SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- ‘Sleep hygiene’ refers to healthy habits, behaviours and environmental factors that can be adjusted to help you have a good night’s sleep.
- Some sleeping problems are often caused by bad sleep habits reinforced over years or even decades.
- Improved sleep will not happen as soon as changes are made. But if good sleep habits are maintained, sleep will certainly get better.
- If you have tried and failed to improve your sleep, you may like to consider professional help.
On this page
‘Sleep hygiene’ refers to healthy habits, behaviours and environmental factors that can be adjusted to help you have a good night’s sleep. Some sleeping problems are often caused by bad sleep habits reinforced over years or even decades. In many cases, you can improve your sleep quality by making a few adjustments to lifestyle and attitude.
Obey your body clock
The body’s alternating sleep-wake cycle is partly controlled by an internal ‘clock’ within the brain. Most bodily processes (such as body temperature and the secretion of certain hormones like melatonin) are synchronised to this 24-hour physiological clock (see the Sleep Health Foundation fact sheet about the Body Clock for more information). Getting a good sleep means working with your body clock, not against it.
- Get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Soon this strict routine will help to ‘set’ and maintain the timing of your body clock and you’ll find yourself getting sleepy at about the same time every night.
- Don’t ignore tiredness. Go to bed when your body tells you it’s ready.
- Don’t go to bed if you don’t feel tired. You will only reinforce bad habits such as lying awake.
- Get enough early morning sunshine. Exposure to light during early waking hours helps to set your body clock.
Improve your sleeping environment
Good sleep is more likely if your bedroom feels restful and comfortable. Suggestions include:
- Make sure the room is at the right temperature. For most people this is between 17 to 19°C.
- Ensure the room is dark enough. An eye mask may be helpful if you are a shift worker and need to sleep during the day.
- If you can’t control noise (such as barking dogs or loud neighbours), buy a pair of earplugs.
- Use your bedroom only for sleeping and intimacy. If you treat your bed like a second lounge room – for watching television or talking to friends on the phone, for example – your mind will associate your bedroom with activity.
- Invest in a mattress and pillow that is comfortable and provides you with the correct level of support.
Some people resort to medications or ‘social drugs’ in the mistaken belief that sleep will be more likely.
Common pitfalls include:
- Cigarettes – many smokers claim that cigarettes help them relax, yet nicotine is a stimulant. The side effects, including accelerated heart rate and increased blood pressure, are likely to keep you awake for longer. Ideally, cigarettes should be avoided altogether, and certainly in the 2-hours before you go to bed (for further information see the Sleep Health Foundation fact sheet about Caffeine, Food, Alcohol, Smoking and Sleep).
- Alcohol – alcohol is a depressant drug, which means it slows the workings of the nervous system. Drinking before bed may help you doze off but, since alcohol disturbs the rhythm of sleep patterns, you won’t feel refreshed in the morning. Other drawbacks include waking frequently to go to the toilet (for further information see the Caffeine, Food, Alcohol, Smoking and Sleep fact sheet).
- Sleeping pills – drawbacks include daytime sleepiness, failure to address the underlying causes of sleeping problems, and the ‘rebound’ effect – after a stint of using sleeping pills, falling asleep without them tends to be even harder. These drugs should only be used as a temporary last resort and under strict medical advice.
Relax your mind
Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterised by ongoing difficulties with falling to sleep and/or staying asleep. Anxiety and worrying, such as worrying about not getting enough sleep, may contribute to insomnia.
- If you are a chronic bedtime worrier, try scheduling a half hour of ‘worry time’ well before bed. Once you retire, remind yourself that you’ve already done your worrying for the day.
- Try relaxation exercises. You could consciously relax every part of your body, starting with your toes and working up to your scalp. Or you could think of a restful scene, concentrate on the rhythmic rise and fall of your breathing, or focus on a mantra (repeating a word or phrase constantly). If you are still having difficulties relaxing and calming your thoughts, it is best if you go out of the bedroom and wait until you are feeling sleepy and tired before trying to go to sleep again.
- The Sleep Health Foundation fact sheets provide further information about Insomnia, Preventing Chronic Insomnia, and ways to help manage sleep problems through the establishment of Good Sleep Habits. It is important to note, however, that sleep hygiene on its own is not a treatment for insomnia. Once insomnia has set in, the healthy sleep habits need to be seen within the framework of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I), which is the gold standard treatment for this sleep disorder. Further information about CBT-I can be found here.
- If you are having persistent problems with your sleep, there are sleep specialists, sleep clinics and even online help (e.g., online programs and Apps) that are available.
Other lifestyle adjustments that may help improve your sleep include:
- Aim to exercise every day, morning exercise is best as the morning light helps us to wake up. Evening exercise is also beneficial as long as it’s not too vigorous close to bedtime as your body needs time to wind down.
- Try not to engage in mentally stimulating activities close to bedtime. Use the last hour or so before sleep to relax your mind. Some things that you might find relaxing include having a warm bath, reading quietly, or having a warm milky drink, since milk contains a sleep-enhancing amino acid.
- Don’t take long naps (e.g. greater than 30 minutes), especially in the evening, as these can make it harder to fall asleep (see the Sleep Health Foundation fact sheet on Napping for more information).
- Avoid caffeinated drinks (like tea, coffee, cola or chocolate) close to bedtime (see the Sleep Health Foundation fact sheet about Caffeine and Sleep for further information).
- Turn your alarm clock to the wall. Watching the minutes tick by is a sure way to keep yourself awake.
- If you can’t fall asleep within a reasonable amount of time, get out of bed and do something else for half an hour or so, such as reading a book, and then try to go back to bed again.
- If you have tried and failed to improve your sleep, you may like to consider professional help. See your doctor for information and referral.
Where to get help
- Your GP (doctor)
- Sleep disorder clinic
- Sleep Health Foundation Fact Sheets.
- Increasing your ZZZs, Student and Staff Services Counselling Centre, Adelaide University.