The Center for Disease Control recommends that adults get 7-8 hours of sleep every day. But that’s easier said than done—an estimated 50 to 70 million adults in the United States alone have trouble sleeping. Problems range from difficulty falling asleep to waking multiple times during the night and cases of insomnia.
If you have a severe condition like insomnia or narcolepsy, professional medical help may be necessary to help you manage your symptoms. However, if you’re generally healthy and yet still having trouble falling and staying asleep, you may need to practice better sleep hygiene by adopting practices that help create and maintain healthy sleep patterns. Good sleep hygiene allows you to fall asleep more easily, achieve a better quality of sleep, and be more alert and productive during the day.
So, what does it involve? Here are seven tips.
1. Get on a schedule
Try to go to sleep hygiene at the same time every night. Give yourself a set amount of time that you will stay in bed; if you have trouble falling asleep, give yourself around seven hours, and if you are often sleepy during the day, give yourself eight hours. Being on a schedule will help your body create a habit of sleepiness that makes it easier to fall and stay asleep.
2. Develop a routine
In the same way that routines teach babies to fall asleep, adults can use routine to train themselves. Try to follow the same pattern every night in the hour before bed, and your body will begin to recognize your routine as a cue for going to sleep. This can include turning off electronics, taking a relaxing shower or bath, drinking herbal tea, or reading a book. Whatever routine you choose, do your best to keep it soothing and consistent.
3. Create the right environment
Try to create a dark, cool, and quiet space in your bedroom. Reduce loud noise, or use a white noise machine to block it out. Dim the lights, and avoid devices with bright screens (e.g. smartphones, tablets, and computers). If you have pets that wake you up at night, try to keep them in a different room. And be sure to keep the area well-ventilated and cool with a fan or open window.
It’s also important to create the right emotional environment. Stressful conversations or activities can trigger the release of the hormone cortisol, which stimulates your brain and can keep you awake. Avoid work or emotional conversations before bed; if you still feel stressed, try meditation, journaling, or deep breathing exercises to help you relax.
4. Have a dedicated space
Racing thoughts or worrying can often be triggered by the environment you are in. If you use your bedroom for stressful or busy things, you may find that it’s impossible to shut your brain off at the end of the night. Avoid working or being on your computer in bed—not just before you go to sleep, but all the time. If you find reading calming, you can still do that in bed. Otherwise, you should use your bed for sleep, sex, and nothing else.
5. Eat right
Try not to eat anything an hour or two before you go to sleep, as digestion can interrupt your body’s sleep patterns. It’s also important to avoid stimulating foods and chemicals before bed. These include caffeine, sugar, nicotine, and spicy food. Alcohol should also be avoided—although it may initially make you sleepy, after a few hours it becomes a stimulant and will cause you to wake up repeatedly throughout the night.
6. Don’t watch the clock
When you’re lying awake, it’s easy to end up staring at the clock, wondering when you’re going to fall asleep. However, this usually only makes the problem worse. Instead of relaxing, you’ll find yourself thinking about what time it is and worrying that you’re not getting enough sleep. Your body will be more stressed, triggering the release of cortisol that wakes you even more.
Instead, make it impossible for yourself to check the time by removing illuminated clocks from your bedroom. If you have trouble falling asleep, turn your focus away from anxiety about getting enough rest, and instead practice deep breathing while thinking about soothing things. Even if you’re not sleeping, you want to try to keep your mind and body relaxed. You’ll feel more rested, even if you don’t get the full seven hours that you are aiming for.
7. Use natural light
Your body is hardwired to respond to light, which stimulates the production of melatonin—a hormone that regulates your sleep patterns. You’re more likely to fall asleep in the dark and wake up when natural light hits you, so use that to your advantage. Position your bed so that light will fall on it in the morning, and don’t use heavy curtains that are heavy enough to keep your room dark when you need to be getting up.
It’s also important to get outside during the day for 10-30 minutes, even if it’s cloudy. Exposure to sunlight will help your body produce more melatonin, which will regulate your sleep cycle and help you fall asleep more easily at night.