How to Sleep Better

how to improve sleep hygiene

Verywell / Jiaqi Zhou

A good night's sleep can make you feel energized in body and mind, ready to take on the day. But did you know that sleep also supports many other processes, like learning and memory, emotional regulation, cardiovascular and metabolic function, and the removal of toxins from the body?

Unfortunately, sleep is something that many people struggle with. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 70 million Americans deal with chronic sleep problems. A poor night's sleep can cause fatigue, concentration problems, moodiness, headaches, and more.

For many of us, sleep can come more easily by adding some healthy habits to our routines before we go to bed.

This article offers tips on how to improve the quality of your sleep. It also covers the possible reasons why you may not be sleeping at night and how to address them.

How to Sleep Better

Sleep hygiene refers to the habits that help set you up for a good night's sleep. You can optimize your routine and your environment to help you sleep better. But there's no-one-size-fits-all solution here. It's all about finding what works best for you.

You may need to try different methods to figure out what gives you the best sleep. But it is also important to know that improving sleep hygiene may not resolve underlying sleep problems or mental health disorders. If you are having trouble sleeping, and you can't find a healthy way to improve your sleep, it's best to talk to a doctor or mental health professional.

Below are 11 tips to improve your sleep hygiene and get a better night's sleep.

Create a Bedtime Routine

Having a bedtime routine means that you consistently perform activities that wind you down for sleep. Repeating your routine each night will help signal to your body that it's almost time to rest.

Some examples of activities in bedtime routines include:

  • Sipping some peppermint tea (which promotes relaxation)
  • Taking a warm shower
  • Changing into comfy pajamas
  • Flossing and brushing your teeth
  • Doing some light stretching
  • Reading a few pages of a book
  • Listening to a sleep meditation

Make Sure Your Bedroom Is Comfortable

Ideally, your bedroom is a cool, dark place where there are no loud noises that keep you from falling asleep. If there is any light coming into your room, try blocking it out with blackout curtains or a sleep mask. You can also try a white noise machine or earplugs to drown out any sound.

Diffusing essential oils in your room may help bring on sleep as well. For instance, inhaling lavender has been shown to improve sleep quality in people with self-reported sleep issues.

Try to avoid using your bed as a place to eat meals, watch TV, or work on your laptop during the day. This is so that you don't associate your bed with activity, but rather, with rest.

Invest in Your Bedding

An old or uncomfortable mattress or pillow can result in interrupted sleep, back pain, and neck pain. To avoid this:

  1. Select a supportive bed and pillows: Sleep on a bed and pillow that have enough support and comfort for your body.
  2. Look for quality bedding: Some people like linen or cotton sheets and comforters because they're breathable materials.

Ditch the Blue Light Before Bed

The blue light that your phone, laptop, and TV emit stimulate your brain and can prevent the relaxation you need for sleep. It's recommended that you stop using electronics at least an hour before bed.

Reduce Eating Close to Bedtime

It's often difficult to fall asleep on a full stomach. Of course, you don't want to be hungry when you go to bed, either. Try eating your last meal about two to three hours before bed. If you're hungry just before you go to sleep, try eating a light snack like fruit or a few crackers.

Stop Drinking Water Two Hours Before Sleep

Drinking water right before you go to bed often means you'll be getting up in the middle of the night (perhaps even multiple times) to go to the bathroom. Make sure you drink enough water throughout the day so that you can stop drinking at least two hours before your nighttime routine.

Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine Before Bed

Alcohol and caffeine are both energy stimulants as well as bladder stimulants. If you're having trouble sleeping, try limiting your alcohol and caffeine intake during the day, but especially before bed.

Even some foods contain caffeine, like chocolate, so be cautious about what you're eating as a bedtime snack.

Avoid Nicotine

Nicotine is another stimulant that is known to negatively affect sleep quality. In addition to its other health risks, such as cardiovascular disease and cancers, smoking is linked with insomnia, sleep apnea (a condition in which breathing stops and restarts throughout the night), and other sleep disorders.

Be Consistent

Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends. Of course, it's natural to have nights where you stay up later than usual, whether you're preparing for the next morning or having fun at a social gathering. It's OK if you fall off track; just try to get to bed at your usual time the following evening.

It's recommended that most adults get between seven and eight hours of sleep per night.

Get Up When You Can't Sleep

On some nights, it can be difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. You may toss and turn, stare at the clock, count sheep, and become frustrated.

If you're tossing and turning for 20 minutes or more, get out of bed and do something relaxing such as reading a book, journaling, listening to music, or meditating. Then, return to bed and try again. 

Be Physically Active

A daytime routine is just as important as a bedtime routine. Including regular physical exercise into your routine can help you feel more tired at night and improve your sleep. Research also finds that exercise enhances the effects of the natural sleep hormone melatonin.

Skip the Daytime Nap

Taking long naps or napping too close to your bedtime can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.

Potential Causes of Sleep Problems

It's possible that there are causes, other than poor sleep hygiene, that are contributing to sleep problems.

Common sleep disorders include:

  • Insomnia: A condition in which people have difficulty with falling/staying asleep
  • Narcolepsy: A condition that causes drowsiness during the day and unexpected falling asleep during the day
  • Restless legs syndrome: A condition that causes the urge to move your legs as a result of uncomfortable sensations in the body
  • Sleep apnea: A condition in which breathing stops and restarts during the night, resulting in limited oxygen getting to the body

Mental health conditions can also contribute to sleep difficulties. These include anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, and depression. Depressive symptoms can also cause you to sleep longer than usual (for instance, if you're sleeping 10 hours a day and have trouble getting out of bed).

Some medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), amphetamines (such as Adderall), anticonvulsants, and steroids can contribute to sleep difficulties.

If you're having trouble sleeping no matter how you try to improve your sleep hygiene, it may be time to talk to a doctor or mental health professional. You deserve the best sleep possible. 

How to Find Help

If you're experiencing sleep difficulties that aren't improving, try visiting a primary care doctor. They will likely ask you about your sleep routine and what your sleep issues are, give you a physical exam, and review your medical history.

Be sure to tell a doctor about any medications, vitamins, or supplements you're taking, even if you don't believe they're interfering with your sleep.

Providing a full picture of your health and lifestyle can help a doctor determine what changes you may be able to make to get better sleep.

A doctor may refer you to a mental health professional (such as a therapist or psychiatrist) if you have a mental health condition that is contributing to your sleep problems. A doctor may even refer you to a sleep specialist.

A sleep specialist can diagnose sleep disorders and even teach you cognitive or behavioral modifications to improve your sleep quality. In some cases, it may be recommended that you participate in a sleep study. During a study, you sleep in part of a lab that is set up as a bedroom. A specialist monitors your brain activity while you sleep and can then diagnose any sleep disorders.

A Word From Verywell

Experiencing difficulty falling or staying asleep can be frustrating. But by paying attention to your sleep hygiene, you can make improvements to your routine to set yourself up for rest. If you're consistently having trouble sleeping, however, you don't have to go through it alone. Talk to a doctor or mental health professional who can identify any potential causes of your sleep difficulties and provide you with coping skills to get a better night's sleep.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Laura Harold
Laura Harold is an editor and contributing writer for Verywell Family, Fit, and Mind.