According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three Americans don't get enough sleep. There are many habits that you may have that you don't even know are preventing you from getting a good night's rest. Here are seven unhealthy habits that you may be guilty of before bed and how to instead create a nighttime routine that promotes restful sleep.
1. Using Electronics
Although it may be tempting to scroll through your Instagram feed or catch up on the latest episode of your favorite show before bed, this can actually interfere with your body's preparation for sleep. This is because your electronic devices emit blue light, which blocks your body's release of melatonin. Considering that melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel drowsy and is involved in the sleep-wake cycle, it's clear why its production is so essential at night.
If you're wondering what color light helps you sleep, research has shown that red light is best because it stimulates melatonin production. One study found that participants who received 30 minutes of red light therapy for two weeks had improved melatonin levels and sleep quality. Wearing glasses that block blue light can promote melatonin production and help you get a better night's rest. You should also consider eliminating sources of blue light at least 30 minutes before going to sleep, such as:
Instead of using electronics, try reaching for a book or crossword puzzle if you want to wind down before bed.
2. Eating a Heavy Meal
Consuming a large meal before bed can disrupt your sleep because your body increases its metabolism to digest the food you've just eaten. In addition, eating a heavy meal without giving your body adequate time to digest it can cause acid reflux or heartburn. Even if you don't normally suffer from indigestion during the day, lying down after eating a large meal can cause digestive discomfort for many people.
If you have a case of late-night munchies, opt for a lighter snack, such as yogurt, nuts or a banana. Nuts like cashews, almonds, and walnuts are considered great foods to eat before bed because they contain melatonin as well as other minerals such as magnesium and zinc, which are often used to treat insomnia.
3. Engaging in Vigorous Exercise
While you may think that engaging in vigorous exercise before bed will make you sleepy and therefore cause you to fall asleep more easily, performing it too late may actually have the opposite effect. Exercising at night has been shown to increase your heart rate, adrenaline levels and body temperature, therefore making it difficult for your body to wind down before bed.
Consider opting for light exercise instead, such as yoga, a brisk walk or even vacuuming your house. However, if you do choose to engage in light exercise, it's ideal to finish at least two hours before you plan on going to bed to prevent interference with your body's circadian rhythm.
4. Going to Bed at Inconsistent Times
Because your brain is naturally trained to relax a few hours before bed, it's best to stick to a consistent bedtime. Going to bed at the same time is predictable, which means that it'll train your brain to notify your body when it's getting close to bedtime. This will kickstart the winding-down process, such as releasing melatonin and decreasing body temperature.
As an additional benefit, sticking to a regular bedtime can also cause you to wake up at similar times, which is especially helpful if you often feel sluggish and sleep-deprived in the morning. You may even find that after choosing a bedtime and sticking with it for a while, you won't even need to set an alarm anymore because your body's circadian rhythm will have taken over.
5. Wearing Too Many Layers
Your body lowers its temperature in preparation for sleep, so wearing too many layers can hinder this process. It may sound strange, but sleeping naked is actually an effective way to fall asleep faster and improve sleep quality, as it can help your body lower its temperature more quickly.
Furthermore, research has shown that one of the most important factors in getting a good night's rest is the temperature of your bedroom. Your body can't sleep soundly if you're overheating, which is why many people often wake up in the middle of the night. Therefore, sleeping naked is the ideal way to stay cool and enjoy an uninterrupted night of sleep. As an additional benefit, sleeping naked has been shown to decrease stress and anxiety, improve skin health and promote vaginal health.
6. Drinking Caffeine
As you probably know from experience, drinking caffeine when you're feeling sluggish can be an effective way to get a quick energy boost. Therefore, you can understand why consuming it too late in the day can hinder your sleep. Caffeine blocks melatonin production, which stops your body from winding down and preparing for sleep.
One study discovered that individuals who drank caffeine six hours before bed experienced a decrease in sleep time by one hour. This is because caffeine can stay in the blood for approximately six to eight hours. Therefore, it's best to stop drinking caffeine in the late afternoon or early evening. If you're craving a cup of coffee late at night, opt for decaffeinated instead.
7. Eating Sugary or Spicy Foods
Staying away from sugary or spicy foods before bed is also good practice. When you eat sugar, your blood sugar and cortisol levels immediately spike. Cortisol is your body's built-in alarm system, so it makes sense that a sharp increase in this hormone can hinder you from falling asleep or even cause you to wake up in the middle of the night.
On the other hand, spicy foods contain capsaicin, a chemical that impedes your body's thermoregulation. Your body lowers its temperature to aid in falling asleep, but capsaicin disrupts this process by elevating your temperature. You can still eat a light snack before bed, or you can try some drinks to help you sleep, such as warm milk, chamomile tea or tart cherry juice.
If you've been having trouble falling asleep lately, you're not alone. However, you may need to evaluate your habits in the few hours before you go to bed, as these are often the most important factors in dictating whether you'll get a good night's rest. Swapping out these bad habits with healthier alternatives can help you improve your sleep quality and decrease the likelihood that you'll wake up in the middle of the night.
If you are practicing proper sleep hygiene and still have a difficult time sleeping through the night you may have a sleeping disorder. Do NOT avoid going to see your primary care physician or a certified sleep doctor. Try to uncover any sleep disorders that need to be diagnosed and treated.
If you're an Alaskan experiencing difficulty with maintaining quality sleep, contact the Alaska Sleep Clinic and receive a free 10-minute phone call with a sleep educator. In this phone call, we can help determine if a sleep study at one of our 4 Alaskan locations may be appropriate in diagnosing and treating your condition. Don't let poor sleep get in the way of you and success at work and your personal life, contact us today.