The Easy Guide to Establishing Good Sleep Habits

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Establishing good sleep habits

Many things in our lives are influenced by learned cues in our environment. This includes our sleep habits. Do you know someone who heads to the bedroom with the intention of reading a book, or watching TV, only to find themselves barely being able to keep their eyes open, and falling asleep shortly after? This is common for someone who is a ‘good’ sleeper. That is, someone whose bed is associated with what it’s meant to be associated with…. sleep. On the other hand, a ‘poor’ sleeper typically reports many nights of lying awake for hours on end. For these people, the bed has become a place of stress and frustration, and may even be triggering an arousal response. In short, the bed has become a strong cue for wakefulness.

Some poor sleep habits

Over time, poor sleepers have usually engaged in certain behaviours that have contributed to the bed becoming a place of wakefulness. This may have included:

  • Using the bed as a place of work, to watch TV, to play games on their phone, or to talk about difficult matters with their spouse.
  • Going to bed because their spouse is, as opposed to when they feel tired and drowsy.
  • Lying in bed and ‘trying really hard’ to sleep. Unfortunately, this tactic backfires and actually leads to increased physical and mental arousal, again contributing to wakefulness and making it harder to fall asleep.

How to establish good sleep habits

The aim of developing good sleep habits is to unlearn the association between bed and wakefulness, and strengthen the association between bed and sleep. Below are 5 tips to help get you started on turning the bed into a place of rest and sleep.

  1. Keep the bed for sleep and sexual activity only. Don’t use the bed for anything other than sleep and sex. This will help your body to start associating bed with sleep. Sorry everyone, but this means no watching TV, working, studying, or playing on your phone in the bedroom. You can do these things… just do them outside of the bedroom. Refrain from heading into the bedroom more than 30 minutes before you expect to turn the lights out.
  2. Keep a consistent routine. Pick a time that you want to head to bed, and a time you wish to wake up. Keep these times the same, even on your days off, weekends, or when you’ve had a bad night sleep. Also, get out of bed within 30 minutes of waking up in the morning. Remember, we’re building the association between bed and sleepiness… not bed and wakefulness.
  3. Only go to bed when you feel drowsy. Again, this will increase the association between bed and sleeping, and reduce the amount of time you lay in bed awake, restless, and trying to force sleep. Learn to listen to your body for drowsiness cues (e.g. head nodding, yawning, eyelids drooping) as opposed to external cues (e.g. the clock, your spouse’s bedtime).
  4. No clock-watching. Getting caught up with what time it is will likely only lead to increased stress and frustration about not being able to fall asleep. It will also lead to negative thoughts such as “Oh no, I only have 5 hours to sleep… I’m going to be so tired tomorrow”.
  5. The half-hour rule. If you’ve been lying in bed for about 30 minutes (an estimate is fine, as we don’t want you watching the clock remember), hop out of bed and go to a different room. Engage in a relaxing activity (e.g. read a book or watch some TV) until drowsy, then head back to bed and attempt sleep again. This will assist with taking the attention away from trying to fall asleep and the subsequent frustration that prevails. Repeat this process as many times as necessary until you fall asleep.

Please note:  This article is not to be used as medical advice.  If you are considering a sleep treatment please consult your doctor or medical professional.  This post may contain affiliate links.

Author profile
Dr Danielle McCarthy
Dr Danielle McCarthy
Clinical Psychologist

Danielle is a Clinical Psychologist and the Director of a private psychology practice, Mind Potential Psychology. Danielle is passionate about spreading tips and information about mental health issues both online and offline.

14 replies
  1. tibte says:

    I love what you guys are usually up too. This kind
    of clever work! Keep up the great works guys I’ve added you guys to my blogroll.

    Reply
  2. Cristina Alciati says:

    Good advice. My phone is on DND while I am asleep and there are no other electronics in the bedroom. I recently started doing 10 minutes of yoga before going to sleep and if I keep it nice and relaxed I sleep like a log without interruptions. This has become my new sleeping habit.

    Reply
  3. Jane says:

    Great advice! These days with so many people addicted to gadgets and TV and many other habits, sleep has been relegated to the back banner. Thank you for educating people on the ways to maintaining good sleep hygiene

    Reply
    • Kareema says:

      Sleep is plays a v.important part in well being., so keep in mind the earlier u sleep better benefits for general good health, brains also relaxes at night it,recharges for the next day it only recharges when ur room is dark and u sleep it starts to recharge so take care for ur own well being look after ur brain and it will give u best results
      .

      Reply
  4. Renee says:

    Not watching TV in bed is a big one. The TV in our bedroom broke and I just haven’t gotten around to replacing it. Coincidentally, I don’t have nearly as much trouble falling asleep.

    Reply
  5. Kirsten says:

    These are great tips which I’ve never tried before. Some are a little difficult to do with a husband who has to have the tv on to fall asleep and I don’t.

    Reply
    • TheDeepSleepCo says:

      It can be hard to sleep with a partner who has different sleep habits. Maybe you could try an eye mask and ear plugs?

      Reply
    • TheDeepSleepCo says:

      Lisa, the tips are easy but long term they can also be sort of challenging. It’s not about being strict on yourself and following every rule everyday. Try some small changes and if they work, you’ll start to feel much better.

      Reply

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