Sleep Hygiene

Gary S. Moak, M.D.

Difficulty sleeping is more common as people get older.  Pain, immobility, trouble breathing, restless legs, heartburn, anxiety, depression, and life stress are among the many causes.   Poor sleep habits also are a common cause of insomnia.  Sleep hygiene refers to the environmental and behavioral practices of sleep than can affect how well people sleep. Some research shows that improving such habits can be more effective for insomnia than sleeping pills.

Here is a list of commonly recommended ways to improve your sleep hygiene and hopefully sleep better:

  • Refrain from using sleep-disrupting substances including caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine for at least 4 to 6 hours before bed.
  • Avoid overeating before bed.  A light, bedtime snack may help some people fall asleep.  People with gastroesophageal reflux disease may do better going to sleep on an empty stomach.
  • Arrange bedroom furnishings for a comfortable, relaxing, and restful environment.   Make sure the bedroom is not too warm.   Use earplugs or a white noise machine if noise disturbs you.
  • Adopt a before-bed routine such as taking a hot bath 90 minutes before bed or have quiet time 30 minutes before bed.
  • Avoid exercise or physical activity, such as housework, for at least 2 hours before bed.
  • Establish regular times for going to bed and getting up.   Get up the same time every morning even if you did not sleep well the night before.
  • Use the bedroom only for sleep or sexual activity.  Avoid other activities in bed, including work, watching television, talking on the telephone, or reading.
  • Do not sleep anywhere other than in your bedroom.
  • If you cannot fall asleep after 20 to 30 minutes, get out of bed and leave the bedroom.  Avoid tossing and turning or getting frustrated in bed.  Sit quietly in another room and read, listen to music, or watch television, as long as what you do is not stimulating.  Return to bed if you start to feel sleepy or after 30 to 60 minutes.  Repeat this process as necessary.
  • Do not take naps.  If you must nap, keep naps to 30 minutes or less and try not to nap after 2:00 PM.

Moak Center for Healthy Aging©

Updated August 2009