Good sleep is built one day at a time. The longer you stick to healthy sleep habits, the better your sleep will be.
Sleep hygiene is the technical name for healthy sleep habits, and the name is a good one. The same way that dental hygiene doesn’t work when you brush your teeth only one day a week, you don’t develop a good sleep pattern in just one night.
Sleep hygiene boils down to two main concepts:
- Sleep on the same schedule, every night of the week
- Only use your bed for sleeping
The key to good sleep hygiene is consistency – you’ve got to commit to see results. But after weeks or months of solid sleep hygiene, you’ll have built a sleep pattern that’s so reliable and restful you’ll wonder how you managed without it.
Your sleep schedule
Your body craves a pattern. It has so many chemical, hormonal, and physical cycles that run throughout a day, an hour, or a month. Some we can’t control, but some we can. If you eat a late-night snack every night at 9 PM, then you better believe that you’ll be feeling hungry if you skip it. If you usually visit the bathroom at 7:30 AM every morning, then at 7:29 nature will be calling.
You can “teach” your body to accept these patterns, and it will respond accordingly. Sleep is no different.
Set yourself a consistent schedule for sleep that gives you the hours you need and gets you in and out of bed at convenient times. Stick to this schedule as closely as you possibly can.
At first it may be difficult to fall asleep at the desired time, especially if you are used to going to bed later. But always get out of bed at the same time, even if that leaves you poorly rested for one day. That night (or the night after), you should be tired enough to go to bed at the hour of your choice.
Resist the urge to nap, or to go to bed before your sleep schedule bed time. This will just throw things even more out of whack.
Eventually, your body will grow accustomed to the schedule you have created, and will allow you to sleep when you are tired, and rise when you are not. Some tweaking might be required, if you aren’t sure how many hours you need. Somewhere between 7.5 and 9 hours a night is best for most adults.
No more sleeping in
The most difficult adjustment for you might be giving up your cherished weekend sleep-in. But staying in bed past your scheduled rising time will mean a later bedtime that night. This will spread from night to night, until your sleep schedule is right out the window. That’s why proper sleep hygiene demands that you never sleep in and always stick to the sleep schedule.
But don’t worry, once you’ve built a solid sleep schedule, you won’t feel the need to sleep in anyway. You’ll be well-rested enough to get out of bed the same time, every day of the week.
No more late nights
Just as a healthy sleep schedule cuts out sleeping in, it also cuts out late nights. Resist the urge for midnight movie marathons, or 4 AM clubbing sessions, whenever possible. The better you are able to keep your sleep regular, the more rewarding it will be.
Your bed is for sleeping
Your body doesn’t just love a reliable schedule, but reliable places too. Just like setting a steady sleep schedule will prime your body to sleep at the best hours, setting a steady sleep location can do the same.
In order to coach your body to sleep as soon as you get under the covers, you need to use your bed only for sleep. This will have a psychological effect and condition the feeling of lying in bed to be associated with rest and nothing else. We want to build a Pavlovian response where bed means sleep.
If you spend a lot of time reading, watching TV, or browsing the web while in bed then it becomes harder to make the bed = sleep connection. Not only do these activities this excite you before sleep with mental stimulation, but they also mentally associate your bed and bedroom with fun and play, rather than sleep and rest.
The exception to this, because let’s be realistic, is you-know-what. Gettin’ frisky.
The other non-sleep activity you should avoid in bed is: not sleeping. What this means is that when adjusting to a sleep schedule, there may be times when you are in bed but not tired. Resist the urge to stay in bed and don’t try to force yourself to sleep.
If you are lying in bed not sleeping and feel yourself starting to get frustrated, then get up immediately. Your bed is for sleep, so if you can’t fall asleep, it’s time to get up. In a little while, once you start to feel ready for sleep, then you can get back to bed.
Staying in bed when you aren’t tired will make the process of sleep a frustrating one, rather than a relaxing one. You may also start to build up sleep anxieties that can worsen into insomnia.
So if you’re doing anything other than sleeping – don’t do it in bed.
Other sleep hygiene tips
There are a few more steps you can take to make sure you are ready for a deep sleep.
- Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and free from noise
- Skip coffee, tea, and other stimulants before bed. How much you need to cut back depends on your body. Some people can drink Americanos right before bed. I need to stop drinking caffeine at 5PM.
- Exercise during the day, but not before bed
- Get natural light during the day
- Avoid big meals right before bed