Tossing and turning in bed, still trying to fall asleep at 3 a.m.? Having difficulty sleeping is everybody’s nightmare. You wake up tired, feel drowsy, have trouble concentrating. Sleeplessness takes a toll on your everyday life.
This is where “sleep hygiene” comes to the rescue. According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, you can turn a sleepless night into a restful slumber by making some small changes in your sleep environment.
Try these seven helpful tips to maximize your zzz's and wake up feeling refreshed and rested to take on the day:
1) Bedrooms Are For Sleep and Sex, Only!
Keep computers, TVs, even treadmills out of your bedroom. When your brain becomes used to the stimulation from such devices, it will start to expect it when you step foot in the room, making it harder for your to fall asleep.
Using your bedroom only for sleep and sex can strengthen the mental association between the room and your sleep, according to WebMD, so you can fall asleep more easily without any distractions.
2) No Screen Time Before Bed Time
The soft blue light from your TV, laptop, smart phone, and even digital clock screen on your nightstand can suppress the production of your sleep hormone, melatonin, making it harder for you to fall asleep. So turn off all screens at least an hour before you go to sleep, and cover any blue displays you cannot shut off.
Can’t get any rest before you watch the latest episode of The Bachelorette? Try using amber lens glasses that block blue light if you really want to indulge in some TV without jeopardizing your sleep.
Research has shown that people who wore amber lens glasses while staring at a screen before going to bed have shown significant improvements in their sleep quality compared to those who didn’t.
3) 50 Shades of Gray
Natural light is a powerful cue that tells our brain to wake up, so it is important to keep your bedroom dark to promote sound sleep. Pick dark and cool colors to decorate your room, and use heavy curtains and blackout shades to block sunlight. You can try a dark eye-mask to maximize the darkness.
Sunlight also keeps your internal clock on a healthy wake-sleep cycle, so don’t forget to let it in first thing in the morning.
Little noises like a dripping faucet or a barking dog from afar can take a toll on your sleep. Try using earplugs or a “white noise” machine (also comes in phone apps) to cover up small noises in the night. A thick rug and heavy curtains can also help buffer the outside sounds.
If you fall asleep to music, Health.com says that you should use a player with a “sleep” function that can shut down automatically after 30 to 60 minutes. This will prevent you from waking up to it, as your body transitions between different sleep cycles.
5) Dim The Lights
According to WebMD, you should start dimming the lights around the house two to three hours before bedtime to start signaling your brain that it should start producing your sleep hormone melatonin. Make sure the TV or hallway lights are all turned off before you head to the bedroom.
If you like to read before bed, use a 15-watt bulb for your reading lamp to ease into sleep.
Put a nightlight in your bathroom or hallway just in case you need to use the restroom in the middle of the night. Using this light won’t disrupt your melatonin levels as much as turning on a bright ceiling lamp.
6) Keep It Cool
Keeping the room temperature comfortably cool can induce a restful slumber. According to Health.com, your body temperature naturally drops as you doze off, so cooling down before sleep can jump-start the sleep process.
Aim for a temperature between 60 and 75° F before you fall asleep. Joyce Walsleben, PhD, associate professor at the New York University School of Medicine, was quoted on Health.com, saying that menopausal women experiencing hot flashes, or those who like to bundle up in blankets, may want to aim for even lower temperatures.
7) Invest In Your Bed
You should feel comfortable and supported on your mattress. Consider your mattress a major investment as you spend many valuable hours on it to recover and rejuvenate. According to the Better Sleep Council, you should change your mattress every seven years.
If you wake up with stiffness, numbness, aches and pains ... if you had a better night’s sleep somewhere other than your own bed ... and if your mattress shows signs of overuse such as sags and lumps, it might be time to get a new one!
Your mattress can also fill with mold, dust mite droppings, and allergy triggers over time that can make you sneeze and itch during sleep. WebMD recommends that you seal your mattress, box springs and pillows with an airtight plastic dust-proof cover to prevent these sleep-wreckers from sabotaging your sleep!
Make sure you also equip your bed with comfortable and supportive pillows. According to the Better Sleep Council, you should replace your pillows every year.
Burkhart K, Phelps JR. (2009). Amber lenses to block blue light and improve sleep: a randomized trial. Chronobiol Int. 26(8):1602-12.
Insomnia Slideshow: 20 Tips for Better Sleep. WebMD. Retrieved July 20, 2015.
The Better Sleep Guide. The Better Sleep Council. Retrieved July 20, 2015.
Turn Your Bedroom Into a Sleep Haven. Health.com.
Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep. Harvard Medical School. Retrieved July 20, 2015.
Reviewed July 21, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith