How is your sleep hygiene?

Nora Vincent, Ph.D., C. Psych.
Psychologist, Shared Health
December 1, 2022

Derived from the term “personal hygiene,” sleep hygiene refers to habits or factors that may promote sleeping well. Someone has good sleep hygiene if they have good habits with regard to their sleep. You can use the acronym LETS CLEAN to help you remember sleep hygiene behaviours.


Exposure to light while sleeping has a powerful negative effect even if your eyes are closed. Light suppresses melatonin, a hormone that causes sleepiness, so exposure to light can lead to disrupted sleep or sleep that lacks depth. Purchase opaque blinds or drapes to limit light exposure through windows and sleep with the lights off.


Eating high fat (e.g. cookies, ice cream, cheese), sugary (e.g. candies/sweets), or salty (e.g. potato chips, pretzels, peanuts) foods before bed tends to produce poor sleep. Other offending foods are those that are difficult to digest (e.g. fibrous foods such as broccoli and meats). Finally, some individuals are lactose intolerant and are unaware that their milk nightcap may actually be interfering with sleep. (The jury is still out as to whether milk and the substance contained in milk (tryptophan) actually helps to put one to sleep.) Some examples of good choices for bedtime snacks are cereal with minimal milk, unsalted popcorn, crackers or toast.


Feeling overly warm or overly chilled during the night can cause sleep disruptions. There are a number of possible causes of excessive heat including certain medical conditions (e.g., hyperthyroidism) and medications (e.g., hormone therapies). Also, the impact of alcohol withdrawing from the system, hormonal changes associated with menopause, too many blankets on the bed or an overly warm room temperature, and heightened stress can all lead to overheating. Regardless of the cause, many people find that dressing in light clothing and having several layers of blankets on the bed (some of which can be easily removed at night) can help.

Sleeping with a noisy bed partner or family pet

Sleeping with a restless or noisy bed partner worsens our own sleep. Those couples that consider a trial of sleeping in separate beds are often surprised and pleased to learn that the sleep of both bed partners improves and that there are other ways to have intimate moments without physically sleeping in the same location. It is also important to avoid sleeping in the same room as the family pet if at all possible. Most pets do not automatically adopt a new bed location. Instead, pet owners have to close their bedroom door and take special efforts to put treats, favorite objects or familiar smelling blankets in the new pet bed. Both you and your pet will sleep better in separate locations and this is well worth the effort.


Caffeine can make us feel more alert and disrupt sleep by blocking sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain and increasing adrenaline. Some studies have found that any change in your daily caffeine consumption, rather than the amount of caffeine consumed, leads to difficulties. Varying caffeine by even one cup per day can lead to irritability, unhappiness and sleep problems that can persist for up to seven days! Also, caffeine interacts with some types of sleeping pills (e.g., benzodiazepines such as lorazepam, clonazepam, temazepam) making the sleeping medication less effective. Finally, although some people feel unsure about whether a single cup of coffee per day could impair their sleep, it is important to remember that the effects of caffeine last twice as long in the body of poor sleepers compared to good sleepers. Thus, one cup of caffeine may not hinder your sleep if you are sufficiently rested, however, if you are chronically sleep deprived, you may want to re-think this habit. Some combine caffeine with cigarette smoking. Like caffeine, smoking is likely to interfere with sleep.


Another habit that can interfere with sleep is your nightly consumption of non-alcoholic liquids. Nocturia, or frequent episodes of urination occurring during the night, affects 65 per cent of those with insomnia. Sometimes we awake with an urge to urinate. Other times we go to the washroom simply because we are awake. Either way, it is helpful to evaluate how much liquid you are consuming from dinner to bedtime. Make sure to drink plenty of liquids during the daytime so that you are not overly thirsty at night.


Most of us hold the belief that exercise enhances sleep. There is actually not a lot of evidence that this is true, although exercising does help us with improving daytime energy. For there to be a positive impact on your sleep, you may want to consider vigorous exercise on a regular basis (i.e., at least 30 minutes of walking, jogging, aerobics, playing tennis, golfing, swimming or curling).


Even one glass of an alcoholic beverage can and does interfere with sleep. Alcohol tends to accelerate how quickly you fall asleep, but as it withdraws from your body during the night, you are more likely to have a non-refreshing sleep and even to wake up more frequently. Often there is less recall of these nighttime awakenings, however it can leave you feeling tired the next day.


Napping becomes problematic if you nap for more than 15 minutes at a time and if you nap within several hours of bedtime. If you need or want to nap, make sure to set a timer so that you do not oversleep and be sure to have your nap earlier in the day.