing body relaxation techniques like meditation and deep breathing
Why Can’t I Sleep at Night?
Difficulty sleeping might be a one-time experience, or it can be chronic. There are many reasons why someone might have trouble sleeping at night, including:
- Stress: This might include concerns about work, school, trauma, and other life events.
- Medication side effects: Many prescription drugs like antidepressants, allergy medication, and weight loss pills can disrupt sleep.
- Hormonal changes: Changes in hormones due to menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause may cause insomnia.
- Mental illness: Mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can affect sleeping patterns.
- Jet lag: This can happen when traveling across time zones.
- Physical health conditions: This might include restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea.
- Substance use: Some people rely on substances like alcohol to fall asleep, but these actually lead to poorer quality of sleep.
What to Do If You Can’t Sleep
When trying to fall asleep, don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t happen right away. For many people, thinking about trying to fall asleep, or how you’re struggling to fall asleep, can actually work against them.
It’s normal to lay in bed for 15 to 20 minutes before actually falling asleep. However, if you can’t sleep after 30 minutes, you might want to try one of the following while you’re still in bed:
- Deep breathing: Make sure you are completely relaxed and start by inhaling gently through the nose and exhaling slowly through the mouth. Counting your breaths can help you stay focused.
- Body scan meditation: This meditation involves bringing focus to the breath as well as the body. Start by noticing any sensations (good or bad), beginning at the feet and legs and working your way up to complete a “body scan.” As you’re doing this, try to relax each part of the body until the whole body is relaxed.
If you still can’t sleep, try getting up and doing something. While it might sound counterintuitive, getting up and distracting yourself from not being able to fall asleep can help ease some of the pressure you might feel. Some examples of what you can do include:
- Reading a book
- Listening to music quietly
- Getting out of bed and strolling around the house
- Working on a puzzle
Whatever you might do to help distract yourself, make sure you’re staying away from your phone, laptop, TV, and other screens.
If you struggle with sleep on a regular basis, you may have insomnia—a common sleep disorder associated with difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up early and having trouble getting back to sleep.
Sometimes, the best solution to sleeping better is to seek help from a professional. A therapist can help address any underlying mental health concerns that may be causing your insomnia. Using cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), a sleep therapist can help you identify the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that might be contributing to your sleep difficulties.
Some people also turn to other alternatives including supplements like melatonin, cannabidiol (CBD), or essential oils to help them sleep. Although these can help, you should always check with your doctor before taking any sleep supplements or using any essential oils.
Finally, some people find that they benefit from participating in sleep studies. These are typically done at home and are usually fairly simple.
Sweet Dreams, and Sleep Well
I’ve personally struggled with insomnia for the better part of my life, but I know that almost all of it comes down to lifestyle habits. As long as I take care of my health, stick to a relaxing bedtime routine, and use melatonin sparingly during difficult times (like when Daylight Savings Time starts or ends), I can typically get to sleep within 30 minutes or so and feel relatively rested in the morning.
If you continue to struggle with insomnia and are unable to improve your sleep on your own, a sleep therapist can help. Find a sleep therapist near you.
About the author
The editorial team at therapist.com works with the world’s leading clinical experts to bring you accessible, insightful information about mental health topics and trends.