Sleep is as vital to our health as eating, drinking, and breathing. It allows our bodies to repair themselves and our brains to consolidate our memories and process information. Poor sleep is linked to physical problems such as a weakened immune system and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Sleep hygiene is the term used to describe good sleep habits. Considerable research has gone into developing a set of guidelines and tips that are designed to enhance good sleeping, and there is much evidence to suggest that these strategies can provide long-term solutions to sleep difficulties.

In our fast-paced lives, achieving a good night's sleep can sometimes feel like an elusive goal. Sleep hygiene, the practice of adopting habits that promote healthy sleep, plays a pivotal role in the quest for restful nights. This article explores common sleep hygiene mistakes and offers practical solutions to help you overcome these challenges.

Understanding sleep hygiene

Before we delve into the mistakes, it's crucial to understand the essence of sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene involves a set of practices and habits that contribute to the establishment of a conducive sleep environment and healthy sleep patterns. These practices encompass factors such as sleep schedule consistency, exposure to natural light, and the creation of a comfortable sleep space.

female in pajama and mask smiling and smearing lotion on face


Inconsistent sleep schedule

Mistake: Irregular sleep patterns disrupt the body's internal clock, leading to difficulties falling asleep and waking up.

Maintain a consistent sleep schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends. A consistent sleep pattern supports a healthy circadian rhythm and, therefore, better sleep quality. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends, can significantly improve the quality of your sleep and, consequently, your overall health.

Exhausted person holding pillow to take a nap


Exposure to screens before bed

Mistake: The blue light emitted by screens suppresses melatonin production, making it harder to fall asleep.

Avoid screens at least an hour before bedtime. Instead, engage in calming activities such as reading a book or practicing relaxation techniques to signal to your body that it's time to wind down. The use of electronic devices before bed can disrupt sleep. The blue light emitted by screens on cell phones, computers, tablets, and televisions restrains the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle or circadian rhythm. Reducing melatonin makes it harder to fall and stay asleep. Our recommendation: Turn off all screens at least an hour before bed.

Young female lying under blanket on bed and watching horror movie on mobile phone in dark bedroom


Caffeine and stimulant consumption

Mistake: Consuming caffeine, nicotine, or stimulants close to bedtime interferes with the ability to fall asleep.

Limit caffeine intake, especially in the afternoon and evening. Opt for caffeine-free alternatives and stay hydrated with water throughout the day.

Exhausted male employee feeling fatigue lying on table and raising coffee cup


Inadequate exposure to natural light

Mistake: Lack of exposure to natural light during the day can disrupt the circadian rhythm and affect sleep-wake cycles.

Spend time outdoors during daylight hours. Take short breaks outside, go for a walk, or open curtains to let natural light into your living or workspace.

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Overlooking sleep environment

Mistake: An uncomfortable sleep environment, with excessive noise, light, or uncomfortable bedding, will hinder quality sleep.

Create a sleep-conducive environment by keeping the bedroom cool, dark, and quiet. Consider using blackout curtains, earplugs, or a white noise machine if necessary. Maintain a comfortable room temperature, typically around 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit (or 15-20 degrees Celsius). Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows for a more restful sleep experience.

Woman with insomnia touching her head


Ignoring the impact of physical activity

Mistake: Exercising too close to bedtime can have a stimulating effect, making it difficult to wind down.

Engage in regular physical activity, but complete intense workouts during the day, at least three hours before bedtime. This allows the body to relax and prepare for sleep. Timing your exercise is a balancing act when it comes to sleep hygiene.

Gym at home


Alcohol consumption before bed (and other dietary rituals)

Mistake: While alcohol may induce sleep initially, it will cause fragmented, poor-quality sleep later in the night.

Limit alcohol consumption, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime. Consider alternative relaxation methods, such as herbal tea or meditation. There are a number of other ways in which diet can impact sleep as well. For example, research has shown that people who eat diets high in refined sugar tend to sleep less deeply and display greater restlessness at night. Diets high in protein may also compromise sleep by causing indigestion, and diets high in fruits and vegetables tend to improve sleep patterns. However, it's not just what you eat, but when you eat it. Eating meals too close to bedtime can lead to indigestion and acid reflux. Experts recommend having your last meal two to three hours before bed.

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Irregular bedtime rituals

Mistake: Inconsistent or stimulating bedtime rituals harm the body's ability to fall asleep quickly.

Establish calming bedtime rituals, such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practicing mindfulness. Consistency in these activities can signal to your body that it's time to relax. There's also napping to think about. It isn't just a simple pause in the day; it's an art. Short naps can rejuvenate you, but long or irregular napping can interfere with nighttime sleep. Understanding the right way to nap can enhance your sleep hygiene instead of hindering it.

Young man readinga red book before going to bed


Using sleep aids indiscriminately

Mistake: While occasional use of sleep aids may be necessary, relying on them regularly can lead to dependence and may not address the root causes of sleep issues.

Consult with a healthcare professional before using sleep aids regularly. Explore home remedies and interventions first, and only use medications under the guidance of a healthcare provider.

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