Why good sleep hygiene is so important for a great night’s sleep

Expert advice on how to master good sleep hygiene every night

woman making bed
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According to sleep experts, good sleep hygiene is the key to getting the best night's sleep. An estimated one in three of us fail to get a good night's sleep every night, and this could all be down to our level of sleep hygiene.

But our poor sleep doesn’t have to turn into an ongoing nightmare, according to sleep expert Dr. Neil Stanley who says, "the beauty of most sleep problems is that we have the power to solve them ourselves”.

A few lifestyle tweaks to improve sleep hygiene could help you fall asleep more easily and sleep through the night. These changes may include investing in one of the best pillows, trying a temperature regulating blanket, or simply getting into a better bedtime routine. Here are three simple steps to developing good sleep hygiene.

1. Have a consistent wind-down routine

"Most people flop into bed after a busy day without giving their brains or body a chance to unwind," says Dr. Stanley. "Quite simply they’ve forgotten how to relax.”

Establish a 30-minute wind-down bedtime routine each night to program your brain and body for sleep.

“Find something which relaxes you,” says Dr. Stanley. We’re unique, so different things work for different people but try these basic guidelines for relaxing in the evening:

  • Have a warm bath: It dilates blood vessels in your extremities and cools the body once you leave the tub, mimicking the natural drop in temperature your body needs to sleep.
  • Enjoy a hot milky drink: Choose a bedtime drink like milk that contains tryptophan, a natural sleep-promoting amino acid. Snacks such as a banana or turkey sandwich contain it too, but you should avoid big meals late in the evening. You could also try relaxing with a sleep tea.
  • Meditate or practice yoga: Try a breathing technique where you breathe through your nose, using your abdomen, not your chest. Breathe in for three seconds, then out for three. Pause for three seconds before breathing in again. Repeat for three minutes. You could also try some bedtime yoga to relax your body and mind.
  • Establish a bedtime: Make sure you go to bed and get up at the same times every day, and choose a bedtime late enough that you will feel sleepy.
  • Write a to-do list: At least an hour before bed, write a to-do list that will help you put the day to one side and focus on relaxing. 
  • Avoid looking at a screen before bed: Swap an hour in front of the TV for a magazine or book instead. Avoid brightly lit screens as they stimulate, rather than calm, your brain.
  • Avoid strenuous exercise: Try not to exercise at least four hours before bed to give your body temperature a chance to cool.

woman relaxing in the bath

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2. Make your bedroom sleep-friendly

"Of all the things I talk about when it comes to sleep, the bedroom oasis is a game-changer and something many people do not pay enough attention to," says Rob Hobson, author of The Art of Sleeping. 

"What makes this even more pertinent right now is that many people are working from home and if you don’t have the luxury of owning a home with plenty of space, you may find your bedroom has become both sleep oasis and daytime workspace."

Putting the bedroom/office issue aside, there are a number of things you can do to create the perfect sleep oasis and promote good sleep hygiene.

  • Declutter your space: Mess causes stress, so make sure to tidy up your space every evening before getting into bed. If your bedroom has become a workspace during the day, tidy up your desk and switch off any standby lights at the end of the day. 
  • Prepare for the next day: "Lay your clothes out the night before for the day ahead to help calm a busy overactive mind" says Rob. "Don’t get sloppy while working from home - getting up, showered, and dressed as if it was a normal day in the office can help normalize the day which can help with sleep."
  • Check your mattress: If your mattress is more than 7-10 years old then think about replacing it. Research shows that 20% of people attribute joint pain to poor sleep and a new mattress may be the solution. This is a big investment, so take your time to decide on what works best for you and shop around. You should also get up to speed with how to clean a mattress, as it's so important for your overall health. 
  • Invest in the right bedding for you: Your pillows and mattress should be supportive and comfortable, but not too soft or too hard. Ban pets from the bedroom so they are less likely to disturb you. Choose hypoallergenic bedding as "they are made of natural fibers, usually cotton, and not only do they ward off bugs that cause allergies but also help to maintain body temperature during the night," says Rob.
  • Keep the room cool and dark: Try blackout curtains or blinds, particularly in summer when sunlight streaming into your bedroom in the early hours can disrupt your sleep, and wear light, cotton nightwear to keep you cool. 
  • Don't forget a little bit of luxury: Looking after yourself and implementing some self-care into your nighttime routine is so important right now. So, get that lovely scented candle burning before bed or invest in a soothing bed linen spray. "Try scents such as lavender, ylang-ylang or lemon balm - in fact just use a scent that means something to you and helps you to relax," says Rob. 

Woman sleeping in bed

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3. Reduce alcohol and caffeine and increase exercise 

“Behaviour and lifestyle choices can influence sleep quality,” says Dr Stanley. If you’re a smoker, try to quit and reduce the amount of alcohol or caffeine you drink, especially in the six hours before bed. Alcohol may make you sleepy initially but will wake you when the effects wear off.

sleep hygiene: Woman exercising at home

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Physical activity is crucial for improved sleep quality and reducing anxiety. Try to exercise for at least 30 minutes, five times a week, ideally outside. Something as simple as a brisk walk will do the trick.

If you have experience ongoing sleep problems, seek advice from your doctor.