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Poor Sleep Hygiene: Don't Let It Ruin Your Quality of Life

Poor sleep hygiene can zap you of energy and make it hard to perform during the day. Follow these tips to get your sleep hygiene in order.
Reviewed by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
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Man in front of laptop rubbing eyes and yawning suggesting poor sleep hygiene

Are you feeling tired all day? Maybe you’re constantly yawning in the lecture hall or struggling to keep your eyelids open as you stare at your computer. Yet, in the blackness of night, you struggle to fall or stay asleep. If any of these sound familiar, you’re probably experiencing the effects of poor sleep hygiene.

Contrary to what many people think, good sleep hygiene isn't solely centered around your bedtime routine. It's also a compilation of daytime behaviors and habits that impact your nighttime slumber, which ultimately affects how you feel during the day. Think of sleep hygiene as a virtuous cycle that keeps sleep debt low for better energy the next day. 

That said, sleep hygiene can easily turn into a vicious cycle if you’re not careful. In other words, that cup of joe meant to combat your afternoon dip could be why you're staying up past your bedtime. But that example is just the tip of the iceberg.

This post will explain what poor sleep hygiene is and its potentially debilitating consequences on your personal life. Not to worry, though, as the RISE app can help steer you back on track to better sleep habits.

What Is Poor Sleep Hygiene?

Before we talk about poor sleep hygiene, it’s vital to understand exactly what sleep hygiene is. It’s the upkeep of behaviors that influence the way you sleep. Unlike popular misconceptions, these behaviors are not always directly related to the time right before you go to bed, as many of them take place during the day. 

Your daytime activities are included under the umbrella of sleep hygiene because they still have an effect on sleep. In fact, everything you do in the daytime — from what you eat and drink to your activity level — are a part of sleep hygiene. 

As a result, poor sleep hygiene is more than just unsatisfactory sleep habits that prevent you from meeting your sleep need. Sure, it’s characterized by unhealthy sleep patterns that evoke sleep deprivation at best and contribute to sleep disorders (like chronic insomnia) at worst. But, at the same time, inadequate sleep hygiene is largely influenced by the things you do (and don’t do) when the sun is up, which we will explore in detail later on.

If you're a victim of poor sleep hygiene, you've likely experienced one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Increased sleep latency: You take longer or have difficulty falling asleep.
  • Increased sleep fragmentation: You're less likely to stay asleep through the night.
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness: You feel exceedingly tired during the day.
  • Irregular sleep-wake times: You go to bed later than you should, wake up earlier than you’d like, and tend to sleep in on the weekends.

The Ugly Truths About Poor Sleep Hygiene

The real-life impacts of poor sleep hygiene go beyond how cranky you are in the morning. On a deeper level, abnormal sleep patterns incur high sleep debt and trip up your circadian rhythm. This undermines your daily productivity, performance, and well-being.

High Sleep Debt

A late entry to dreamland coupled with an early wake-up and/or highly fragmented sleep means you aren't meeting your sleep need. By getting fewer hours of sleep than your body needs, you're accruing sleep debt — the amount of sleep you've owed your body over the past 14 days.

We'll get to how damaging high sleep debt is on your day-to-day performance. But first, let's look at the other part of the equation, circadian misalignment, to understand the full picture.

Circadian Misalignment

Your circadian rhythm dictates your personal sleep schedule to promote natural, healthy sleep. Unfortunately, poor sleep hygiene screws up your body's internal programming. This sets circadian misalignment in motion, disrupting your sleep cycle.

The Repercussions — They Are As Bad As You Thought

High sleep debt and circadian misalignment don't just keep you tossing and turning in bed; they spill over to your everyday life and lead to unwanted repercussions:

Not only is your physical well-being and performance adversely impacted, but your emotional and mental health will also likely take an immediate hit — think heightened anxiety and poorer mood. As such, not meeting your sleep need and working with your circadian rhythm means you aren’t feeling as good as you could be. On top of that, you’re undershooting your potential in every area of life.

Science Says You Can Improve Sleep Hygiene — Starting Right Now

Poor sleep hygiene: Woman sleeps in bed

As damaging as poor sleep hygiene is, you can rectify it. In fact, science shows simple yet effective changes to your lifestyle will put you back on track to good sleep hygiene, and near instantaneous improvements to how you feel and perform during the day.

The best part? Your quest for better sleep can start as soon as right now by following these sleep hygiene tips.

Structure Your Day for Better Sleep

Remember, sleep hygiene isn't just about your bedtime routine; it's also daytime habits that directly and indirectly affect your sleep debt and circadian rhythm. To restore good sleep hygiene for better days (today and every day), master these do’s and don'ts from the moment you wake up.

