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Four Secrets to Improve Your Sleep

Sleep hygiene means cleaning up your nighttime habits to get a good night’s sleep, and it’s easy to do if you know the right steps to take and products to use.

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There’s nothing like an excellent night of sleep. You’re rested, relaxed, and ready to take on the day.

Conversely, a terrible night’s sleep makes for a terrible next day. And unfortunately, a lot of us are either getting less sleep than we need, or poor quality sleep. In fact, according to the American Sleep Association, 50 to 70 million Americans are suffering from a sleep disorder.

A lot of research goes into sleep, and while no one has pinpointed exactly why we need sleep, experts do know that sleep (or lack of) impacts both our physical and our mental development. Poor sleep quality can lead to cardiovascular disease, cognitive issues, depression, and slow reaction times, among other issues.

If you have major sleep issues, such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, serious and prolonged insomnia, or narcolepsy, your first step should be to consult your doctor. But if you just have a little trouble falling or staying asleep, and want to get better sleep, the first step is to clean up your sleep routine with some sleep hygiene.

Sleep hygiene is the practice of cleaning up both environmental stimuli and nighttime habits to create the optimal environment for a good night’s sleep, and it’s a relatively easy thing to do if you know the right steps to take. 

And if you're in the market for a slightly more expensive, but just as necessary, purchase, be sure to also check out our best mattress picks for every type of sleeper

Keep the Same Sleep and Wake Cycle

During the week, most of us keep to a pretty regular sleep and wake cycle. Our alarm goes off at about the same time, Monday through Friday, and we go to bed around the same time each night. But a lot of us ignore or turn off the alarm on the weekends, and that could be detrimental to good sleep habits. Your body regulates sleep through the circadian rhythms, the 24-hour clock running naturally through your body, and works to keep what’s called sleep-wake homeostasis. This is the balance your body tries to keep between sleep and waking hours, which is why you get extra tired and tend to sleep late when you’ve stayed up too late.

What to Use: Sunrise Alarm Clocks

These aren’t your ordinary alarm clocks. The sunset features will gradually reduce the amount of light in the room, based on a timer you set, triggering your circadian rhythms to start the sleep cycle. It can also play seven natural white noise sounds, has a dimmable digital readout, and can function as a nightlight. When it’s time to wake up, the clock gradually increases the amount of light in your room, making hitting the snooze button unnecessary. The numerous choices in colors and sounds can make setting the alarm tricky, so keep the manual handy.

Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock ($39.98, originally $45.98; amazon.com)

Touch Wake Up Night Light with Sunrise Simulation Alarm Clock ($32.99, originally $48.99; amazon.com)

Lumie Bodyclock Rise 100 ($99; amazon.com)

Keep the Electronics Outside

Television, electronics, and games do not belong in the bedroom. It should be primarily a place to sleep. The distractions from the screen, the stress, and the light emitted from the television all create a disruptive pattern that keeps the brain from falling asleep easily.

It’s also important to have quiet in the bedroom, without a lot of noise. You may think that falling asleep with the TV on is comforting, but your brain would beg to differ.

What to Use: White Noise Machines

The magic of a white noise machine is not just filtering out the ambient noise around you. It’s the idea of falling asleep in any situation — waves crashing, birds chirping, in the rain — wherever you sleep best. If you’re not into exotic sounds, a simple white noise background helps most people fall asleep faster and can undo some of the stimulation done by our screen usage. Best of all, most are well under $100 and are portable. 

LectroFan High Fidelity White Noise Machine ($49.99; amazon.com)

Dreamegg Sound Machine ($39.99, originally $49.99; amazon.com)

Easysleep Sound White Noise Machine with 25 Soothing Sounds ($18.69, originally $36.99; amazon.com)

Keep Your Room on the Cool Side

Your body temperature naturally declines when it’s time to sleep, so dropping your home’s temperature at night just reinforces that inclination to fall asleep faster. And studies have shown that a room temperature between 60 and 68 degrees helps the body produce more melatonin, which is a hormone responsible for sleep.

What to Use: Cooling Technology Bedding

Sheets made from bamboo and cotton are very breathable, which makes them generally more conducive to a cool night’s sleep. Bamboo is also a very renewable resource, so they’re also more eco-friendly. In addition to cooling sheets, you might want to invest in a cooling mattress pad. Many use technology that pulls heat away from the body and disperses it, leaving you feeling cool and comfortable. It’s a good idea to use them with memory foam mattresses, which can retain heat. 

Cooling 1800 Thread Count Bamboo Bed Sheet 6-Piece Set ($63.97, originally $74.90; amazon.com)

Shilucheng Bamboo Sheets Set 1800 Thread Count (starting at $59.90; amazon.com)

Bioweaves 100% Organic Cotton Mattress Pad Cover (starting at $119.99; amazon.com)

SLEEP ZONE Cooling Mattress Topper (starting at $29.99; amazon.com)

Keep Your Room Dark

As we mentioned, sleeping in a dark room is essential for a good night’s sleep, as the dark signals the body to start producing melatonin and begin the sleep process. Exposure to light — even just a crack in the drapes — will delay or impede the release of melatonin. We can’t all hibernate in a deep, dark cave, but we can make our rooms darker with a few tools.

What to Use: Blackout Curtains & Eye Masks

Blackout curtains are specifically designed to block any light coming through the windows, whether that’s a nearby streetlight or the sun itself. They’re usually made from a tightly woven fabric and lined to create a dense barrier to light. While they used to be fairly drab, blackout curtains are now very stylish. Just make sure to measure your window and buy curtains that will overlap, so as not to let any light in.

If curtains aren’t your thing, or you’re traveling, an eye mask works well to block out light. One study showed that people who use eye masks (along with ear plugs) got more REM sleep than the control group, and REM sleep is essential for making and retaining memories. Best of all, many quality eye masks are under $10. 

LEMOMO Blackout Curtains (starting at $19.99; amazon.com)

Thermal Insulated Gray Curtains, Drapes for Sliding Glass Door ($33.99, originally $45.99; amazon.com)

Yarall Double-Sided Natural Silk Sleep Mask for Men and Women ($9.99, originally $14.90; amazon.com)

Alaska Bear Natural Silk Sleep Mask (starting at $9.99; amazon.com)

Prices are accurate and items in stock at time of publishing.