Falling asleep may seem like an impossible dream when you’re awake at 3 a.m., but good sleep is more under your control than you might think. Following healthy sleep habits can make the difference between restlessness and restful slumber. Researchers have identified a variety of practices and habits—known as “sleep hygiene”—that can help anyone maximize the hours they spend sleeping, even those whose sleep is affected by insomnia, jet lag, or shift work.
Sleep hygiene may sound unimaginative, but it just may be the best way to get the sleep you need in this 24/7 age. Here are some simple tips for making the sleep of your dreams a nightly reality:
Make your dreams come true
You can make 8 hours of quality sleep a regular part of your life by scheduling it. Make sleep part of your to-do list and plan your bedtime like you would any other appointment. You wouldn’t miss a meeting to binge watch TV, would you? Be strict about your sleep appointment in the same way. Keep a consistent schedule for sleep and wake times and soon they will become just a part of your regular routine. Support your schedule by creating a bedtime routine that relaxes you with hot baths, good books or soothing music.
Your bed plays one of the biggest roles in determining how long and how well you sleep. Your mattress and pillow have to be up to snuff for you to slumber well. Your bed and your body naturally change over time (they’re both aging!), so if your mattress is seven years or older, it’s probably time to replace it. Older mattresses do not provide the support you need for restful sleep and need to be replaced. Making this one improvement can unlock nights of blissful sleep. Your pillows should also be replaced regularly once a year to make sure you are getting proper support for your neck and spine.
Rise and shine
It’s tempting to hit the snooze button over and over to squeak out just a little more sleep, but this hurts you more than it helps you. Break this bad habit and set your alarm for the time you actually need to get up. If you can’t let go of the snooze button habit, limit yourself to just one snooze hit per morning.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew
What you’re eating and drinking and when you’re enjoying it affects your sleep. Try to finish eating 2 to 3 hours before bedtime so your whole system is ready to relax. Drink alcohol in the early evening instead of right before bed so your body has time to digest it before you hit the sack. Make caffeine a morning-only drink and stick to other beverages in the afternoon and evening. Caffeine stays in your system longer than you might think and can disrupt your sleep.
Train for good sleep
Exercise is important to help your body feel ready for sleep, and even just taking a walk can get your blood moving and improve your sleep. It’s best to complete your workouts at least 2 hours before you go to bed so your body is ready to rest.
Naps are nice
Taking a nap might seem counter-intuitive to good nighttime sleep, but short naps of 10 to 30 minutes actually help you gain extra energy during the day and don’t disrupt your sleep. Even a 10-minute nap can improve your alertness for 2-and-a-half hours if you’re sleep-deprived, and you can feel the benefit for up to 4 hours if you are well-rested.
If your bedroom is not a comforting and relaxing place, you’re not going to want to spend a lot of time there. Make adjustments to your bedroom so that it is dark, quiet, cool and cozy. A key factor in the comfort level of your bedroom is the bed itself, so make sure your mattress is big enough so you can move freely, new enough so it doesn’t cause aches and pains, and comfortable enough to support a good night’s sleep.
If you’re bringing the stress of your job and daily life to bed with you, you’re not going to sleep well. Resolve to keep everything that’s stressful out of your bedroom, so don’t bring in work materials, your phone or even allow yourself to think about work while in your bedroom. You can also gain control over your worries and anxieties by keeping a worry journal. Write about the things that are bothering you so you can work through them instead of bringing them to bed with you.
Pull the plug
Keeping a television, smartphone, tablet, laptop or computer in your bedroom makes it harder for you to sleep soundly. The lighting from electronics actually stimulates your brain while you’re trying to sleep and wakes you up. Keep your electronics in another room and use a simple alarm clock instead of your phone.