Discovering how to sleep better often involves adjusting your daytime habits. But improving your sleep hygiene is possible.

For many people, good sleep is hard to come by. When it happens, it’s as cherished as any gift ever received.

You may assume poor sleep is natural for you; that it must just be “who you are.” Or perhaps you live with a condition, like depression, that can make a good night’s sleep challenging.

In any case, there are ways you can improve your sleep hygiene and find relief.

Habits and routines that promote quality sleep are known as sleep hygiene.

They’re the everyday efforts you undertake to prime your body for its best chance at a good night’s rest.

“To determine just how much sleep you need, ask yourself, ‘Am I waking up refreshed most of the time?’ If the answer is ‘no,’ you probably need to get more sleep,” says Dr. Carole Goguen, a licensed psychologist in Altadena, Calif. “Sometimes making small changes can help us with our sleep.”

Sleep hygiene is important because it lays the foundation for consistent, quality sleep.

Quality sleep is essential to both physical and mental well-being. When you’re down on sleep, you can experience the impact on multiple areas of your life.

Lack of good sleep can affect cognitive function, for example. You might feel “foggy” or notice your decision-making and comprehension skills aren’t as sharp.

Lack of quality sleep can also worsen symptoms of mental health disorders, like anxiety and depression.

“Anxiety is linked with poor sleep hygiene because the stress of anxiety can affect sleep,” explains Dr. Nathan Brandon, a psychologist in San Francisco. “People with anxiety are more likely to have sleep problems
like difficulty falling asleep, restless sleep, and waking up frequently.”

Mental health isn’t the only area affected by poor sleep at night. Physically, low sleep quality can exacerbate everything from muscle aches to your chances of having heart disease.

With how busy life can be for some, however, you might not put sleep on your list of priorities.

This is common for many people — as many as 35% of all adults in the United States report sleeping fewer than 7 hours per day.

“When we sleep, our body is resting and restoring energy,” explains Brandon. “The sleep-wake cycle works in a way that the sleep you get during nighttime helps restore your mind and body from the day’s stressors.”

Not sleeping well does not have to be a lifelong challenge.

Adjustments in your daily routine can promote good sleep hygiene and quality slumber.

Try to keep your bed reserved for sleeping

“Our brains are designed to associate one thing with another,” says Dr. Joseph Shrand, a psychiatrist in Dedham, Mass. “Your bed is your nest and should only be associated with sleep.”

According to Shrand, if you reserve your bed for times when you feel sleepy, your brain will associate it with rest.

If you lay awake in bed, reading, worrying, or feeling stressed, your brain can associate the bed with uneasy wakefulness and delayed slumber.

Consider limiting daytime napping

“Limit napping during the day to 10 to 30 minutes,” suggests Brandon. “If possible, try to nap earlier in the day rather than later. Napping too close to bedtime can interfere with your sleep cycle.”

While taking a nap might sound like a great idea when you’re tired, research suggests it doesn’t do much to combat the effects of chronic sleep deprivation.

Making your sleep space relaxing helps

One step to good sleep hygiene is to consider ways of making your sleeping area as soothing and comfortable as possible.

“When prepared to sleep, turn off the light and keep the room quiet and the temperature comfortable and relatively cool,” says Brandon.

You may also add textures to your walls and bed that you find relaxing and comforting.

Try to be mindful about what you eat and drink before bed

Dr. Lisa Young, a registered dietitian nutritionist in New York City, suggests avoiding foods that might impact sleep quality. She recommends skipping caffeine and alcohol and avoiding heavy meals or sugary foods before bed.

Young notes that, while research on sleep-promoting foods is inconclusive at the moment, certain foods contain natural substances, such as tryptophan, that may benefit sleep. These include:

  • warm milk
  • kiwifruit
  • bananas
  • turkey
  • nuts and seeds

Having a plan for sleepless nights is helpful

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, sleep gets interrupted. If you find yourself lying in bed at 3 a.m. feeling wide awake, Brandon recommends getting up.

“If you wake up in the night and are unable to fall asleep within 30 minutes,” he says, “get out of bed; go to another room and read a book or do some other activity that will not wake you up further.”

Relaxation methods are key

Worrying about the fact that you can’t or might not sleep can prevent you from doing exactly that.

To help relax, Brandon recommends using a meditation practice such as the 0-9 or nine-round breathing before bed.

“Breathe in deeply and breathe out slowly, saying in your mind the number 9. On the next breath out, say 8; then say 7, and so on until you breathe out saying 0.”

Try to limit blue light exposure

Your body is designed to respond to colors. It’s a process that promotes the regulation of your internal clock, also known as your circadian rhythm.

Blue light signals being awake and has the strongest effect on your body. It’s also the color used on the backlights for a number of electronics, including televisions and cell phones.

Using devices too close to bedtime might prevent you from getting good sleep.

When you have a sleep schedule, try to stick to it

“Establish a regular sleep schedule and stick to it as much as possible,” Brandon states. “When you go to bed and get up at the same time every day, your body will adapt to this pattern.”

He suggests giving yourself 30 minutes to an hour to fall asleep.

Lifestyle adjustments can go a long way in promoting quality sleep.

If you feel like you’ve tried everything and nothing is making a difference, it may be time to speak with a healthcare professional.

Underlying health conditions can contribute to — and cause — sleep irregularities.

You may be experiencing obstructive sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, or nighttime heartburn, for example.

Mental health conditions can also influence your sleep patterns. Depression disorders, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia are commonly linked to sleep disturbance.

Treatment for better sleep often starts with sleep hygiene practices. If you’re living with insomnia, sleep hygiene can be an integral part of cognitive behavioral therapy.

Your healthcare team may add medications and other support therapies to your treatment plan if getting good sleep continues to be a challenge.

Sleep is an important part of mental and physical well-being.

Small changes like being mindful of blue light exposure, respecting your sleep space, and practicing relaxation techniques at bedtime, can go a long way toward improving sleep hygiene.

When relief from sleepless nights seems out of reach, it may be a good idea to reach out to a professional for help. Addressing underlying causes can help prevent lack of sleep from becoming part of a more serious challenge.

“It’s important to address sleep issues by making changes in your lifestyle,” Brandon cautions in closing. “If you are sleep-deprived, it will become a vicious cycle where sleep deprivation leads to anxiety which interferes with sleep — which can worsen both sleep and anxiety problems.”