A Mattress Expert Discusses Sleep Hygiene: How To Maximize The Restorative And Energizing Rest You Deserve

I’ve been in the bedding industry for 25 years, and have designed and manufactured dozens of mattresses, selling them both in brick and mortar stores, as well as my own highly successful e-commerce platforms. With every model I created, I tried to maximize the sleep benefit each mattress would deliver, making them both supportive, and comfortable. My goal was to create a mattress experience that a user would crave and look forward to, night after night.

Along with that mindset, my sales teams always tried to address the importance of sleep hygiene to new mattress owners so that they would experience the maximum amount of restorative and deep REM sleep possible.

This meant helping new mattress owners reinvent the way they setup their bedrooms, examine factors such as eating before bedtime, blue light exposure to devices, considering sleep machines, even painting their bedrooms with colors that promoted or induced calm and relaxation.

Understanding sleep hygiene on a larger scale means that you need to gear up to create the right elements that both get you into bed and get you to sleep as quickly as possible, and there is an art to doing that.

Sleep hygiene is basically defined as a behavioral and environmental practice designed not only to moderate or control insomnia, but to control practices and habits that reduce the ability to fall and stay asleep. In today’s world sleep hygiene could be described as a methodology that helps you squeeze the maximum amount of productive sleep out of the least number of hours possible.

Health care providers evaluate the sleep hygiene of people who are experiencing insomnia and other conditions, such as depression, and offer recommendations based on the assessment. Sleep hygiene recommendations can generally include:

  • Setting up a consistent sleep schedule

  • Integrating naps into daily schedules

  • Adding exercise with the caveat of  not engaging in strenuous activities, either, physically or mentally too close to bedtime

  • Reducing anxiety

  • Limiting exposure to light in the hours before sleep

  • Getting out of bed if you are unable to fall asleep in a certain time frame

  • Using your bed for strictly sleep and sex

  • Avoiding alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and other stimulants in the hours before bedtime.

  • Creating a peaceful, comfortable and dark sleep environment by physically altering the room accordingly (paint, black out shades, noise machines, etc).

A robust sleep hygiene program means having both a bedroom environment and daily routines that promote consistent, uninterrupted sleep. Keeping a stable sleep schedule, making your bedroom comfortable and free of disruptions, following a relaxing pre-sleep routine, and building healthy habits during the day can all help to create total mastery of one’s sleep hygiene program.

Every sleeper can tailor their sleep hygiene practices to suit their needs. In the process, you can also harness positive habits to make it easier to sleep soundly throughout the night and wake up well-rested.

Why is Sleep Hygiene Important?

Obtaining healthy sleep is important for both physical and mental health, improving productivity and overall quality of life. Everyone, from children to older adults, can benefit from better sleep, and sleep hygiene can play a key part in achieving that goal. Failure to develop a good plan of action for sleep can increase the number of times we are sick on a yearly basis, shorten our lifespan, interfere with our ability to thrive, disrupt relationships and family life, and a host of other problems that can cause your life to literally crumble away.

Research has demonstrated that forming good sleep hygiene habits is the hallmark and the foundation of a life well lived and well practiced. Crafting sustainable and beneficial routines makes healthy behaviors feel almost automatic and not like a task, and perpetuates itself by creating an ongoing process of positive reinforcement. On the flip side, bad habits can become engrained even while they cause negative consequences, again and again.

Fortunately for us, humans have a Darwinian ability to make our habits serve our long-term interests. Building an environment and set of routines that promote our goals can really pay off. And sleep, more than any other biological function we own, requires effective management to help us squeeze the most joy out of life.

Sleep hygiene encompasses both environment and habits, and it can pave the way for higher-quality sleep and better overall health.

Improving sleep hygiene has little cost and virtually no risk, making it an important part of a public health strategy to counteract the serious problems of insufficient sleep and insomnia in America.

What Are Signs of Poor Sleep Hygiene?

Having a hard time falling asleep, experiencing frequent sleep disturbances, and suffering daytime sleepiness are the red flags of poor sleep hygiene practices. An overall lack of consistency in sleep quantity or quality can also be a symptom of poor sleep hygiene.

