Sleep plays a critical role in your health and well-being. Unfortunately, sleep disorders are common and sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. Sleep hygiene is something you can learn to help you sleep better. 

What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene is a set of habits that promote quality sleep. This includes: 

  • creating a bedroom environment that is comfortable with limited disruptions
  • maintaining a regular sleep schedule
  • practicing techniques for relaxation prior to bed
  • avoiding things that will disrupt the quality of your sleep 

How many hours of sleep should you get per night? Does it vary by age?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that an average adult should strive for seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Of course, every individual is different. Age does play a factor in how much sleep you need. As you get older, you require less sleep. 

What are good sleep hygiene techniques, and good things to do before bed? 

One of the most important things you can do to sleep better is to maintain a consistent routine before bed. This will help your brain process that you are preparing for sleep. 

  • Begin winding down about 30 minutes prior by doing things that will relax your body. Some options include stretching, light music, breathing exercises, and meditation. There are several apps available that offer guided meditation and breathing exercises specifically for sleep. 
  • Certain teas that do not contain caffeine, such as chamomile, can promote sleep. 
  • If you need a small snack before bedtime, cherries, bananas, and walnuts provide a natural source of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep.

What are bad sleep hygiene practices and things to avoid doing before bed?

While there are good habits you can adopt to help you sleep better, there are also some things you should avoid before going to bed:

  • Things that stimulate your brain such as phones, tablets, laptops and watching television should be avoided for at least 30 minutes prior to bed.
  • Caffeine should be avoided in the afternoon and evenings. 
  • Avoid alcohol before bed. While alcohol may help you fall asleep, your quality of sleep will not be as good.

Tips to fall back to sleep if you wake in the middle of the night

If you wake up in the middle of the night and are unable to fall back asleep after 20 minutes, leave bed and try to do something calming. Try reading, stretching, or meditating before returning to bed and trying to fall asleep again. 

Do you recommend sleep aids, such as melatonin or over-the-counter medications? Are there side effects?

Over-the-counter sleep aids like melatonin can be useful when used short term. The most common side effects include headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Melatonin can interact with various medications and is not recommended for long-term use. 

This holds true for many over-the-counter sleep aids. Many of these medications contain antihistamines, which could actually make you feel groggy the next day, and like melatonin, are not for long-term use.

What are signs of poor sleep hygiene and not getting enough sleep?

The most common signs of not getting enough sleep appear during your waking hours. They include:

  • excessive daytime sleepiness
  • lack of energy
  • reduced concentration
  • delayed thinking
  • mood changes, including irritability and anxiety 

If you’re having trouble sleeping, when should you see a doctor?

You should see a doctor if your inability to sleep is affecting your ability to function for your daily activities. If you are suffering from insomnia, a good thing to do before seeing your doctor is to keep a sleep diary for about 10 days. In this, include the following details:

  • when you go to bed
  • when you fall asleep
  • when and how often you wake up
  • how often and when did you nap and for how long
  • your exercise
  • your alcohol and caffeine intake

This will help your doctor identify if sleep can be improved by making changes to sleep hygiene or if it requires further investigation. Your primary care provider can also refer you to other specialists if necessary. 

Stay up to date with the latest in mental and emotional wellness on the Being section of our Lifespan Living health and wellness blog.

Archen Krupadev, MD

Archen Krupadev, MD

Dr. Archen Krupadev is an internal medicine physician at Newport County Primary Care, a Coastal Medical practice.