If you value healthy teeth and gums, you wouldn’t dream of heading to bed without brushing and flossing your teeth. Likely, this deeply ingrained practice of oral hygiene started young, but, as with any type of self-care, it’s never too late to establish healthy routines. While practicing proper sleep hygiene may be a less familiar concept, introducing consistent habits can safeguard your sleep quality and reward you with a plethora of benefits to your health and wellness.

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What is sleep hygiene? Made up of habits and best practices identified by researchers, sleep hygiene can help you maximize and improve the quality of the time you spend asleep. Healthy Sleep–a website maintained by researchers and physicians at the Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine–has compiled the most reputable research to help you get the very best sleep possible. Here are the top 10 ways to establish a proper practice of sleep hygiene:

  1. Avoid chemicals that interfere with sleep. Whether it’s nicotine, caffeine, or alcohol, inhaled or imbibed chemicals are proven to disturb sleep. Stop drinking caffeinated beverages four to six hours before bed, and, while we recommend quitting smoking completely, at least, try to avoid smoking as close to bedtime as you can.
  2. Be mindful of what you eat and when. Heavy meals before bed can keep you up at night. This blog tells you what to eat and when, but you should also be careful about drinking too close to bedtime to avoid midnight bathroom trips.
  3. Create a sleep sanctuary. As the most private room of your home, your bedroom should be a place where you feel ultimately calm and detached from the worries of daily life. Design this space to support and inspire feelings of relaxation and complete serenity. Banish electronics, light pollution, and other distractions.
  4. Establish a sleep ritual. Following the same routine, each night before you head to bed can help your mind and body make associations and prepare for sleep. Whether you take a warm bath each night, engage in some reading, or sip a cup of chamomile tea, you should try to maintain a nightly sleep ritual and avoid stressful activities.
  5. Stick to a consistent sleep schedule. By maintaining a regular sleep schedule each and every day, you ease your body in and out of bed naturally. This practice allows you to regulate your internal clock which will help your body to anticipate your sleep cycles.
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  7. Avoid associating sleep with anxiety. If you go to bed and can’t sleep after 20 minutes, get up and go into another room. Read a book or listen to soft music until you get tired, but don’t force yourself to stay in bed. (This can create a negative association between sleeping and anxiety.)
  8. Avoid stimulation. If you do wake up in the middle of the night, don’t interrupt your natural progression into sleep. Don’t look at the clock, your phone, watch television, or turn on the lights. All these things make it even harder to fall back asleep!
  9. Exercise early. While we can’t glorify the benefits of exercise nearly as much as we’d like to, it is important to avoid exercise just before heading to sleep.
  10. Embrace your circadian rhythm. Because our natural sleep cycles are linked to the rising and setting of the sun, it’s important to embrace that. Let the light shine brightly in the morning, get a few minutes of sunlight during your lunch break, and keep the room completely dark when it’s time to sleep. Even night shift workers can manipulate the light conditions artificially to maximize their sleep quality.
  11. Embrace napping. While there’s nothing wrong with indulging in an afternoon nap, it’s important not to do so too close to bedtime. Experts recommend napping before 5 pm or not at all.

Have you begun to practice proper sleep hygiene? How has it affected the quality of your sleep?