An essential part of training yourself how to sleep again is improving your sleep hygiene. Over the last 5 years, I have identified key issues that interfere with the amount of sleep such as anxiety and stress; and the quality of sleep like taking sleeping pills. When solving these sleep issues; I rely heavily on good sleep hygiene to help create a customized sleep plan to fix sleep issues.
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Why does everyone need good sleep hygiene
For most adults, we have spent years and years building up bad sleep habits. As we get older, our bodies become more sensitive to those bad habits. Think about it! You stay out late Friday and Saturday night, and come Sunday night your body is not ready to sleep at it’s regular bedtime. Instead, you lie in bed for a couple of hours before you drift off despite feeling exhausted from the last 2 nights. It may have been fine when you were 18 years old, but now that you’re 30. Those Monday mornings are much harder on you and it may take your body days to get back on track.
So when I look at sleep issues, sleep hygiene is a huge part of correcting insomnia. Education around the importance of each sleep hygiene recommendation is vital to instilling these valuable sleep habits. I find without proper knowledge of the benefits of these hygienic tips; one is more likely to disregard these tips and postponed their improvement on sleep.
The 5 MOST underrated Sleep Hygiene Tips
Tip 1: Sleep hygiene starts with Schedule your sleep time
Basic rule of Sleep Hygiene. Put your body on a schedule. Matter of fact, your body THRIVES on a schedule. Every cell in our body is on a schedule. In Chinese medicine, they believe that your blood concentrates to a certain organs at the same time throughout the day. For example, Around 10 PM to Midnight, your bodies blood concentrates in the liver. Therefore, attaining sleep around this time helps to detoxify all the metabolites and toxins in your body. This will also help your body wake up feeling refreshed and less groggy.
In addition, we have a biological clock that is heavily dependent on our sleep and wake schedule. Our hormones are dependent on this. Therefore, we need to give ourselves a consistent schedule. This will allow our brains to secrete melatonin at night at the same time every night. It will also help us secrete Cortisol in the morning which will help us wake up without the desperate need for caffeine.
Important side note: If you are trying to stay away from your phone at night, then try to find a clock that allows you to preprogram your setting for a power down routine and also allows you to turn off the clock setting. For this, I usually recommend the HATCH Restore. This neat clock allows you to set a power down routine for bedtime, turns off completely at night, works as a white nose machine, and also triggers a light to turn on when you wake up. There are many more great features that you sync up with the app that allows you to download certain breathing techniques and other cool features to help calm you down before bed.
- Aim for a bedtime of 9 to 11 PM.
- Keep your bedtime consistent. Try not to stray from your bedtime too much. Going to bed to late just 2 days out of the week can curve your circadian rhythm. NOT GOOD!
- Avoid sleeping in. Delaying your wake up time also curves your circadian rhythm and therefore makes it more difficult for you to fall asleep the next day.
Tip 2: Regulate your Light Exposure
Reduce the melatonin disruptors. The second thing to do to fix your sleep hygiene is learn when to regulate your light. Let me explain. Your eyes have very power photoreceptors that trigger the brain when we should secrete melatonin for sleep and when we should stop melatonin. When you wake up in the morning, you need to “let the sun or light in!” Allow your eyes to absorb the brightness of the light. This does not mean stare directly into the sun, but avoiding sunglasses on a mid-day walk can help. I usually wear a hat or a visor to minimize the sun.
Close to bedtime, we need to minimize the “brightness” of your light. For example, if you have all the lights on in your house an hour before bedtime. There is no way your brain will know to secrete melatonin for sleep. There is way too much light pollution to start inducing the sleep chemical melatonin and you will not be able to fall asleep right away. At minimum, I recommend buying lamp dimmers like these. Then I attach them to the lamps in my bedroom and my bathroom. Try to lower the intensity of the light an hour before bedtime to queue the brain that it is time to start excreting a little melatonin before bed time. This will help to jumpstart sleep and allow you to go to sleep faster once you lay down.
