How to Improve Your Sleep With Better Sleep Hygiene

Published on February 16, 2023

By Lisa Stockwell

Lisa Stockwell

Lisa Stockwell has worked as a copywriter, writer, author, and editor for 35 years, specializing in the field of healthcare since 2009. She recognized the need for reliable health information while supporting friends through unique health challenges and refocused her career to bring clarity and compassion to healthcare communications. Lisa is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and a lifelong Northern Californian.

Gaia HerbsHow well do you sleep at night? Do you need caffeine to focus and make it through the day? Do you fall asleep watching tv in the evenings? Are you often too tired to exercise or enjoy dynamic activities?

If you’re not waking up each day feeling rested, you may suffer from sleep disturbances or deprivation. It may be time to adjust your Sleep Hygiene — which is the combination of behaviors, environmental conditions, and other sleep-related factors that affect your sleep.

This article discusses how much sleep you need, the reasons you need quality sleep, and the adjustments you can make to improve your sleep naturally. While there is no scientific consensus on ideal sleep hygiene, multiple studies have shown that certain factors affect sleep quality and duration.

How Much Sleep is Enough?

Sleep has been studied extensively since the eighteenth century. Several years ago, a panel of experts in sleep medicine and research worked together to establish a consensus recommendation for the amount of sleep adults need for good health. 

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and Sleep Research Society (SRS) recommend adults should sleep seven or more hours per night (or day, if you work a night shift) on a regular basis.REF#637

Sleep duration is affected by age:

  • Young adults may need nine or more hours of sleep per night. 
  • The CDC recommends eight to ten hours sleep for teens 13 to 18 years old and nine to 12 hours sleep for children six to 12 years old.REF#638
  • Anyone recovering from too little sleep or an illness may need nine hours or more sleep.
  • Sleeping more than nine hours may be associated with health risks for most adults.*
  • If you think you’re getting too little or too much sleep, you should talk with your healthcare professional.

Most Americans are not getting the sleep they need. The CDC reports that in 2020, 35.4 percent of adult men and 34 percent of adult women slept less than seven hours a night. High school students fared worse. In 2019, 79.7 percent of high school females and 76.2 percent of high school males slept less than the recommended minimum of eight hours.REF#640 

Why Is Quality Sleep Essential to Your Health?

The medical community recognizes sleep as one of the key pillars of both physical and mental health, as essential as nutrition and exercise. Good sleep gives your body the downtime it needs to reduce stress, boost immunity, repair damage from injuries or illnesses, manage weight, and protect you from chronic disease. 

When you suffer from sleep disturbances or deprivation, you not only limit your waking time productivity. You also limit your ability to heal from illness and put your body at risk for chronic illnesses that include:

  • Cardiovascular disease: In a 2019 observational study, sleepers who got less than six hours of sleep had a 20% higher risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack).REF#639 
  • Hypertension: Studies show that frequent sleep disturbances are associated with higher blood pressure and vascular inflammation, even in the absence of sleep deprivation.REF#641
  • Type 2 Diabetes: Studies have found that sleep deprivation can have a negative effect on glucose metabolism, increasing the risk of Type 2 diabetes and exacerbating existing endocrine conditions, making them harder to manage.REF#642
  • Obesity: Studies indicate that sleep deprivation can reduce the satiety hormone, leptin, and increase the appetite-stimulating hormone, ghrelin, so that appetite and hunger are both increased.REF#642
  • Mental Health:  The odds of experiencing frequent mental distress were found to be 2.5 times greater in those who averaged 6 hours or less of sleep.REF#643 

Quality sleep (in addition to a healthy diet and exercise) is one of the best strategies for living a longer life in good physical and mental health. 

What Makes Good Sleep Hygiene?

If you’re not regularly getting the recommended amount of sleep and have no health conditions that explain why, your lifestyle habits may be keeping you awake.* The good news is that you may find relief by modifying your sleep hygiene.

Sleep hygiene refers to your waking time routines, sleep schedule, and bedroom environment. Good sleep hygiene is subjective, meaning what works for one person may not work for another. Improve your sleep hygiene with trial and error. Adjust behaviors one at a time to evaluate the change.

Let’s look at the factors that research and sleep experts suggest are most effective.

Create a Sleep Schedule Routine

Your body likes routines. If you’re not consistent with your sleep schedule — the time you turn out the light at night and the time you get out of bed in the morning — you may be throwing off your circadian rhythm. 

Circadian rhythm is your body’s 24-hour internal clock that regulates and optimizes the timing of your mental and physical systems throughout the day and night. It sets your sleep wake cycle and sends signals to your brain to alert it when to feel energized and when to feel sleepy. If you keep changing the time you go to bed, your body doesn’t know when it should produce melatonin, the hormone that promotes a healthy sleep-wake cycle. Your body also could have trouble regulating how long you need to stay asleep.

Having a daily sleep schedule — including weekends — is critical. It also helps to maintain the same routine before you turn out the light, whether that involves taking a warm bath or shower, turning down the lights and listening to soothing music, meditating, or simply brushing your teeth and washing your face.

To establish a consistent sleep schedule, select the time you need to wake up and count back seven or more hours to establish what time you need to turn out the light. Start by adding increments of ten minutes to your current sleep time to establish your bedtime and increase that time until you hit the optimum amount of sleep. For example, if you wake up at 7 a.m. but normally don’t go to bed until 1 a.m., start by going to bed at 12:45 a.m. the first night, then 12:35 a.m., etc., until you are falling asleep at midnight (or earlier if you need more than seven hours).