One problem that many Americans have is that the demands of a work life clearly overwhelm the ability for just o have work/life balance, and by the time we squeeze in our work hours and then prepare meals, spend time with family members, and build in some downtime, there simply isn’t enough time to engage in 7-9 hours of sleep and include the wind down time for sleep induction (that time we need to prepare ourselves for sleep, usually about 30-60 minutes). 

The downside with this dilemma is that if we don’t carve out the time we need for restorative sleep, each night, other areas of our lives will begin to suffer.

How Do You Practice Good Sleep Hygiene?

Good sleep hygiene is all about preparing yourself and optimizing your sleep environment so that you position yourself to experience the highest quality of sleep you can get out of each and every night.

Optimizing your sleep schedule, pre-bed routine, and daily routines is part of harnessing habits to make quality sleep feel more natural and automatic. At the same time, creating a pleasant bedroom environment can be an invitation to relax and doze off. A bedroom should be your sanctuary, and should include all off the elements that create a sense of calm that a bird would find as it recedes into its nest at night- safe, quiet, dark, and warm.

Although there are dozens of elements you can add to your sleep hygiene regimen, even if you adapt and build in just a handful of them, you’ll likely see some clear improvement and benefit.

Set Your Sleep Schedule

Having a defined schedule, that is a precise bed time, normalizes sleep as an essential part of your day and gets your brain and body accustomed to getting the amount of sleep it needs. Once you establish a routine and you are in your bed at exactly the same time each night, your body will quickly adapt, and you will begin to wind down, relax, and calm yourself, almost unwittingly, because your brain responds to stillness, nesting, lying down, and begins to adjust organ systems accordingly to promote sleep and sleep induction.

Some key elements:

  • Have a Fixed Wake-Up Time: Regardless of whether it’s a weekday or weekend, try to wake up at the same time since a fluctuating schedule keeps you from getting into a rhythm of consistent sleep.

  • Prioritize Sleep: It might be tempting to skip sleep in order to work, study, socialize, or exercise, but it’s vital to treat sleep as a priority. Calculate a target bedtime based on your fixed wake-up time and do your best to be ready for bed around that time each night.

  • Make Gradual Adjustments: If you want to shift your sleep times, don’t try to do it all in one fell swoop because that can throw your schedule out of whack. Instead, make small, step-by-step adjustments of up to an hour or two so that you can get adjusted and settle into a new schedule.

Don’t Overdo It With Naps: Naps can be a handy way to regain energy during the day, but they can throw off sleep at night. To avoid this, try to keep naps relatively short (20-25 minutes) and limited to the early afternoon.

Follow An Established Evening Routine

How you prepare for bed can determine how easily you’ll be able to fall asleep. A pre-sleep playbook including some of these tips can put you at ease and make it easier to get to fall asleep when you want to.

  • Keep Your Routine Consistent: Following the same steps each night, including things like showering, changing into pajamas and brushing your teeth, reinforces your mind that it’s close to bedtime.

  • Factor In 30 Minutes For Winding Down And Disconnect: Take advantage of whatever puts you in a state of calm such as a warm bath or shower followed by soft music, light stretching, reading, and/or relaxation exercises.

  • Dim Your Lights: Try to keep away from bright lights because they can hinder the production of melatonin, a hormone that the body creates to facilitate sleep.

  • Unplug From Electronics: Build in at least a  30 minute pre-bed “buffer time” that is device-free. Cell phones, tablets, laptops, and TV’s cause mental stimulation that is hard to shut off and also generate blue light that may decrease melatonin production. An exception to the rule: Try watching ASMR videos on YouTube, but engage your night vision or warm settings on your device beforehand. Don’t watch using daylight settings.

  • Test Out Methods of Relaxation: Instead of making falling asleep your goal, it’s often easier to focus on relaxation. Meditation, mindfulness, paced breathing, and other relaxation techniques can put you in the right mindset for bed.

  • Don’t Toss and Turn: It helps to have a healthy mental connection between being in bed and actually being asleep. For that reason, if after 20 minutes you haven’t gotten to sleep, get up and stretch, read, or do something else calming in low light before trying to fall asleep again.

Cultivate Healthy Daily Habits

It’s not just bedtime habits that play a part in getting good sleep. Incorporating positive routines during the day can support your natural sleep/wake cycles, or circadian rhythm, and limit sleep disruptions.

