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Four Ways to "Clean Up" Your Sleep Hygiene

Advance With MUSC Health
November 23, 2022
A person sleeping.

There's a lot of focus on "eating clean" for good health. Did you know there is also a way to "sleep clean?"

Coined in the 1970s, sleep hygiene is a term used to describe healthy sleep habits. It includes behaviors, environmental and other factors that happen throughout the day that can help you have a good night's sleep. Getting enough sleep is key for optimal health and well-being.

If you've picked up some unhygienic sleep habits over the years, here are some tips from John Freedy, M.D., Ph.D., of MUSC Health Primary Care, James Island, to help "clean things up" and improve your ability to sleep well.

Sleep Basics

While the amount of sleep you need changes throughout your lifetime, most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep a day, says Dr. Freedy. "Some need less, some need more. Compare that to newborns, who sleep 14 to 18 hours a day. We also now know that teens need more hours of sleep than adults, from eight to ten hours. Your sleep needs will differ across your life span."

More than one in three of all adults say they are not getting enough sleep each night, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC regularly states that Americans in general are not getting enough healthy sleep. The amount as well as the quality of sleep matters, says Dr. Freedy. Common sleep disorders include insomnia, which means having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, as well as overall sleep quality.

Four Things You Can Do to Promote Good Sleep

Freedy suggests four areas of focus to improve sleep hygiene.

1. Have a Sleep Schedule

Set a fixed bedtime and wake-up time. Stick to both even on weekends, vacations and holidays. Any changes you make to this schedule should be gradual.

Pro tip: Limit daytime naps, as these can interfere with your schedule.

2. Set a Nightly Routine

Create a consistent routine and treat it like a daily ritual. "Maybe it's brush teeth, put on PJs, downtime, lights out, electronics off," says Freedy. Most experts say to turn electronics off one to two hours before bedtime.

Pro tip: You should be asleep within 15 minutes of hitting the sack, says Freedy. "If you toss and turn and are not asleep within that time, get up, leave the bedroom or sleeping area, and go into another room or area and do something that relaxes you in low light. You don't want the bed to be associated in your mind with not sleeping."

3. Practice Healthy Habits Throughout the Day

  • Try to get 15 minutes of daylight exposure each day. It helps with circadian rhythm, says Freedy.
  • Exercise daily for at least 30 minutes.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol. "A nightcap may help you fall asleep, but it disrupts your sleep later and can keep you from getting into the deeper stages of sleep."
  • Avoid late-night meals. These can interfere with digestion and cause reflux. Choose light snacks before bed, such as cereal or fruit.

Pro tip: Make sleep a priority for the whole family.

4. Create a Calm and Comfortable Sleep Area

Make sure the room or area is quiet, dark, tranquil and the right temperature for you. Get a good mattress and pillows. Use comfortable linens. Block any light and limit noise by using a sound machine or earplugs.

Pro tip: "Your bed is for sleeping and sex," says Freedy. Try not to eat or work in bed.

"Do what you can in each of these four areas," says Freedy. "You can try some or all of these tips to promote good sleep."

Improving your sleep hygiene is often the first step. Medicine, supplements or other approaches can also be next-step options. "Short-term use of over-the-counter and herbal medicines is OK, but don't take them for longer than 30 days," says Freedy.

Interrupted sleep can be a sign of a physical health problem, mental health issues or other complications. "Depression or anxiety often occur in concert with sleep," says Freedy. Talk to your doctor to address any concerns and be sure to factor in these possibilities.

To learn more or make an appointment with a provider, visit the MUSC Health Primary Care website or call 843-792-7000.