Sleep is critical for our overall health, but most of us don't exactly lead lifestyles that make bedtime a priority—despite the fact that lack of sleep has been associated with diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and heart attacks. Sleep hygiene is more than just a trendy buzzword, it's a practice that can help you get better, more fulfilling sleep—and it doesn't have to cost a ton (although if you want to get a little spendy on improved sleep, we have some suggestions for you too).
You've already heard that you should stop using your computer or smartphone at least an hour before bed to avoid blue light and stick to a regular bedtime. There's more you could be doing, though: We spoke to Janet K. Kennedy, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor, and Shalini Paruthi, M.D., spokesperson of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), to get more insight into the best practices for sleep hygiene.
1. Develop a bedtime routine.
Parents of very young kids know this trick: Prepping a child for bed begins with a bath, a story, a song… there's a whole lead-up to actually going beddy-bye. While bedtime may be 8 p.m., sleep preparation really starts at 7, and just as this routine signals to a toddler's body and mind that it's time to rest, you can use the same trick on yourself.
Establish a set routine: Take out your clothes for the next day, read a book… whatever makes sense for you to signal to your body that it's time to get to bed. This helps tell your brain it's bedtime so that you're sleepy when you get ready to lie down—which means there's less chance of you picking up your phone and falling down a YouTube hole.
2. Keep a sleep journal.
Log what times you're going to bed and waking up and keep track of any issues you've had sleeping and how you were feeling around that time for at least 30 days. This practice can help you find patterns and discover if there's anything more serious going on with your health.
Paruthi suggests that if a person is so sleepy it's impacting their lives, they should absolutely get medical help: If it takes more than 30 minutes to fall asleep more than three nights a week, then it's time to speak to a doctor. Another issue to be aware of is snoring, which may indicate larger health problems. Keeping a journal will help to identify these issues—and can help you get a good night's rest.
3. Get a smarter alarm clock.
Both Kennedy and Paruthi agree that there is no set amount of sleep an adult needs, but seven or more hours of sleep tend to be optimal. Wake-up times are just as personal, but if you're just setting an alarm based on how much time you need to get out of the door, chances are high that you're waking up at any point in your sleep cycle.
Sleep Cycle is a free app that uses your phone sensors to help you wake up at the lightest point in your sleep—not when you're deep in REM and dreaming. This helps you avoid that walking-dead feeling that comes with getting woken up in the middle of sleep.
Of course, setting a regular old alarm can also have its benefits—when you use it to create a routine. "Start by waking up at the same time every morning to set your body clock," Kennedy says. A solid bedtime and wake-up time will help give you a good sleep/wake schedule.
4. Enjoy a light dinner (and maybe a snack) before bed.
Eating a huge meal makes you tired, so it may seem counterintuitive to opt for lighter fare before you hit the hay. But a lighter dinner is recommended for better sleep, Paruthi says. She also recommends enjoying a light snack before bed to avoid waking up hungry in the middle of the night.
Your chosen diet might also play a role here. "Very low-carb or restrictive diets can cause sleep disturbance," Kennedy notes. "There's really no magic diet for sleep." So pay attention to food and how it makes you feel. Avoid ingredients that give you indigestion, and of course, stay away from caffeine late in the day, as well.
5. Change your lighting.
Softer light before bed can help you relax and get ready to sleep, but Paruthi warns that too much blue light, such as those from screens, might be keeping you awake and causing sleep problems. If you have to be on your device, she suggests using a filter or glasses.
But blue light isn't the only light in our homes: Bright LEDs are great for reading and activities, but they don't scream rest and relaxation. Lowering the lights helps signal your brain to produce melatonin. The Phillip Hue Smart Bulb Kit can give you some control over your lighting. The kit turns your light into dimmers, so you can slowly transition to bedtime. At $35 a pop, you can start with just one for the bedroom—but the Smarthome nature of it means that you can incorporate them into the rest of your home too.
6. Listen to a bedtime story… sort of.
Meditation isn't just a gimmick—there are real benefits. But just sitting still and clearing your mind is very hard for some people, so guided meditation can really help. This type of meditation comes with a narrator on board to help guide you into a more restful state. You can listen to many different types on app Insight Timer—here are a few of our favorites for helping you drift off.
7. Take "me time" earlier in the day.
You come home from work, make dinner, hang out with loved ones, check out the internet... and before you know it, it's super late and you haven't even started to take on any of the tasks you wanted to accomplish. So you end up working on that craft project or putting time into your business idea right before bed. Stop doing that.
Prioritize yourself and take that time earlier, so you can truly get ready for bed when it's time. Sleep hygiene can involve many gadgets and apps, but more critically, you need to decide that sleep is important to you.