How to Sleep Better: 7 Habits for Better Sleep Hygiene

Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Reviewed by Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Written by Lauren Panoff

Published 05/06/2024

When you hear the word “hygiene” you probably think of things like brushing your teeth or changing your underwear. Sleep hygiene is something different. Practicing good sleep hygiene means doing things while you’re awake that help you rest better at night.

Wondering how to get better sleep? Keep reading to learn what sleep hygiene means and how to incorporate these sleep-promoting practices into your daily routine.

Sleep hygiene refers to healthy habits that promote your rest and overall wellness.

By prioritizing good sleep hygiene, you can help improve things like how quickly you fall asleep, how long you sleep, and the overall quality of your rest.

This is important because a lack of quality sleep can affect so many aspects of your physical and emotional well-being.

Remember, experts recommend seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night.

We all experience periods of better and worse sleep because, well, life. But if you regularly have trouble sleeping, improving your sleep hygiene can help. We’ve detailed seven tips for how to improve sleep quality.

1. Design a consistent routine

One of the most basic and effective things you can do to improve your sleep and overall health is to start following a consistent sleep-wake pattern. To begin the process of fixing your sleep schedule, make a plan to go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day. (Yes, even on weekends.)

This helps your body’s internal clock — AKA your circadian rhythm — become more synchronized so you can easily fall asleep and wake naturally without the jarring beep of your phone.

Sticking to this schedule also promotes deeper and more restorative sleep cycles, helping you rest, repair, and recharge.

2. Avoid using screens around bedtime

We’ve all been there, doom-scrolling into the wee hours of the night. But did you know that having a screen in your face at bedtime can make it harder to fall asleep? If you’re wondering how to make yourself sleepy, you won’t find the answer on TikTok.

Screens from phones, laptops, TVs, and the like emit blue light. This type of light is helpful for energizing you in the morning, but it disrupts melatonin production.

Melatonin is released later in the day to signal your body that it’s time to chill. Blue light interferes with this process in a way that can prevent you from feeling tired when you’re supposed to.

Unplug from technology at least one to two hours before bed and opt for a book or podcast instead.

3. Create a sleep-promoting environment

Most people probably wouldn’t associate scratchy sheets and a disco ball with a place where you'd get a good night’s sleep.

What does your bedroom look and feel like? Does it trigger feelings of coziness, or the urge to have a dance party? If you’re wondering how to sleep better at night naturally, the environment is key.

See how you can make your sleep environment more inviting for bedtime. Consider things like:

  • Cozy layers of bedding

  • Breathable pajamas

  • A white noise machine

  • Earplugs

  • A light-blocking eye mask

  • Blackout curtains

4. Only use your bed for sleep and sex

If you’re not great at compartmentalizing areas of your life, this might be a harder one. The point is to keep your bedroom a sacred place only for certain activities.

Associating the bed with these specific things helps condition your mind and body to recognize it as a place for relaxation and rest. By avoiding things like working or using electronic devices in bed, you can minimize mental associations that may disrupt your sleep.

This reinforces the connection between your bed and restorative sleep, and it can increase the likelihood of you falling asleep quickly and staying asleep throughout the night.

5. Avoid heavy meals before bed

The timing of your last large meal can influence how easy it is for you to fall asleep later. Digestion is a labor-intensive process requiring energy that may disrupt your sleep.

Forcing your digestive system to stay up past its bedtime can lead to discomfort and indigestion for some people. Opt for lighter, more easily digested meals if you tend to eat late, or time your heavier meal for earlier in the day.

Alternatively, grab a snack before bed to help tide you over until morning — especially if you’re feeling hunger pangs. Ideally, bedtime snacks should contain a balance of protein, healthy fats, and fiber. A small cup of whole-grain cereal with milk, a handful of nuts in yogurt, or half of a PB&J sandwich on whole wheat bread are some good options.

6. Exercise earlier in the day

Physical activity, especially aerobic exercise, supports your circadian rhythm, which in turn promotes better sleep. Regular exercise also triggers the release of endorphins (the “happy hormones”), which are natural stress relievers.

However, doing a sweaty high-intensity interval workout too close to bedtime could be problematic for sleep. Exercise raises body temperature and stimulates your nervous system, which aren’t super conducive to resting.

