A good night’s sleep upgrades your body and mind. You feel stronger, sharper, and happier—no drugs required.
Sleep hygiene is the art of improving your sleep habits. Without good sleep hygiene, you operate in zombie mode (tired, foggy, grumpy) as you struggle to get through your day.
You’ll never perfect your sleep (you’re human), but you can improve your sleep routine to minimize zombie days. Today, you’ll learn how.
Why Sleep Hygiene Matters
Sleep hygiene matters because sleep matters. Margaret Thatcher quipped that “sleep is for wimps,” but the truth is that sleep deprivation turns us into physical and mental wimps.
To be clear, the former British prime minister wasn’t a wimp. She was a force of nature.
But she was wrong about sleep. Good sleep cascades into every area of health: mood, weight management, metabolic health, physical performance, cognition, and long-term chronic disease risk.[*][*][*][*] Whatever your health goal, quality sleep helps get you there.
For more on the importance of sleep and other amusing quotes from famous people, read our article on why sleep matters.
Assessing Your Sleep
How well are you sleeping? Your answer will inform any sleep ritual changes you might make.
You can use a tracker (Google Fit, Apple Watch, etc.) to monitor your sleep data—and some people find sleep tracking helpful—but take a break if it stresses you out. Obsessing over sleep scores is not good sleep hygiene.
Besides, you don’t need a tracker to know how you feel. Subjective markers are more important than spreadsheet data.
If you usually get 7–9 hours of quality sleep per night—if you wake up ready to crush your day—you probably don’t need much sleep hygiene work. But if it’s hit or miss (or all miss), your sleep ritual deserves a second look.
One caveat before getting to practical tips. Good sleep hygiene may not be enough if you have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea or insomnia. See a medical professional about that.
6 Ways To Improve Sleep Hygiene
Fixing your sleep is a holistic effort. Start with these six sleep tips.
#1: Mind light exposure
For better sleep, there are two main light-related strategies:
- Get lots of light early in the day
- Minimize light later on
Start your day by going out in the sun (or clouds) for a hit of blue light. Light hitting your retina activates brain regions that wake you up and restart your internal clock.[*]
End your day and wind down your internal clock by avoiding blue light at night. This means fewer screens, brightly lit rooms, and spontaneous strobe light raves.
Because you can’t abstain from all evening light, consider investing in blue light-blocking glasses. As a bonus, you’ll look like Elton John.
#2: Optimize your sleep environment
There’s much to consider regarding sleep environment, but here are the main points:
- Keep it dark. Even smidgens of light can disrupt sleep. Wear a sleep mask if your room isn’t pitch black.
- Keep it cool. Around 65 degrees Fahrenheit is probably ideal.
- Keep it quiet. Do your best to sleep somewhere without disruptive noise. Living by the train station is convenient, but not if the whistle blasts at 2 AM. Wear earplugs or listen to white noise for extra support.
- Keep it comfortable. You should be in a committed, loving relationship with your mattress, pillow, and sheets. If you’re not, it’s time to upgrade.
- Keep it analogue. Meditation and white noise apps aside, don’t bring smart devices into your sanctuary. They derail internal peace.
Your bedroom is a holy place. Treat it accordingly.
#3: Limit caffeine and alcohol
If you consume too much caffeine too late, it can cause insomnia. It depends on the person. Some folks (slow caffeine metabolizers) will still feel their morning coffee 12 hours later, while others can have an afternoon cup and get down fine[*]
Alcohol is another enemy of good sleep. It reduces sleep latency (time to fall asleep) at the expense of sleep quality.[*] Bad trade.
#4: Exercise during the day
Exercise, especially endurance exercise, helps build sleep pressure.[*] If possible, exercise in daylight to set your internal clock.
“My patients often find that a thirty-minute zone 2 session can do wonders for their ability to fall asleep,” writes longevity expert Dr. Peter Attia. Zone 2 means exercising at 60–70% of your max heart rate—a 4 to 5 rating of perceived exertion.
#5: Have a wind-down ritual
The more you systematize your wind-down routine, the better your sleep will be. Here’s a sample ritual:
- 3 hours before bed: Stop eating and drinking liquids
- 1.5 hours before bed: Put down screens and read for an hour
- 30 minutes before bed: Meditate
- 15 minutes before bed: Brush teeth and remove/apply cosmetics
- 5 minutes before bed: Listen to “Desert Rose” by Sting while swaying rhythmically
When bedtime arrives, you’ll be ready for it.
#6: Fix your sleep schedule
Your nighttime ritual should include a consistent bedtime. Important: allow at least 8–9 hours before you get up.
When you fix your bedtime, your wake-up time handles itself. That’s good because anticipating an alarm can cause stress and short sleep.
Still Can’t Sleep?
If you still can’t sleep, there are other levers you can pull. You can:
- Experiment with safe sleep supplements like Ashwagandha. (Sleep medications like Ambien have side effects that include “driving cars while asleep, and even a few cases of committing homicide.”[*])
- Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I).
- Stop trying so hard to fall asleep.
Let’s double-click on the last bullet. If you don’t fall asleep within 20–30 minutes of bedtime, most sleep experts recommend getting up, going to another room, and engaging in non-stimulating activities like reading or coloring. This prevents your brain from associating your bed with sleeplessness. When you do feel sleepy, go back and try again.
Along these lines, try not to obsess over perfecting your sleep. You’ll have nights of suboptimal rest. We all do.
Your attitude should be: I’ll follow my sleep hygiene process, and whatever happens with my sleep is okay. I’m doing my best.
You’ll find this process-centric approach leads to above-average sleep—an essential step in unlocking the above-average version of you.