Know When to Drink and Not Drink Caffeine

RISE app screenshot telling you what times to limit caffeine
The RISE app can alert you when it's time to start limiting your caffeine intake.

Caffeine is great for toning down morning grogginess, but it could also be what’s barring you from nighttime slumber. That's because it dilutes the effects of adenosine — an organic compound that instills drowsiness — and metabolizes slowly in your bloodstream. In fact, caffeine can take up to 10 hours to fully dissipate.

Consuming caffeinated beverages too close to bedtime means you’ll have more difficulty entering dreamland — as caffeine intensifies the risk of sleep latency to pile up sleep debt and thwart your circadian rhythm. To safeguard you from these effects, RISE has timely "Limit caffeine" reminders, so you know when to avoid your favorite drink based on your personal bedtime. This will also help you avoid the vicious cycle that can often happen with coffee — sleepless nights require more coffee, which leads to more sleepless nights.

Move Your Body for Better Sleep

We all know regular exercise is good for our well-being. But do you know its positive impacts on sleep? Exercise:

  • Helps you fall asleep faster
  • Lengthens sleep duration
  • Increases deep sleep
  • Improves sleep disturbances, like sleep apnea (abnormal breathing during sleep)
  • Improves sleep disorders, like insomnia

In other words, regular exercise should be one of the cornerstones of better sleep hygiene to keep sleep debt low and promote circadian alignment.

Steer Clear of Long Naps

Napping has long been revered as an effective weapon against high sleep debt. But, the timing of your nap matters.

To get the most out of your day, schedule your naps during your afternoon dip to give your body a chance to recharge. Not sure exactly when your energy dip is? The Energy Schedule in the RISE app will show you the best time for your afternoon siesta.

You should also be cautious of your nap duration. It's true longer naps promote rapid eye movement (REM) sleep to bolster cognitive skills. However, research warns napping for more than 90 minutes may reduce sleep efficiency — you spend more time in bed trying to fall asleep than actually sleeping.

As such, avoid excessively long naps (more than 90 minutes) during the day, so they don't disrupt your circadian rhythm and inflate your sleep debt rather than shrink it. If you have to catch up on sleep, short power naps are a safer option.

Avoid Large Evening Meals

Overeating at dinner sets off digestive problems when you lay in bed later. Uncomfortable symptoms such as bloating and gas make it harder for you to fall asleep. Once again, you're worsening sleep debt and circadian misalignment instead of resolving them.

It's best to portion your evening meals as part of your progress toward better sleep hygiene. On top of that, schedule your last meal of the day for at least three hours before bed.

Skip the Alcohol and Nicotine

To improve sleep hygiene, abstain from alcohol and nicotine to lower sleep debt and reorient your circadian rhythm.

Alcohol may help you nod off, but it doesn't promote natural, healthy sleep. Instead, your glass of red causes sedation and heightens the risk of fragmented slumber. Similarly, nicotine elicits sleep fragmentation and discourages deep sleep.

That said, we know that sometimes life happens! If you’re going to have a nightcap, try making it an early-evening-cap instead. Cut off your alcohol consumption 3-4 hours before bedtime to give your liver and kidneys the hours they need to process and excrete the drink.

Prioritize Your Evening Wind-Down Routine

Racing thoughts and extreme stress don't exactly roll out the welcome mat for slumber. To snooze more effortlessly, science recommends a relaxing evening wind-down as part of your sleep hygiene program.

Mentally Decelerate

RISE app screenshot showing evening routine schedule
Create an evening routine and choose wind-down activities in the RISE app.

One way to slow down your mind is to mentally decelerate with activities that won't incite cognitive arousal. In other words, avoid catching up on work, playing stimulating video games, and watching shows that end in cliffhangers.

Use RISE to help you plan your evening wind-down. Go to Habits and choose "Add a habit." Select "Evening routine," pick between options like "Meditate" and "Read a book," and add them to your energy schedule. RISE will then prompt you with a notification when it's time to start winding down.

Curb Anxiety and Relax

If stressful, anxious thoughts are barring you from rest, purge these negative feelings by performing a brain dump. In fact, the RISE app has a dedicated space for it, where you can jot down to-do lists and calm your mind. Simply go to the “Energy” tab in the app and add the “Do a brain dump” habit to your Energy Schedule.

In addition to a brain dump, you can use RISE’s in-app relaxation techniques to curb stress and put you in a more relaxed mood for bed.

Reserve Your Bed for Sleep

Stimulus control is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) often used by sleep specialists to tackle insomnia. It focuses on strengthening the association between your bed and sleep. This also means not using your bed for non-slumber activities such as:

  • Electronic device usage
  • Watching television
  • Eating
  • Working
  • Reading

This technique helps condition your brain to fall asleep faster the moment you lie down.

