The Primary Components of Sleep Hygiene

by Martin Reed Patient Advocate

Although sleep hygiene is unlikely to cure long-term insomnia, good sleep hygiene may help to address short-term sleep problems and could prevent sleep problems from occurring in the first place.

Sleep hygiene is the term given to sleep-related habits. Looking at your overall sleep hygiene is a good first step to take when you want to improve your sleep since it is relatively easy to make the changes necessary to go from poor sleep hygiene to good sleep hygiene.

This article will outline the key components of sleep hygiene and why they are important when it comes to giving you the best chance for getting a good night’s sleep.

Follow a regular (and appropriate) sleep schedule

It’s best to go to bed and get out of bed at around the same time every day. However, it is important that you don’t spend too much time in bed and that you don’t go to bed before you feel sleepy.

I recommend developing an appropriate sleep schedule based on your average sleep duration. When you have a regular sleep schedule your body will learn when it is time for bed and when it is time to get out of bed. Over time, this will make it easier to fall asleep.

Do not spend too much time in bed

When we spend too much time in bed, we reduce sleep pressure. This can make it harder to fall asleep. In addition, when we spend time in bed awake rather than asleep, we pair the bed with wakefulness rather than sleep. This creates a mental link between the bed and activities other than sleep and relaxation. This learned association can make sleep more difficult.

Get out of bed when you can’t sleep

Another way to break any possible link between the bed and wakefulness, worry, stress, and anxiety is to get out of bed when you can’t sleep. This is known as stimulus control and is one of the core components of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia.

If you get into bed at night and don’t fall asleep within around ½ hour, or if you wake during the night and can’t fall back to sleep within around ½ hour, I suggest getting out of bed for about ½ hour (or until you feel sleepy) before getting back into bed.

You may need to repeat this technique throughout the night and over a period of a couple of weeks before you notice improvements. Having the support of a sleep coach during this time can be invaluable.

Don’t do anything in bed other than sleep or sex

Another way to make sure your mind strongly links bed with sleep and relaxation is to avoid activities other than sleep or sex when you are in bed. It’s best not to watch television in bed, play video games, or get some last-minute work or studying done. Not only does this create a link between the bed and activities other than sleep, it can stimulate the mind and make sleep more difficult.

Avoid naps

Naps can reduce sleep drive and make it harder to sleep at night. It’s best to avoid naps entirely, but if you absolutely must nap (for example, you are about to drive a car but feel like you might fall asleep), limit your nap to 20 minutes so it will have less of an impact on your nighttime sleep.

Keep your worries out of the bedroom

This can often be easier said than done! One way to make sure your bed and bedroom is a place for relaxation and sleep is to avoid taking your troubles to bed with you. A pre-sleep routine can be a big help by preparing your mind for sleep.

Exercise regularly

Exercise can improve your sleep as well as your overall health. With that being said, try to avoid rigorous exercise closer than three or four hours to bedtime. Exercising too close to bedtime can actually make it more difficult to fall asleep.

Make sure your bedroom is comfortable

Keep your bedroom cool (I suggest a bedroom temperature of around 64 degrees Fahrenheit), dark, and comfortable. It can be hard to choose the right type of bedding, so check out my article on how to choose the right pillow, mattress, and bedding for a good night’s sleep.

Reduce liquid intake before bed

Having to get up throughout the night to use the bathroom is no fun — and it can be very disruptive to your sleep. Avoid drinking more than one cup of liquid in the four-hour period before going to bed.

Limit caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco consumption

Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that are known to disrupt sleep. I suggest limiting caffeine intake to the morning hours. If you smoke, try to quit! If you aren’t ready to quit just yet, try to avoid smoking in the two-hour period before bed — and don’t be tempted to light up if you wake during the night.

Remove clocks from the bedroom

Clock-watching during the night increases stress and worry and makes sleep more difficult. Try removing the clocks from your bedroom. If you rely on an alarm, turn the clock face away so you can’t see it from the bed.

How good is your sleep hygiene?

If you are not sure how good your sleep hygiene is, you can use the tool I created to evaluate your sleep hygiene using the Sleep Hygiene Index. The tool will give you an overall sleep hygiene score and offer suggestions on where improvements can be made.

Martin Reed
Meet Our Writer
Martin Reed

Martin is the creator of Insomnia Coach, an eight-week course that combines online sleep education with individual sleep coaching. His course helps clients improve their sleep so they can enjoy a better life with more energy and start each day feeling happy, healthy, rested, and refreshed. Martin also runs a free sleep training course that has helped over 5,000 insomniacs. He holds a master’s degree in health and wellness education and studied clinical sleep health at the University of Delaware.