By scheduling your workouts earlier in the day, you’re more likely to experience the health and sleep-enhancing benefits of exercise without risking sleep disruption.

7. Consider a natural sleep aid.

Some people find success adding certain supplements to their nighttime routine. For example:

  • Melatonin: Melatonin is naturally produced in your brain. It rises at bedtime, peaks in the middle of the night, and then decreases until it's time to wake up. Supplemental melatonin may help this process, especially when used temporarily for things like correcting jet lag.

  • Chamomile: This herb contains compounds that bind to certain receptors in your brain, promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety. Some people enjoy a cup of warm chamomile tea before bed.

  • Valerian root: Chemical compounds in valerian root act on brain chemicals like GABA to produce a calming effect.

  • Magnesium: This mineral is involved in regulating brain chemicals and helping you relax. It may help improve sleep quality by calming your nervous system and reducing muscle tension.

  • Tart cherry: Tart cherries naturally contain melatonin, so consuming tart cherry juice or extracts may boost melatonin and support better sleep quality and duration.

  • Lavender: Breathing in the smell of lavender before bed may help you feel calmer and support a smoother transition to sleep.

  • L-theanine: An amino acid in tea leaves, L-theanine reduces anxiety and promotes relaxation without sedation.

Keep in mind that there are pros and cons to each of these and more research is needed to better understand how supplements affect sleep.

Before adding any new supplement or sleep aid to your nighttime routine, speak with your healthcare provider to make sure it’s safe and appropriate for you. While these are considered natural, they still have potential side effects and interactions.

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We’ve all experienced periods of good and bad sleep — and the immediate consequences of both. Obviously, we want to set ourselves up to get a good night’s rest as often as possible.

Not only does being well-rested make us feel more prepared to take on the day, it offers countless other benefits, like:

  • Better immunity. Getting better sleep helps your body make cytokines, which are proteins involved in your immune response. It also helps immune cells function better so your body can fight off harmful germs.

  • Emotional resilience. Getting better sleep makes you less cranky and better equipped to manage your emotions and responses to stressors the next day.

  • Heart health. Sleep helps reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure, both of which are risk factors for heart disease.

  • Better problem-solving. Your brain processes and consolidates information while you sleep. Waking up rested helps your brain work better. Both benefit your approach to problem-solving and navigating challenges the next day.

  • Appetite stability. Sleep disturbances can throw off the balance of hormones involved in appetite regulation. Being well-rested helps prevent the cravings and emotional overeating that can make weight loss harder.

What happens to your body when you don’t sleep well?

When you don’t sleep well, you probably notice how crummy you feel first. However, many details of your health can also be impacted:

  • Impaired brain function. Lack of sleep can make it hard to concentrate, remember things, and make good choices.

  • Mood changes. Sleep deprivation can make you irritable (shocker) and more likely to face other mental health challenges like anxiety and extra stress.

  • Weakened immunity. Poor sleep can make you more susceptible to infections and illnesses.

  • Higher risk of chronic diseases. Chronic sleep problems are associated with an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

  • Inflammation. Chronic sleep deprivation can promote systemic inflammation, which is an underlying factor in various health problems.

  • Fatigue. Not getting enough sleep often leaves you with low energy, daytime sleepiness, and a higher risk of accidents (like in the workplace or on the road).

  • Unintentional weight gain. Poor sleep can disrupt hormones involved in appetite regulation, which can trigger food cravings that may impede weight loss goals and increase the risk of obesity.

We could all benefit from better, more restorative sleep. If you’re struggling with how to fall asleep fast, start by improving your sleep hygiene practices, keeping these tips in mind:

  • Consistency is key. Commit to a regular sleep-wake schedule and make it happen. Doing so can also help create a bedtime routine that triggers your body to prepare for rest. For instance, turning off screens, engaging in a stretching or meditation sesh, and curling up with a book before lights out can all help send a signal to your system that it's bedtime.

  • Set yourself up for success. Improving sleep hygiene also requires thinking about details like your choice of pajamas, the coziness of your bedding, and your overall bedroom environment. These extra details can make a big difference in how well you rest.

  • Talk to your healthcare provider. Sometimes sleep issues extend beyond what everyday habits can do. Any time you’re concerned about your health, bring it up to your provider so they can help you identify underlying causes.

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