Limit Caffeine Consumption

Caffeine is a natural stimulant that blocks adenosine receptors in your brain. Adenosine, a chemical that promotes sleep, typically builds up in your body throughout the day. Caffeine keeps adenosine production from happening. 

Caffeine may also affect sleep by delaying the human circadian melatonin rhythm, which affects your sleep-wake cycle.REF#644 

If you regularly drink coffee, black tea, or other caffeinated beverages and have trouble sleeping, cut caffeine out gradually, starting with the last cup you drink in the day. Eliminate one cup every other day (if you drink multiple cups a day) and evaluate how it affects your sleep. If you see no change, cut out another cup, until you are down to one or none. 

Depending on your reaction, you may have to eliminate a single serving, stop consuming caffeine after a certain hour, or eliminate caffeine altogether to get the quality of sleep you need. 

Gradual reduction is important since if you drink caffeinated drinks every day and stop suddenly, you could experience withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, fatigue, or anxiousness.REF#645

Beverages are not the only thing that contains caffeine. Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, has a high caffeine content and may be something you should limit or cut out of your diet.

Avoid Alcohol

Studies have proven that drinking alcohol — even six hours before bedtime — interferes with your sleep.REF#646 

While alcohol may make you drowsy, it negatively affects the quality of your sleep, causing you to wake up halfway through the night — often during the most restorative sleep stage — as your body fully metabolizes the alcohol and the sedative effect wears off. 

Alcohol before bed has also been found to suppress melatonin, which as mentioned previously, regulates your sleep-wake cycle.REF#647

Additionally, studies show that frequent alcohol consumption can increase the risk of sleep apneaREF#648, a disorder that causes abnormal breathing and a temporary loss of breath that can lead to more serious health issues.

While different people have different tolerance for alcohol, even a single drink can throw off your sleep cycles. If you have trouble staying asleep and are drinking more frequently to fall asleep, you may be aggravating your insomnia. 

The Centers for Disease Control recommends adults not drink at all or limit their drinking to two drinks or less a day for men and one drink or less a day for women on the days when alcohol is consumed. 

For optimum sleep hygiene, eliminate alcohol from your diet. 

Eat Dinner Earlier

Eating dinner too close to bedtime may affect sleep because your body doesn’t have time to digest the food.* 

When you stop eating at least three hours before bedtime (and eat a healthy diet low in saturated fats and high in essential nutrients), you may improve your sleep quality. 

If you feel hungry an hour or so before bed or have issues with low blood sugar, you can eat a light snack of healthy carbohydrates, like fruit, vegetables, or whole grain crackers closer to bedtime. Carbohydrates increase your body’s production of serotonin, which can enhance sleep.REF#649

Get Adequate Exercise at the Right Time

Physical exercise helps you manage your weight, maintain strong muscles and bones, improve your brain health, and reduce your risk of disease. It also helps you sleep.

A Stanford University study found that healthy adults who exercised twice a week for at least 40 minutes fell asleep at least 45 earlier than control subjects who didn’t exercise.REF#650

Experts now recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week, such as 30 minutes five days a week or 50 minutes on three days a week. According to the Sleep Foundation, the best time to exercise depends on age, underlying health conditions, and chronotype (your body’s natural inclination to sleep and wake at a certain time). While exercising in the morning may stimulate the release of melatonin earlier in the night, you may feel naturally inclined to exercise at the time of day that fits your chronotype.REF#651 

Keep Your Electronic Devices Out of the Bedroom

Every sleep specialist recommends removing technology devices from your bedroom.

There are several reasons why tech disturbs your sleep.

First, all technology screens emit blue light (one of the key light waves emitted by the sun), which interferes with melatonin development.REF#652 Looking at a computer screen or smartphone even an hour before bedtime can delay the time you fall asleep. 

Also, technology has become so addictive that whether you plan to check your phone or tablet for a few minutes before turning out the light, most people spend more time than they intended, sucked in by social media, news stories, or games that stimulate your brain rather than calm it down. 

You improve your sleep hygiene when you make your bedroom technology-free. That means no TVs, computers, or digital devices. If you need to use one to set an alarm, have it go off somewhere else in the house. This will encourage you to get up to shut it off, rather than hitting the snooze button and sleeping later than you should. It will also ensure that your sleep is not disrupted by blinking lights or beeps that go off when a notification comes through. 

If you have to have your phone or tablet in your bedroom, make sure you set it on sleep or “do not disturb” mode for the duration of your scheduled sleep time so it won’t ring, light up, or vibrate, which could wake you up. 

Natural Sleep Remedies

When you’ve done everything you can to optimize your sleep hygiene and still find yourself tossing and turning throughout the night, you may want to try a natural supplement to relax your body and mind.

One popular supplement is melatonin. While it can be effective for many people to increase their melatonin levels before bedtime, recent studies indicate possible adverse effects that may come from mislabeling the amount of melatonin in the bottle or inappropriate dosing directions from a healthcare provider. Side effects from excessive doses of melatonin have included headaches, migraines, daytime fatigue, digestive issues, cardiovascular issues, mood changes, bleeding disorders, and abnormally lower body temperatures. 

Fortunately, several herbal supplements may help you get a restful night of sleep. 

You may also want to consider one of Gaia Herbs’ pure and high-quality herbal blends for natural calming support*.

Our blog posts, “Passionflower: A Natural Way to Relax and Snooze,” “Support a Healthy Stress Response with Botanicals,” and “Beyond Ashwagandha: 5 Calming Herbs for Natural Stress Support,” provide good information on several of the herbs that induce calm.

If you suffer from sleep disturbances caused by illness or a condition such as obstructive sleep apnea, you should discuss appropriate treatments with your healthcare professional or a sleep specialist.


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