Prep the Perfect Sleep Environment

To help meet your sleep need, assess your bedroom and make sure the surroundings check off these three boxes:

  • Keep it cool: Ensure your bedroom is between 65 and 68 degrees to lower your body temperature for sleep. A warm bath or shower before bed can also cool you down and lessen sleep latency, helping you meet your sleep need. This is because the warm water will dilate the blood vessels near the surface of your skin, which are then exposed to cool air when you get out of the water, decreasing your body temperature.
  • Keep it dark: Light promotes wakefulness and interferes with melatonin production (a sleep-promoting hormone) at night. Use blue-light blocking glasses to reduce artificial light exposure during your wind-down routine (more on that later). During the main event (read: sleep), blackout curtains and an eye mask ward off bright light to help you stay asleep.
  • Keep it quiet: Noise is also a significant impediment to getting sufficient sleep. Wear earplugs or soundproof your room to help you fall asleep more easily and remain asleep throughout the night. If you're working night shifts and trying to nap during the day, use a white noise machine to lull you to sleep more easily.

New habits can be hard. That's why RISE offers in-app notifications timed to your personal sleep and wake schedule to make it easier for you. Go to Habits in the app and add the relevant activities to your energy schedule. The app will prompt you to "Wear blue light glasses" or "Do an environment check." This way, you won't forget to incorporate these new changes into your nightly routine.

Keep a Consistent Sleep-Wake Schedule 

A consistent sleep-wake schedule is the foundation of good sleep hygiene to keep sleep debt low and promote circadian alignment.

Make changes to your bed and wake times to meet your sleep need. For best results, align your sleep schedule with your chronotype (i.e., your body's natural sleep-wake preferences) and your Melatonin Window — this is the window of time in which your body produces the most melatonin (a sleep-promoting hormone) to help you fall asleep faster and experience more restful slumber. 

Do note that your personal Melatonin Window is based on your recent sleep times and when your body starts producing the hormone — a transitional phase into sleep marked by what the sleep science community refers to as your dim light melatonin onset (DLMO). In other words, the best time for you to hit the sack may vary slightly from night to night.

RISE helps you predict your Melatonin Window so you can harmonize your bedtime with your circadian rhythm to reduce sleep debt more effectively. Go to Habits in the app and add Melatonin Window to your Energy Schedule. Next, turn on the notifications to get a heads up every evening when it’s your prime time for sleep.

Last but not least, you should keep to the same schedule even on the weekends. Yes, it might be tempting to stay out late and sleep in the next day, but doing so will incur the wrath of social jetlag. Instead, when sleeping in to pay down sleep debt, we recommend getting up within an hour of your regular wake time.

Do a Sleep Reset as a Last Resort 

When first starting out on your quest for good sleep hygiene, it's natural to bump into obstacles along the way. If you take too long to drift off or keep waking up in the middle of the night, don't beat yourself up over it.

Instead, do a sleep reset to lull yourself back in the mood for sleep. Get out of bed and sit in a comfy chair. Occupy yourself with a relaxing activity that won't put you in a state of arousal. Pick up a favorite read or listen to soothing sounds with RISE.

Once your eyelids feel heavy again, head back to bed. Repeat this process as many times as necessary to help you fall asleep. RISE has a built-in "sleep reset" guide to prompt you whenever you're feeling too restless.

Good Sleep Hygiene Is Integral to a Better Quality of Life

If poor sleep hygiene has hijacked your life, it's time to take back the reins of control. Rather than rely on sleep medicine (which in many cases actually works as a sedative, similar to alcohol, and isn't predisposing you to naturalistic sleep), it's more sustainable to adopt healthy habits that advocate good sleep hygiene. This way, you’ll be able to keep sleep debt low and establish circadian alignment.

Review your bedtime routine and environment to see if any changes are needed. The same goes with your daytime rituals since they’re an integral part of your sleep hygiene too. 

Need help revamping your sleep lifestyle? RISE is an easy-to-use app that incorporates the above tips to promote good sleep hygiene so you can look forward to better days ahead.


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About Rise
Rise is the only app that unlocks the real-world benefits of better sleep.

Instead of just promising a better night, we use 100 years of sleep science to help you pay down sleep debt and take advantage of your circadian rhythm to be your best.

Over the past decade, we've helped professional athletes, startups, and Fortune 500s improve their sleep to measurably win more in the real-world scenarios that matter most.

Rise Science is backed by True Ventures, Freestyle Capital, and High Alpha; investors behind category winners Fitbit, Peloton, and Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

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