Sleep Hygiene: How can I improve the quality of my sleep?

Good quality sleep is important for both our physical and mental health. However, poor sleep is common with around 25% of New Zealanders experiencing sleep problems.

Creating good sleep habits, also called sleep hygiene, is one way to improve sleep. Our sleeping environment and the routines and habits we engage in before bed and over the day are important in determining the quality of our sleep.

Tips to help improve your sleep:

1) Establish a regular sleep schedule:

Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including on weekends. Keeping a regular sleep schedule helps regulate your sleep hormones meaning you will feel naturally sleepy at bed time and awake in the morning. 

2) Create a good sleeping environment:

  • Sleep in a dark room - Use heavy curtains or wear an eye mask to block out light. 
  • Ensure your bedroom is quiet.
  • Keep your room cool - A cooler temperature is easier to sleep in.
  • Make sure you have a comfortable pillow and mattress. 
  • Make your bedroom a relaxing environment without any distractions keeping you awake. 

3) Develop a bedtime routine:

A consistent routine before bed can help to tell your brain it is time to sleep. 

4) Avoid screens before bed:

Avoid TV, computers, smart phones, and other screens for about 1 hour before bed. Ideally, keep screens out of the bedroom. This is because the blue light emitted by screens reduces the production of a hormone called melatonin which helps you sleep. If you are using screens before bed use a night-time setting, red-light filter, or blue light blocking glasses to reduce blue light exposure. 

5) Schedule ‘wind down time’ before bed:

Take at least 30 minutes before bed to do something relaxing. This might include reading or listening to music. 

Meditation, breathing exercises, and other relaxation techniques can help you feel calm making it easier to fall asleep. 

6) Avoid alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine for 4 to 6 hours before bed:

Drinking alcohol before bed can lead to disrupted sleep and poorer sleep quality. 

Nicotine and caffeine are stimulants. They can make you feel more awake making it harder to get to sleep.

7) Get plenty of natural daylight over the day and avoid bright lights at night:

Light is important in regulating our body’s internal clock. Light signals to our brain when it is time to sleep and time to be awake. Getting outside during the day can make you feel more awake and alert. Then before bed avoid bright lights.

8) Eat a healthy balanced diet and don’t go to bed hungry:

It is difficult to sleep when you are hungry. Having a small snack before bed can improve sleep. However, avoid having large meals in the 2 hours before bed. 

9) Keep physically active during the day:

Regular exercise can improve sleep quality, but avoid strenuous exercise in the 3 hours before bed.

Going for a morning walk is a great way to get some exercise and sunlight. 

10) Do not work or study in your bed:

You want to create an association between bed and sleep.

11) If you can’t fall asleep, don’t panic, try again:

If you find you can’t get to sleep, get out of bed and go to a separate dark room. Keep the lights off, avoid screens or any activity that will stimulate your brain, and do something relaxing. Once you feel sleepy go back to bed.