This Is What Good Sleep Hygiene Looks Like (and It Has Nothing to Do With Washing Your Sheets)

Your bedtime (and daytime) habits and environment can play a big role in your sleep quality.

When we think of having good hygiene, our first thoughts go to showering daily, flossing and brushing our teeth, and wearing clean clothes. Sleep hygiene, however, is a little bit different from the typical grooming and cleanliness of everyday hygiene. In other words, it has nothing to do with washing your sheets (which you should be doing weekly and is also very important!). 


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What Is Sleep Hygiene?

Instead, sleep hygiene refers to a general set of practices, habits, and strategies aimed at promoting good quality sleep and preventing sleep problems, says licensed psychologist Luke Allen, PhD. “These practices include both behavioral and environmental factors that can impact sleep quality,” he explains.

How exactly does sleep hygiene work, and what actionable steps can you take to have better sleep hygiene, and therefore better nightly rest? Here’s what sleep experts have to say about what sleep hygiene actually means, and how to develop and maintain healthy sleep habits for life.

Sleep Hygiene Matters for Sleep Quality and Overall Health

Since we spend one-third of our lives sleeping (or attempting to do so), the steps we take to promote good, restorative rest are essential to overall wellness. “Up to one in three Americans experience insomnia at some point each year, and a third of them suffer on a nightly basis,” says Robert Satriale, MD, FAASM, a sleep medicine specialist at Temple University. “Good sleep habits are known to improve sleep quality, and sleep quality is important in regulation of blood pressure, maintaining cognitive function and control of blood sugar.”

Plus, Dr. Satriale says that getting good sleep reduces chronic pain and even risk of cancer. That’s why Allen believes sleep hygiene isn’t just about sleep. “I emphasize the importance of good sleep hygiene to virtually every client I work with,” he says. “It’s fundamental to physical and mental health.” 

Allen also says good sleep hygiene can make it much easier to fall asleep when you want to, and can help your body (and brain) learn how to associate your bed with sleep.

What Poor Sleep Hygiene Looks Like

Unfortunately, there seem to be more ways to have poor sleep hygiene than good sleep hygiene sometimes. Consuming caffeine or other stimulants before bed, sleeping in an uncomfortable or hot environment, having an irregular sleep schedule (going to bed and waking up at different times each day), working in bed, and eating heavy meals before bedtime are also considered poor sleep hygiene, Allen says. Even foods like chocolate, some sodas, and teas contain caffeine without you even realizing it. Spicy foods can exacerbate upper gastrointestinal discomfort; and high-fat, sugar-filled foods can disrupt sleep as well. 

Having devices that emit blue light in your bedroom, like smartphones, laptops, tablets, and e-readers, can disrupt your sleep cycle and are arguably the biggest culprits behind poor sleep hygiene. 

“Many adults may not consider the consequences of staying up late to watch a few extra episodes of a TV show, or indulging in a midnight snack or extra glass of wine, but these habits significantly detract from overall sleep quality,” Dr. Satriale says, “Falling asleep with the television on is another bad sleep habit, as studies show that even low levels of light and intermittent noise contribute to poor quality of sleep.”

And as great as it feels to sleep in, it’s another driving factor in poor sleep hygiene. “Sleeping in may seem like a privilege adults have earned, but our circadian rhythms become too fragile to tolerate such extravagances, making this poor sleep habit loaded with unfortunate consequences,” he says.

What Good Sleep Hygiene Looks Like

There are some widely agreed upon practices, habits, and strategies for following good sleep hygiene. The biggest guiding principle is to only use your bed for the three “S’s”: sleep, sickness, or sex. 

This means habits like eating, working, texting/scrolling, and watching TV should be done anywhere but your bed (the living room couch or kitchen table are much better choices). “The more you do other things [besides sleep] in bed, the harder it is for your body to associate bed with sleep,” Allen says. “In fact, most mental health professionals I know do not keep a TV in their bedrooms.”

In addition to practicing the three “S’s”, the number one thing you can do for good sleep hygiene is to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day of the week, according to Allen. 

“You can receive the biggest return on investment by adopting this strategy,” he says. “If there are days you go to bed late or get little sleep, continuing to wake up at the same time every day regardless will help maintain your sleep schedule, as your sleep drive will naturally build throughout the day.” This means the next night, you’ll want to go to bed at a reasonable time. 

Other good sleep hygiene habits include avoiding taking too many naps, especially long ones or too late in the afternoon (which can make it harder to sleep at night), getting regular exercise during the day, get some natural light as soon as you can after waking up, daytime exercising and trying relaxing activities before bed, like taking a warm bath (which has been scientifically proven to help you get to sleep more quickly). 

Allen also recommends investing in high-quality products that help you sleep well (everyone needs different things). “We spend a third of our life sleeping, so it’s wise to invest in a comfortable sleep environment that’s cool, dark, and quiet.” This includes comfortable bedding and pillows, maybe cooling bedding for hot sleepers, solid shades to block light, good earplugs or a sound machine for those with noisy neighbors.

Sleep Hygiene Tips: Change One Habit at a Time

Worried you have less-than-stellar sleep hygiene? Don’t worry. Like any habit you’re trying to break and/or adopt, you can always turn things around with a little practice and patience. The key, Allen explains, is taking baby steps, especially if you’re used to, say, watching TV in bed or even snacking in bed. 

“Trying to make drastic changes to one’s sleep routine all at once can be challenging and overwhelming,” he says, “which can lead to frustration or giving up on the goal.” Instead, use a slow-and-steady approach to create change. Once you’ve started breaking these behaviors, you can then replace them with new, sleep-promoting habits. 

A great place to start? Choose one or two of your subpar sleep habits to work on. For example, if you always watch TV before bed, try turning it off 20 or 30 minutes earlier and opening up a book to read a few pages before lights-out. Once you’re used to cracking open a book as the last thing you do before bed, start turning the TV off a little bit earlier, and a little bit earlier, gradually. Do you drink caffeinated tea in the evenings or soda with dinner? Switch to more soothing, caffeine-free options—or just hit the water instead. 

“One key to success is monitoring and logging your progress daily,” Allen recommends. “You can use a habit tracker app (like Way of Life or Habitica), an Excel spreadsheet, or notes on your phone.”

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