Side note for bedtime: As you may be aware, blue light can inhibit your body’s natural hormone, melatonin. Blue light glasses are very popular and can help block out a lot of blue light in your house. Whether you are exposed to blue light through your light bulbs, television, or your electronic devices. Blue light is everywhere and you need to avoid it as much as possible at bedtime. For this, I wear lighter shades of blue light blocking glasses (yellow tint) 2 to 4 hours before bedtime. I find the lighter (yellow) shades are great to work on my computer and watch a little television, and not have any big distortion in colors. When I am getting closer to bedtime (at least 2 hours), I switch to the darker shades (orange tint) of blue light blocking glasses. As you can imagine, this allows me to have less blue light coming through my eyes and allows melatonin to really increase before bed time. Here is an example of the types of glasses that I recommend.
- Open the curtains first thing in the morning and allow yourself plenty of bright light or sunlight in the morning.
- Bright light therapy can supplement sun light if you live in Northern areas that do not have sun light in the morning. Aim for a lamp that provides over 10,000 lux of light to be effective.
- Get outside throughout the day. I recommend taking breaks outside for at least 10-20 minutes. If the Sun is directly above you (around 11AM to 3PM), just wear a hat to shade your eyes and avoid wearing sunglasses. Remember, our ancestors did this and it has its purpose. It will help keep your biological clock on schedule.
- Start to minimize the light at least an hour before bedtime. Dimming the light to a level where you can still see, but not too dark where you trip over everything. For this reason, I highly recommend the blue light blocking glasses in the evening.
Tip 3: We need to regulate your Body Temperature to help sleep hygiene
Have you ever woke up in a sweat? I’m sure you have! Your body strongly dislikes hot temperatures during sleep and because of that, your body will react by waking you up. To improve sleep hygiene, your body must cool down several degrees below its normal daily temperature. With that said, your bedroom environment is very important. Especially the temperature in your room and the blankets that you use. If you are waking up in sweats then check your sheets or blankets. In general, Down comforters or duvets trap heat, and can cause you to heat up quickly. I recommend more breathable fabrics like cotton sheets or thin quilts that can breathe easier.
Side note on spouses that like different temperatures: If you have a spouse that needs the bedroom at a certain temperature than you and will not negotiate with the thermostat. I have 2 recommendations.
- Try to use different bedding than your spouse. I use a sheet and a lighter blanket than my spouse. I get hot at night, and my body needs to stay cool throughout the night. While my spouse prefers a huge comforter and likes to be snugged in the bed. So what happens when you want that comforter and likes to be snugged in your bed, but you get too hot!
- ChilliSleep is a company that makes an air conditioning pad that helps to regulate your side of your bed. It works by pumping water through a silicone padding under your bed sheet to allow you to control the temperature of your side of the bed. It’s great to cool your side of the bed to allow your body to naturally cool down to induce deep sleep. It also has a setting to warm up the pad when it’s time to wake up. Think about! How many of us jump out of bed during the winter time. It’s much easier to get out of bed when it is warm.
- Set your AC units to 61-67 degrees Fahrenheit. Most research shows this as the ideal temperature to induce sleep. This is where you can really use the Chillisleep Mattress Pad to help get you to the right temperature.
- Warm showers or warm baths are a great way to force your core temperature to push to the outer edges of your skin in order to cool down at night. Once you step out of the shower or bath, your body will be hit by a cool breeze which will than help your body cool down even faster. I always recommend to take a shower an hour before your bedtime in order to trigger your body to get ready for sleep.
- Cold feet or hands could be an issue. Your body uses pushes heat through the more active areas of your body like the hands and feet. If those areas are icy cold, it will take longer for your body to cool down. Therefore, I recommend putting on some socks or gloves at night until your hands or feet are nice and warm.
Tip 4: We need Physical Activity at the right time
We should not ignore physical activity. Since our hunter and gatherer days, we as humans have always been on the move. A sedentary lifestyle can be a ticking time bomb for your health, and also your sleep. You need the positive stress of movement throughout the day in order to put the right amount of stress that will encourage good sleep.
At a minimum, you should strive to get at least 10,000 steps per day. Allowing your body to move and walk allows you to utilize several muscles. If you are starting to become more active because you have taken a lot of time off. Parents out there? I’m guilty too! Start with simple things and work your way up to the more intense aerobic exercises when you feel better.