  • Get Daylight Exposure: Light, especially sunlight, is one of the key drivers of circadian rhythms that can encourage quality sleep.

  • Be Physically Active: Regular exercise can make it easier to sleep at night and also delivers a host of other health benefits.

  • Don’t Smoke: Nicotine stimulates the body in ways that disrupt sleep, which helps explain why smoking is correlated with a host of sleeping problems

  • Reduce Alcohol ConsumptionAlcohol may make it easier to fall asleep, but the effect wears off, disrupting sleep later in the night. As a result, it’s best to moderate alcohol consumption and avoid it later in the evening, say past 7PM.

  • Cut Down on Caffeine in the Afternoon and Evening: Because it’s a stimulant, caffeine can keep you wired even when you want to rest, so try to avoid it later in the day. Also be aware if you’re consuming lots of caffeine to try to make up for lack of sleep.

  • Don’t Dine Late: Eating dinner late, especially if it’s a big, heavy, or spicy meal, can mean you’re still digesting when it’s time for bed. In general, any food or snacks before bed should be on the lighter side.

  • Restrict In-Bed Activity: To build a link in your mind between sleep and being in bed, it’s best to only use your bed only for sleep with sex being the one exception. Don’t eat or drink in your bed, and keep work out of your bedroom entirely.

How To Optimize Your Bedroom For The Best Sleep Hygiene

A central component of sleep hygiene beyond just habits is your sleep environment. To fall asleep more easily, you want your bedroom to resemble a nest, beginning with the best mattress you can buy. Here’s our list of curated mattresses that we recommend. Chosen from over 200 carefully reviewed candidate mattresses, only a small handful were chosen.

While what makes a bedroom the ultimate sleep sanctuary, the exact “recipe” can vary from one person to the next, but these tips may help make your bedroom a place of tranquility, calm and free of disruptions:

  • Have a Comfortable Mattress and Pillow: Your sleep surface is critical to comfort and pain-free sleep, so choose your mattress and your pillows with care. We recommend you check out our Trusted Mattress Dealer page as well as our Pillow page for carefully chosen recommendation.

  • Use Excellent Bedding: Your sheets and blankets are the first thing you touch when you get into bed, so it’s beneficial to make sure they match your needs and preferences. Sheets vary in textiles, thread count, and fabric weave, and sheet to skin contact is an important consideration. Whether you choose silk, cotton, or bamboo, each has their own unique feel. Here’s our choices for best sheets on the web.

  • Set Your Thermostat To The Ideal Temperature: Fine-tune your bedroom temperature to suit your preferences, but lean on the cooler side and try to adapt to 64-68F for best results. I keep my room at about 66F, and use an electric blanket year round, set on the lowest setting. This technique can keep your body comfortably warm while allowing your scalp to ventilate and keep your body cool.

  • Stay Out Of The Light: Black out shades are becoming wildly popular. Use heavy curtains or an eye mask to prevent leaking light from interrupting your sleep. With black out shades, you’ll likely pick up an extra hour of restorative sleep

  • Minimize Ambient Noise: Ear plugs can stop noise from keeping you awake, and if you don’t find them comfortable, you can try a white noise machine or even a fan to drown out bothersome sounds. If you are going to use a white noise machine, we recommend checking out our sleep accessory page.

  • Try Aromatherapy: Subtle smells, such as lavender, bergamot, or other soft and quieter fragrances may induce a calmer state of mind and help cultivate a positive space for sleep.

Is Sleep Hygiene the Same for Everyone?

The basic concept of sleep hygiene — that your environment and habits can be optimized for better sleep — applies to just about everyone, but what ideal sleep hygiene looks like can vary based on the person.

For that reason, it’s worth testing out different adjustments to find out what helps your sleep the most. You don’t have to change everything at once; small steps can move you toward better sleep hygiene.

It’s also important to know that improving sleep hygiene won’t always resolve sleeping problems. People who have serious insomnia or sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea may benefit from better sleep hygiene, but other treatments are usually necessary as well.

In other words, even though it may be beneficial, sleep hygiene alone isn’t a panacea. If you have long-lasting or severe sleeping problems or daytime sleepiness, it’s best to talk with a doctor who can recommend the most appropriate course of treatment.