Getting a good night’s rest starts with adding healthy sleep habits throughout your day.
You toss and turn, flipping the pillow one more time in hopes of finding the sweet spot to help you drift off to sleep. But, despite your best efforts, nothing seems to work.
If a bad night’s sleep seems to be your norm, your bedtime routine could be to blame. Over time, several bad nights in a row, or an even more chronic problem with sleep, can start to impact your health and well-being.
“Missing a few hours of sleep once in a while is uncomfortable, but it becomes a problem when an occasional lack of sleep turns into a regular occurrence,” says Michael C. Marino, DO, a Geisinger sleep medicine physician.
The good news? Making some easy changes throughout the day and right before bedtime can help you sleep better and break the pattern.
How to build a better bedtime routine
Often referred to as “sleep hygiene,” healthy bedtime habits help your body wind down at the end of the day and create the ideal environment for a good night’s rest. Here’s how to sleep better with some simple sleep hygiene tips:
- Turn off your electronics
- Keep your room cool and dark
- Relax and unwind
- Avoid caffeine late in the day
- Skip the nightcap
- Exercise early in the day
- Keep your bed sacred
- Kick the dog (or cat) out
- Be consistent
- Wake up at the same time
- Nap, if you must
- Don't spend excessive time in bed once you're awake
The blue light from your TV, cellphone, tablet and computer can keep you from getting the sleep you need.
Turn them off at least one hour before your normal bedtime to give your brain and eyes some downtime. Rather than scrolling your phone, opt for reading a printed book or magazine instead.
Think “cave-like” when setting the temperature and light in your room. Try to block light sources from outside (blackout curtains work great) and dim or block the light from your digital clock.
If you live in a noisy area, a noise machine, fan or an app that plays timed background noise or calming music can help you tune out the world and get better sleep.
And don’t forget to chill out. “Studies suggest a temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for falling asleep,” says Dr. Marino.
To help your brain wind down at night, incorporate some relaxation techniques like meditation and deep breathing exercises or try gentle yoga. These can help relieve your mind of the stress of the day and make it easier to drift off.
Most people sleep better if they limit caffeine during the afternoon and evening. Try to limit caffeine after 2 p.m. a few nights a week and see if that helps you fall asleep easier.
Remember that coffee isn’t the only source of caffeine — a piece of chocolate or even some over-the-counter medications can derail your plans to stay caffeine-free.
While some people have a drink before bed to relax, it usually does more harm than good.
“After your body metabolizes alcohol as you sleep, you’ll have rebound alertness that can wake you,” says Dr. Marino. “This usually affects your sleep during the second half of the night, when you should be getting restorative rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.”
To avoid waking up in the middle of the night, try trading your nightcap for a warm cup of decaf tea instead.
Working out is a good way to keep your body healthy and primed for sleep but only if you exercise at the right time of day. A vigorous workout can energize you and make it harder to fall asleep, so make sure to schedule your gym time several hours before bed.
To help your brain associate your bed with sleep, avoid working, watching TV or snacking in bed during the day. The only thing you should bring to bed with you (if it helps you wind down) is a printed book or magazine.
Some cuddle time with Fluffy or Fido may sound nice but having pets in bed can disrupt your sleep. They may wake you throughout the night as they readjust, or they might get you up earlier than needed for food or attention.
Give your pet their own place to sleep and train them to use it. They'll be even happier when you wake up rested and ready for playtime or a walk.
Consistency is key when it comes to your bedtime routine. Going to bed at the same time each night and doing the same tasks — like brushing your teeth and washing your face — helps cue your body to get ready for sleep.
If you frequently lose track of time, set a reminder or alarm on your phone to let you know it’s time to start your wind-down routine.
Healthy sleep habits don’t only happen at night — sticking to a wake-up time is just as important. It might be tempting to sleep in on the weekend, but this can disrupt your normal sleeping rhythm and set you up for a hard week come Monday.
Instead, aim to wake up around the same time each day to help your body get used to a familiar pattern.
If you must nap to preserve your daytime functioning, delay your bedtime by an equivalent or greater amount of time. So, if you take a one-hour nap and usually try to go to bed around 10 p.m., shift your bedtime to 11 p.m.
Do this instead of trying to compensate for a bad night's sleep — that is, don’t sleep in later than normal or go to bed early the next night.
If you're aware that you're clearly awake, it’s time to get out of bed. Don't lay in bed and scroll on your phone or turn on the TV. Your body is trying to tell you it's time to get up and start your day!
When to talk to your doctor
Following these sleep hygiene tips should help you wake up feeling rested, less stressed and more energized. But if nothing seems to be working or you’re still groggy and tired throughout the day, it might be time to talk with your doctor.
“If you’re having problems with sleep for more than three weeks, or if lack of sleep interferes with your ability to function normally, contact your doctor to be evaluated,” says Dr. Marino.
They can help pin down a cause and suggest ways to get some much-needed shut-eye.