- Avoid sitting down for long periods of time. Especially when working. The lymphatic system in your body is able to filter out toxins from surrounding tissues more easily the more you move. Not only will you be helping to build sleep pressure, but you will also help your body push out toxins from muscles and organs.
- Aim for 10,000 steps per day.
- Eventually, aim for 3 strength training work outs per week AND 2 Cardio days on days when you don’t strength train. In between, you can do some deep stretching or yoga which is highly beneficial movement that helps keep your body flexible and strong. As for strength training, I try to do a day where I push, pull, and work out my legs (link for RobAllen fitness). For cardio, I would recommend jogging, hiking, biking, paddle boarding, or any other exercise that will elevate your heart rate to a safe zone. Side note: don’t over do it. Do what you can handle. There is no reason to injure yourself and hold yourself back5. .
Tip 5: We must control our Caffeine intake (important for sleep hygiene)
This is a big one! Right now, there is not a standard dose of caffeine per cup of coffee. We can estimate how much caffeine is in a cup of 1 Starbucks venti, but it will differ based on the roast and the person making the coffee. In general, for every 1 cup (8 ounces) of coffee, there is around 95 to 105 mg of caffeine. Most Americans drink about 2 cups of coffee at a time or can easily fill up a Thermus and drink it throughout the day or drink it all in the morning.
Caffeine is metabolized by a specific group of enzymes known as the Cytochrome (CYP) P450 enzymes. More specifically, CYP 1A2 is mostly responsible for speeding up the removal of caffeine in the blood and then pushes it to the kidneys for excretion. For half the amount of caffeine to be gone out of the body, half life, it takes an average to 5 to 7 hours for a normal adult.
Things like water consumption, physical activity, diet, health conditions, medications, and cigarette smoking can speed up or slow down the metabolization of caffeine. In general, the more hydrated you are, the better you are able to excrete the metabolites of caffeine and eliminate them in a timely manner. Also note, there is such a thing as drinking too much water. Depending on your sex, weight, diet, and physical activity (exercise regimen); you may need more than the recommended 2.7 liters per day for women or 3.7 liters per day for men. Just remember that this also includes water from foods like fruits, vegetables, or soups.
- Based on caffeine consumption, if you are drinking more than 200 mg per day and having issues sleeping at night. Try to cut your caffeine in half to see if this helps.
- Stop drinking caffeine, even decaf coffee no later than 8 hours before bedtime. For example, if bedtime is at 10:30 PM then you should be finishing up your last cup of coffee at 2:30 PM. If you are still having sleep issues, then we may have to shut off your caffeine earlier by another hour. Side note: After your 1st cup of coffee, try other forms of caffeine like Green Tea which has amazing benefits and calm inducing chemicals like L-theanine.
Other things I recommend are:
- White noise – to avoid inconsistent noises from waking you up or prevent tiny noises like clocks from keeping you awake. Here is my recommended White Noise Machine. There are several options available and they also have travel friendly options.
- Black out curtains – I can deal with small lights. If the light is shining through my window then I don’t have a chance of falling asleep. I use the Blackout EZ blinds to place underneath my curtains. This allows for my room to be pitch black and avoids any light from keeping me awake.
- Good pillows – Some of us have been using the same pillows for years, and they are now flat and worn out. It may be time to buy new pillows. When buying a new pillow think about support, comfort, and breathability. You want something that you can try out and you want pillow cases that don’t capture a lot of heat too. Here is an article that talks about body pillows.
As I mentioned above, fixing sleep hygiene is ONLY part of the equation when fixing someone’s insomnia or helping them off of sleeping pills. It can take years to develop insomnia and there are several bad habits that we must change and replace. Along with those habits, there are also behavioral techniques that have to be implemented in order to handle negativity or anxiety around bedtime. There are also specific techniques we must use to push your circadian rhythm forward or backwards based on your ideal bedtime. Many of these techniques must be done with a professional in order to minimize frustrations that can lead to non-adherence or quitting.
Are you ready to start fixing your sleep? Check out my sleep services!.
Zeke Medina is a Medication Expert and Adult Sleep Consultant. He works with motivated adults that are ready to make the biggest change in their health by attaining deep quality and restorative sleep. His services are virtual, and he has worked with clients all over the world to solve their sleep issue.