Sleep is vital for health, performance, and well-being—and the better the sleep, the greater its benefits. That’s why proper sleep hygiene practices that promote optimal sleep duration and quality are important.
If you’re struggling to get quality sleep, try these 10 effective tips from the U.S. Army Performance Triad to help build healthier sleep habits:
- Create a quiet, dark, comfortable sleeping environment. Cover windows with darkening drapes or shades (dark trash bags work too), or wear a sleep mask to block light. Minimize disturbance from environmental noises with foam earplugs or use a room fan to muffle noise. If you can, adjust the room temperature to suit you. If you can’t, use extra blankets to stay warm. Use that room fan both to muffle noise AND keep you cool.
- Use the bedroom only for sleep and sex. Remove the smartphone, TV, computer, laptop, etc., from your bedroom. Don’t eat or drink in bed. Keep discussions, especially arguments, out of the bedroom.
- Stop caffeine at least 6 hours before bedtime. Caffeine promotes wakefulness and disrupts sleep.
- Don’t drink alcohol before bed. Alcohol initially makes you feel sleepy, but it disrupts and lightens your sleep several hours later. In short, alcohol reduces the recuperative value of sleep. Nicotine—and withdrawal from nicotine in the middle of the night—also disrupts sleep. If you need help to quit drinking or using nicotine products, see your healthcare provider for options.
- Get your exercise in by early evening. Exercise is great—just be sure to finish at least 3 hours before bedtime so you have plenty of time to wind down.
- Don’t go to bed hungry. A light bedtime snack (for example, milk and crackers) can be helpful, but don’t eat a large meal close to bedtime. And empty your bladder just before you go to bed so the urge to urinate doesn’t disrupt your sleep.
The last 4 sleep hygiene habits are especially critical if you’re experiencing sleep problems:
- Maintain a consistent, regular routine that starts with a fixed wake-up time. Start by setting a fixed time to wake up, get out of bed, and get exposure to light each day. Pick a time you can maintain during the week AND on weekends. Then adjust your bedtime so you target 7–8 hours of sleep.
- Get out of bed if you can’t sleep. Only go to bed (and stay in bed) when you feel sleepy. Don’t try to force yourself to fall asleep—it will tend to make you more awake, making the problem worse. If you wake up in the middle of the night, give yourself about 20 minutes to return to sleep. If you don’t return to sleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something relaxing. Don’t return to bed until you feel sleepy.
- Nap wisely but sparingly. Napping can be a good way to make up for poor or reduced nighttime sleep, but naps can cause problems falling asleep or staying asleep at night, especially if they’re longer than 1 hour or taken late in the day (after 1500 hours). If you need to nap for safety reasons (for example, driving), try to take a short (30–60 minute) nap in the late morning or early afternoon (for example, right after lunch), just enough to take the edge off your sleepiness.
- Move the bedroom clock so you can’t see it. If you tend to check the clock 2 or more times during the night, and if you worry that you’re not getting enough sleep, cover the clock face or turn it around so you can’t see it (or remove the clock from your bedroom entirely).
Warfighters lead demanding lives, and sleep deficits can lead to serious losses in Total Force Fitness performance. Improving your sleep habits can help lead the way to healthier sleep. For more information on sleep, visit the Performance Triad web page. And check out HPRC’s helpful infographic on Sleep & Warfighters.