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Sleep Hygiene: Four Principles for Sleeping Better than You Ever Have

by eHarmony Staff

Sleep Hygiene: Four Principles for Sleeping Better than You Ever Have

Tossing and turning. Lying awake listening to night-noises. The ever-racing mind. It’s incredibly frustrating to need to sleep and not be able to. We all know how important it is to get a good night’s sleep. After all, when we’re rested, we perform better at our jobs, in our relationships, and at life in general. But sometimes, despite our best efforts, slumber is a distant dream.

Some people talk about “sleep hygiene”—the practice of developing good habits that help you sleep better, so you can remain more alert during the day. Here are four basic principles to follow if you want to improve your sleep hygiene and get the rest you need.

Set your internal clock.

Sleep experts emphasize the importance of our “circadian rhythm,” our 24-hour day-night cycle that influences how much and how well we sleep. The more stable and consistent you can keep you circadian rhythm, the better you will sleep. Here are a couple of ways to help you set your internal clock, so that you can maintain a consistent circadian rhythm:

Do your best to maintain a routine where you go to bed at the same time each night, and get up at the same time every morning. Try to keep this routine even on weekends. Observe a fairly regular schedule for the other activities in your life: meals, exercise, medications, work, etc. That will help your body “expect” certain activities at certain times, including being ready for sleep when the time comes.

Develop sleep rituals.

Find other ways to communicate to your body that it’s time to slow down and sleep. Establish as many healthy pre-sleep habits as you can, so that these rituals can prepare you for restful sleep. Use traditional relaxation techniques, such as a warm bath, a short period of (non-work-related) reading, a cup of caffeine-free tea, meditation/relaxation exercises, etc.

Eat a light snack before bed.

An empty stomach can interfere with sleep. But so can a heavy meal. So find a happy medium, like having a bit of turkey with a glass of milk. Dairy products and turkey contain tryptophan, which naturally induces sleep. Allow yourself a few “planning and review” moments well before bedtime, then let your concerns go. Resist the temptation to review conversations from the day, worry about an upcoming challenge, or plan tomorrow. Instead, get into bed and focus on your breathing and observe your body relaxing.

Create a restful sleep environment.

Don’t ignore the importance of developing the kind of sleep environment that encourages peaceful and lasting slumber. As you think about your own bedroom, give some thought to the four main factors of the sleep environment:

BED: Make sure you receive plenty of comfort and support from your pillow and mattress. And if you sleep with a partner, the bed needs to be big enough that you each have ample room.

LIGHT: Light is the main cue to the body regarding whether it’s time to sleep or not. Just as the sun signals that it’s time to wake, a dark room sets the expectation that it’s time to sleep. If you find yourself being woken earlier in the morning than you’d like, get a blackout shade or wear a slumber mask.

NOISE: Do all you can to remove sudden, loud noises that can disrupt your sleep. If for some reason you can’t remove the noises, think about wearing earplugs or using some sort of “white noise” machine, like a fan or an air-conditioner.

TEMPERATURE: A hot room can be uncomfortable and keep you from sleeping. Most people do much better with a cooler room with plenty of covers.

Avoid sleep-blockers.

Just as there are ways to create the opportunity for consistently good sleep, there are also plenty of activities that arouse the body and give you the kind of energy that makes it difficult to sleep. Here are some suggestions to help you pay attention to sleep-blockers with the potential to keep you up longer than you’d like:

Avoid the use of cigarettes and caffeine close to bedtime or during the evening. Both are stimulants, and smoking can leave you wired, just when you need your body to begin relaxing into sleep.

Don’t vigorously work out just before bed. Regular exercise is helpful in terms of creating the ability to sleep, but try to work out during the morning or afternoon. A late-night game of basketball or a long post-dark run might be fun and feel good, but once it comes time to get into bed you may regret getting your body wound up. Avoid television or loud music right before bed. Both of these stimulate, rather than setting the stage for sleep.

Don’t nap during the daytime, unless it’s for a short period of time. Many people take “power naps” of 10 to 20 minutes and find them very refreshing. Naps like these shouldn’t affect your night-time sleep much at all, as long as you take them early enough in the day. But you’re asking for night-time trouble if you nap for more than an hour during the day.

Avoid eating large meals and spicy foods before bedtime. Asking your body to work hard at digestion is not conducive to sleep.

Don’t use alcohol as a sleep-aid. There are several potential problems with becoming dependent on a substance to help you rest. Plus, alcohol can disturb your sleep once you’ve gone to sleep, and it can also further exacerbate sleep disorders like sleep apnea.

One final suggestion: If you’ve been in bed for more than 20 minutes and haven’t fallen asleep yet, don’t just lie there becoming more and more frustrated. Instead, get out of bed and take a few minutes to do something that will slow you down. Sit quietly in the dark; slowly eat a handful of nuts; read the “Do not remove this tag” tag attached to your pillow. Do whatever it takes to change your internal state, so you can then sleep deeply and peacefully all night long.

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