What is sleep hygiene? 5 benefits of good sleep hygiene
Good sleep hygiene is a cornerstone of good health. Sleep is the Archimedes lever – the one thing that raises all of the other singular health boats on the tide. Just one night of poor sleep can compromise your productivity, energy levels, and immune function. And chronic sleep issues, like insomnia, can increase your risk of poor physical and emotional health outcomes.
But what is sleep hygiene? And what exactly are the benefits of sleep for health? Here, we outline how optimising your sleep hygiene can support every system of the body.
What is sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene was first introduced as a means to manage mild to moderate insomnia. The term describes the behavioural habits and environmental practices needed to achieve consistently restful sleep1.
Whether you struggle with episodes of acute insomnia or want to optimise your existing routine, there are many steps you can take to improve your sleep hygiene. And with good sleep practices in place, you’ll improve the overall quality of your sleep and support your long-term health.
Signs of poor sleep hygiene
Sleep is complicated. And, sometimes, it can be difficult to determine whether your individual sleep hygiene practices are truly serving you. Here are a few signs of poor sleep hygiene:
It takes you longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep once you get into bed
You wake up throughout the night and find it difficult to get back to sleep
You spend less than 85% of your time in bed asleep
You have been diagnosed with insomnia
What is good sleep hygiene?
There are many components of good sleep hygiene. Ultimately, it comes down to living your life in a way that facilitates high-quality sleep, which often translates into cultivating healthy daily habits, following a relaxing pre-sleep routine, and creating an inviting and comfortable bedroom environment conducive to sleep.
What are the 5 tips and tricks for good sleep hygiene?
Get 20-minutes of morning light and take regular outdoor breaks during the day
Avoid drinking caffeine after midday and limit alcohol consumption in the evening
Exercise and socialise earlier in the day
Avoid using technology 90 minutes before bed as its blue-light suppresses melatonin, your sleep hormone
Ensure your bedroom is dark, temperate, comfortable, and quiet
What are the benefits of good sleep hygiene?
Achieving quality sleep every night – around seven to nine hours – is the single most effective thing you can do to reset your brain and body health. Sleep isn’t a cost; it’s an investment for your lifespan and your healthspan.
Good sleep hygiene is important for healthy weight management. Research suggests individuals with short sleep durations usually weigh more than those who get enough sleep each night2. The reasons for this are multifactorial.
Firstly, insufficient sleep contributes to poor appetite regulation and overeating, accelerating the production of ghrelin, the hormone that increases appetite, and suppresses leptin, the hormone that signals food satisfaction3.
Additionally, a lack of proper rest can make you emotionally reactive and stressed, which may increase the likelihood of giving into unhealthy food cravings. Feeling tired can also diminish your motivation to exercise4.
Memory, recall and productivity
Sleep affects every physiological system in the body. All the networks of the brain are augmented during sleep.
A good night’s sleep sharpens recall, improves cognitive functioning, and facilitates productivity – even one bad night can make you feel scattered and hazy the next day5.
One sobering study reported that sleep deprivation produced cognitive and motor performance impairments similar to those seen in alcohol intoxication6.
Good sleep hygiene is essential for emotional and mental health. REM sleep – the principal stage in which dream happens – is a form of emotional first aid and overnight therapy7. Without REM sleep dreaming, we struggle to process concerns and modulate emotions.
Indeed, insufficient sleep is often associated with anxiety and depression. It’s been reported that 90 per cent of people with depression experience sleep issues or insomnia8.
Furthermore, sleep and mental health issues have a bidirectional relationship: poor sleep can exacerbate or even lead to emotional health issues, and poor emotional health can contribute to or cause sleep issues.
Prioritising sleep hygiene supports your immune system. Quality sleep keeps the cells and proteins that make up your immune system healthy, improving your ability to fight colds, flu, and other infections.
When researchers exposed a group of participants to the common cold virus, those who achieved less than seven hours of sleep were three times more likely to get sick than those who slept for eight hours or more9.
Even a tiny amount of sleep deprivation can compromise your immune system10.
Good sleep hygiene is also critical for your heart health. Sleep deprivation can lead to a surge in stress hormones, like cortisol, and inflammation – both of which play a role in heart and circulatory diseases.
Evidence suggests being chronically underslept may contribute to atherosclerosis – the build-up of fat in your artery walls –, which can lead to serious health problems, like stroke or heart attack11.
In one study, researchers found people sleeping less than six hours each night had a 20 per cent increased risk of a heart attack12.
Good sleep hygiene doesn’t just happen overnight – it’s a practice that takes time but is well worth the effort for your long-term health. Want to learn more on how to improve the quality of your sleep? Visit the rest of our dedicated Sleep Hub.
- Irish, L. A., Kline, C. E., Gunn, H. E., Buysse, D. J., & Hall, M. H. (2015). The role of sleep hygiene in promoting public health: A review of empirical evidence. Sleep medicine reviews, 22, 23–36.
- Patel, S. and Hu, F., 2008. Short Sleep Duration and Weight Gain: A Systematic Review. Obesity, 16(3), 643-653.
- Taheri S, Lin L, Austin D, Young T, Mignot E. (2004) Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index. PLoS Med. 1(3): e62.
- Di Milia L, Vandelanotte C, Duncan MJ. (2013) The association between short sleep and obesity after controlling for demographic, lifestyle, work and health related factors. Sleep Med. 14(4): 319-23.
- Ellenbogen JM. (2005) Cognitive benefits of sleep and their loss due to sleep deprivation. Neurology, 64(7): E25-7.
- Williamson AM, Feyer AM. (2000) Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication. Occup Environ Med. 57(10): 649-55.
- Walker, M. P., & van der Helm, E. (2009). Overnight therapy? The role of sleep in emotional brain processing. Psychological bulletin, 135(5), 731–748.
- Tsuno N, Besset A, Ritchie K. (2005) Sleep and depression. J Clin Psychiatry. 66(10): 1254-69.
- Cohen. S., Doyle. W., Alper. C., Janicki-Deverts. D. & Turner. R. (2009). Sleep Habits and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Archives of Internal Medicine. 169(1), 62.
- Irwin M, McClintick J, Costlow C, Fortner M, White J, Gillin JC. (1996) Partial night sleep deprivation reduces natural killer and cellular immune responses in humans. FASEB J. 10(5): 643-53.
- National Institutes of Health (NIH). 2021. How disrupted sleep may lead to heart disease. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/how-disrupted-sleep-may-lead-heart-disease
- Daghlas I, Dashti HS, Lane J, Aragam KG, Rutter MK, Saxena R, Vetter C. (2019) Sleep Duration and Myocardial Infarction. J Am Coll Cardiol. 74(10): 1304-1314.
Olivia Salter has always been an avid health nut. After graduating from the University of Bristol, she began working for a nutritional consultancy where she discovered her passion for all things wellness-related. There, she executed much of the company’s content marketing strategy and found her niche in health writing, publishing articles in Women’s Health, Mind Body Green, Thrive and Psychologies.