Health professionals have never been more emphatic about prioritizing 7-8 hours of rest. Ironically, we are perhaps the most informed generation on the importance of sleep while also the most sleepless. 50-70 million Americans suffer from a lack of sleep (1), with researchers labeling adults between the ages of 25-40 as the “Tired Generation (2).” However, the problem doesn’t seem to be a lack of awareness. Most people know they should sleep more; the difficulty is knowing how. They’re unable to fall asleep on nights they turn in early and wake up groggy on mornings they sleep in.
What is Sleep Hygiene?
Sleep hygiene and clean sleep are two concepts transforming people’s lives. Both argue that better sleep is achieved through consistency, with good habits that we can reinforce and bad habits that we should break. We cannot afford to ignore these habits, given how interlinked sleep is with our health. This know-how doesn’t have to be complicated. It just requires a little time and prioritization. Here are 5 tips to reclaim your nights and consistently achieve better sleep.
1. The Right Way to Prepare for Bed
Sleep quality depends upon something known as the circadian rhythm, an internal process that regulates the body’s sleep-wake cycle (3). This clock functions according to bright light exposure and signals your body when it should be awake versus when it should be asleep. Assisting our circadian rhythm includes two methods of improving sleep hygiene.
Limit Blue Light Exposure at Night
When preparing for sleep, begin limiting light exposure — especially a form known as blue light. Phones, tablets, TVs, and computers emit blue light in enormous amounts, which suppresses sleep hormones like melatonin (4). The result is that your body convinces itself that it’s daytime. Ideally, try eliminating the use of these devices 1-2 hours before bed. Exchange TV and smartphones for something less stimulating like books or relaxing music. If you must use a device before bed, consider downloading an app that blocks blue light on your phone or computer.
Increase Light Exposure During the Day
Another way to set your circadian rhythm is through daytime light exposure. Because this clock functions as a cycle, helping it distinguish days from nights means it can align more accurately for sleep. For example, a study in older adults found that two hours of bright light exposure during the day increased sleep by two hours and sleep efficiency by 80% (5). Similar results were also seen in those battling insomnia (6).
2. Create a Sleep Routine
Perhaps the biggest misconception is the idea that sleep can be shuffled around. This is where most people sabotage their sleep hygiene. Late binging multiple nights in a row, then going to bed early or oversleeping on the weekend to “make up” for lost sleep. This can help occasionally, but the long-term goal should be a consistent routine. Our bodies need at least seven hours of sleep every night. Going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time helps reinforce that 7-hour sleep cycle. However, approach this step with patience. Like many sleep hygiene techniques, it can take time to undo an erratic schedule. For example, if you’d like to go to bed two hours earlier, then adjust little by little. Scale back in 15–20-minute increments, progressing every two or three days until you reach your desired hour. Naps during the day should also be taken sparingly. While a short 30 minute snooze has been shown to help productivity during the day, anything longer can upset your nighttime routine.
3. Optimize Your Environment
The bedroom should be a quiet, clean, and relaxing place for you to rest. Resist the urge to watch TV or work in bed, as both create associations in the brain that are the opposite of sleep (7). Temperature, external noise, and light all play a profound role in the quality of sleep. Even if you don’t think of them as problems now, they could unknowingly be the culprit of poor sleep. Earbuds and eye masks are affordable, effective ways of controlling these conditions. Another solution to consider is a white noise machine, as studies suggest they can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep by nearly 40% (8). It can be difficult to pinpoint one cause of wakefulness, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Try earbuds, eye masks, or white noise to discover the conditions your body enjoys most. Then, attempt to recreate them each night.
4. Supplements & Herbs
Sleep hygiene is about creating habits that work with our bodies. Sleeping pills that attempt to override your innate cycle will leave you feeling drowsy and cause dependence. However, not all supplements come entangled in these side effects. Several all-natural ingredients have been shown to significantly improve sleep onset, quality, and consistency — especially for those who struggle with sleep disorders. Consider incorporating various combinations of the supplements below. Alternatively, XON Sleep is a high-quality formulation of all these ingredients in the convenience of just one supplement. This makes for a more comprehensive solution without the need to experiment. Plus, the natural list of ingredients means you are working in tandem with your body, not against it.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that occurs in the pineal gland of the brain. It calms the body, initiates sleep, and regulates our sleep cycle. It has no withdrawal effects and is one of the most popular supplements available (9).
L-Theanine is an amino acid that has been used to fight anxiety, depression, and mood-related disorders. It’s the rare case of a powerful sedative with non-drowsy effects (10).
Valerian Root has been shown to help sleep onset and improve sleep quality (11).
Chamomile is one of the most popular herbs available, mainly known for its relaxing properties and use in nighttime teas.
Hops are another popular herb that most are familiar with because of beer, but its uses go beyond just the keg thanks to its sleep-inducing effects.
5. Quiet Your Mind
Regulating our thoughts is a skill that many have lost touch with due to technology. The constant stimulation throughout the day means that our mind doesn’t stop racing at night. We worry about tomorrow or events later in the week, heightening our wakefulness. Breaking this habit takes practice, but it is possible, and the benefits will be felt beyond just sleep.
Try guiding yourself through a sleep routine. When lying in bed, focus on deep breathing that promotes relaxation and lowers your heart rate. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth — the hand on your stomach should slowly rise and fall, while the hand on your chest moves very little. Make a mental note of where your body is holding tension. Slowly relax your muscles one by one. First in your face, then shoulders, then the right side of your body, and finally the left. It may sound simple, but it’s a dependable way of lulling the body to sleep when mastered. Simple routines like this are even taught in the military to help soldiers fall asleep in less than two minutes (12).
Sleep, like physical exercise or any other health-related goals, is built upon good habits. We stretch before going to the gym and eat properly afterward to reap the most benefits. In the same way, there are many habits we can incorporate for better sleep. Improving sleep hygiene means consistently better sleep. While these tips may take time to implement, the science is clear and worth acting upon. We know we should sleep more, so why delay another night?