Getting enough quality sleep each night is important for overall health, and developing good sleep hygiene practices can help people maintain and improve their sleep quality.
Below, we explore what sleep hygiene is and give some tips for adults, children, and teenagers. We also describe when to see a doctor.
Sleep hygiene refers to a set of habits that support quality sleep. These include lifestyle and dietary habits that align with the body’s natural rhythms.
For some people, having good sleep hygiene might involve maintaining a regular sleep schedule and not drinking alcohol before going to bed. These and other habits can help improve sleep and overall well-being.
The following strategies can help improve and maintain good sleep hygiene:
Have a sleep routine
The body operates on a 24-hour internal clock. This affects how it functions, including the way that it regulates temperature and moods.
Developing a consistent sleep-wake cycle helps keep the body’s clock regulated.
To do this, try waking up at the same time every day, including on weekends and holidays. Then, work out a bedtime that allows for at least 7 hours of sleep every night.
That said, it is best to avoid going to bed without feeling sleepy and lying awake in bed.
Avoid certain foods and drinks before bed
- some sodas, such as colas
- certain medications, including some cold, flu, and migraine medications
Also, avoid alcohol 4–6 hours before bed, as it can negatively affect the quality of sleep.
Create an environment that supports sleep
Keeping the bedroom cool can help improve sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a temperature of 60–67°F is ideal.
If light or noise is an issue, try blackout blinds or wearing an eye mask or earplugs. Some people also find that white noise, from a fan, for instance, helps.
If possible, limit activities in the bedroom to sex and sleeping, to help emphasize the mental association between the bed and sleep.
It can also help to invest in a comfortable mattress and bedding that supports the alignment of the spine and helps regulate temperature.
Relax before bedtime
Creating a relaxing routine to unwind before bed helps signal to the body that it is time for sleep.
Aim to avoid screens, such as on phones and laptops, for at least 1–2 hours before bed. The blue light in these screens can disrupt the production of melatonin, the hormone involved in sleep.
A relaxing routine might involve listening to calming music, reading something not too stimulating, or another gentle activity.
Taking a warm bath or shower 1–2 hours before bed can also help a person relax. Also, as the body cools after the shower or bath, the drop in temperature can help signal sleep.
Get up if not sleeping
If sleep has not come after 20 minutes of trying, get out of bed. Sit somewhere dark and quiet, and do a calming, nonstimulating activity.
Once a person starts feeling drowsy, they can return to bed.
The following strategies can also help improve the quality and regularity of sleep:
- Get natural light in the morning upon waking.
- Get regular exercise during the day.
- Avoid napping after 2 p.m. and for more than 20–30 minutes.
- Avoid checking the time in the night, which may cause or increase anxiety about sleep.
- Aim to maintain daytime activities even if tired, unless doing so is dangerous.
- Avoid eating 2–3 hours before bed.
- Avoid vigorous exercise 4 hours before bed.
- Stay hydrated throughout the evening, but avoid drinking too much before bed, to avoid nighttime trips to the bathroom.
Children and teenagers can benefit from the strategies above, but there is also specific guidance for each age group.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) point out, the necessary amount of sleep depends on a child’s age:
- 3–5 years: 10–13 hours every 24 hours, including naps
- 6–12 years: 9–12 hours every 24 hours
Tips for good sleep hygiene in children include:
- maintaining a bedtime routine that lasts no longer than 15–20 minutes
- encouraging children to fall asleep by themselves
- using a nightlight or lamp to signal when it is time to go to sleep and get up
- avoiding the use of screens 2 hours before bedtime
- exercising during the day and avoiding strenuous exercise 2–3 hours before bed
- limiting the amount of fluids before bed
According to the CDC, teens between the ages of 13 and 18 need 8–10 hours of sleep every 24 hours.
Teenagers may have anxiety, and talking things through before bed may help promote better sleep. Also, writing down concerns and experiences in a journal or making a to-do list before bed may serve the same purpose.
Try to avoid late nights and sleeping in, which can disrupt sleep further. In addition, having radically different sleep patterns on weekends can disrupt the body’s clock, creating an effect similar to jet lag.
Exercising for at least 60 minutes every day can promote better sleep for teens, particularly if they are exercising outdoors in natural light.
A person who is regularly not getting enough quality sleep may:
- need to rely on an alarm to wake up
- hit the snooze button multiple times
- feel drowsy when driving
- rely on caffeine or energy drinks to get through the day
- have a lack of focus and make simple mistakes
- be forgetful, as a lack of sleep impacts short-term memory
- feel depressed, anxious, or irritable
- experience frequent illnesses, as a lack of sleep can weaken the immune system
Children and teenagers with poor sleep hygiene may also:
- spend more than 20 minutes trying to fall asleep
- refuse to go to bed
- wake up frequently
- be unable to fall asleep by themselves
- snore, have difficulty breathing, or breathe through their mouths while asleep
- have pauses in breathing while sleeping
- perform poorly at school
- fall asleep in school
- be late to or miss classes
- have a lack of energy
- have unhealthy eating habits
- be more prone to injuries or accidents
- have irritable moods more often than usual
If a person tries to implement good sleep hygiene strategies but still struggles to get enough quality sleep, they should see a doctor.
This is especially important if a person may have a sleep disorder, such as:
- insomnia, an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep
- sleep apnea, which causes breathing irregularities and can disrupt sleep
- restless legs syndrome, which causes the legs to ache or feel uncomfortable and can prevent quality sleep
Try keeping a record of sleep habits and symptoms for around 2 weeks before seeing a doctor, who can recommend treatment options.
Quality sleep is crucial to good health. Sleep hygiene is a term that refers to a set of strategies that help people get enough quality sleep each night.
If a person uses these strategies and still struggles to sleep well, they should see a doctor, who can provide guidance and treatments.