Sleep is one of life’s great mysteries. On average, we spend one-third of our lives doing it, but scientists still can’t settle on a theory that explains why it’s so integral to our lives.ref1 What we do know is that shutting down for the night gives our bodies and minds time to rest, regenerate, and reorganize.
Most healthy adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night, or they’ll start to feel tired and unproductive throughout the daytime. In the long term, poor sleep can lead to problems with mental and physical health.ref2
Sleep is essential to a healthy life and an activity most of us love. So why do so many of us struggle to get enough of it?
Let’s take a look at what gets in the way of a good night’s sleep and changes you can make to ensure you’re getting the rest you need.
What’s getting in the way of your sleep?
Work deadlines, social media, and the latest box sets are constantly competing for our attention. With our always-on, distraction-packed lifestyles, it can be difficult to stop our minds whirring and wind down at night. Throw in the other common enemies to sleep like caffeine and alcohol, and it’s no wonder we struggle to drift off.
Sometimes, factors outside your control can also interrupt your sleep. It might be a newborn baby, working the night shift, or existing health conditions.
Thankfully, by following some simple sleep hygiene principles, you can fall asleep more easily at the end of the day and wake up feeling refreshed.
How can you improve your sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene doesn’t mean having a good shower before bed (although it might help). It means introducing habits that improve the quality and quantity of your sleep.ref3 Here are our top five tips for better sleep hygiene.
1. Get active during the day.
Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise during the day gets your body ready for a good night’s sleep. Leave at least one hour between exercise and bedtime to give your body a chance to cool down.
2. Form a nighttime routine.
A regular nighttime routine helps your body and mind prepare for sleep. Take a bath or shower, make a cup of herbal tea, and read a book (preferably one with paper pages). If you can, commit to a bedtime that allows for seven to nine hours of sleep. Try to avoid any screen time at least one hour before bed. If you still feel awake at the end of the day, breathing or relaxation techniques can help.
3. Create a relaxing sleep environment.
Turn the lights off and make sure your bed is comfortable with suitable pillows and blankets. Your bedroom should be cool, quiet, and dark – eye patches and earbuds help if you need them. Keep your phone in another room and use an alarm clock to wake you up if you need it. Try to limit the time you spend awake in your bedroom.
4. Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption.
Steer clear of tea, coffee, and other caffeinated beverages after lunch. Don’t forget: Some soft drinks often contain high levels of caffeine, so check the label or, even better, stick to water. Alcohol can also wreak havoc on sleep. You might drop off easier after a couple of glasses of wine, but drinking alcohol can interrupt and reduce the quality of your sleep. So skip the nightcap and get some real rest.
5. Get out of bed if you can’t sleep.
It might sound counter-intuitive, but if you find yourself lying awake for more than 20 minutes, get up and do something else for 10. Go for a short walk, meditate, or read a book in another room. Write down any thoughts that are swirling around your head. Sometimes it is better to take the pressure off and try again afterward.
If you’re still struggling or experiencing breathing problems during sleep, reach out to a partner, employer, or friend for support, and contact your doctor.
With just a few small changes, you can improve your sleep and lead a healthier, happier life. So raise a cup of herbal tea, turn off the lights, and here’s to a good night’s sleep.
StatPearls. “Physiology, Sleep Patterns.” Accessed September 16, 2020.
Watson, NF., Badr MS., Belenky, G., et al. “Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: A Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society”. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine 11, 591–592 (2015).
CDC. “Tips for better sleep.” Accessed September 16, 2020.