11 habits that ruins your sleep plus how to fix them
Knowing what it feels like not to get enough sleep. And the scary thing is that the effects are almost instantaneous. Insufficient sleep has been linked to car crashes, industrial disasters and medical errors. In the long-term, poor sleep habits are linked to chronic diseases, increased mortality and overall reduced quality of life. National Sleep Foundation environmental scholar Natalie Dautovich says that deep, quality sleep is important for cognitive, physical and social functioning. Here are 11 surprising habits that might be ruining your sleep and some tips for getting a better night’s sleep tonight.
1. Double-Timing Your Bedroom
Don’t feel tired when you head to bed? Using the bedroom environment for tasks other than sleeping can create feelings of wakefulness rather than sleepiness when you are in the room, says the National Sleep Foundation’s Natalie Dautovich. Activities she warns against include watching TV, doing work or having discussions. So for those tasks you’d be advised to get a (different) room. “Ideally,” she says, “the bedroom should be 60 to 69 degrees, dark, quiet and comfortable.” Still not sleeping well? Dautovich recommends keeping a sleep diary like the one available on the NSF website. She recommends noting how factors such as the length of sleep time, bedtime and wake time are associated with next-day performance. “Critically evaluating daytime activities, the evening routine and the bedroom environment can be useful for identifying sleep-interfering behaviors.”
2. Drinking Alcohol Before Bed
According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2014 Sleep in America Poll, 12 percent of parents often or sometimes drink alcohol to help them sleep. But although alcohol initially acts as a sedative, it actually diminishes your quality of sleep. A 2011 article in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research found that large amounts of alcohol not only interfere with sleep quality, but also impedes the restorative functions of sleep.
Researchers found this to be especially true for regular heavy drinkers. A 2015 study, also published in ACER, found that drinking before sleep disrupts “non-rapid eye movement” sleep, and regular disruptions to sleep can affect well-being, learning and memory. The solution to this is easy: Decrease the amount and frequency of alcohol consumption before bed.
3. Burning the Midnight Oil
We have electricity to thank for allowing us to work or socialize long after the sun has gone down, but research published in a 2010 issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that this disrupts the body’s perception of how long the night is.
According to the research, exposure to electrical lighting after the sun has gone down suppresses melatonin levels and its functions — like sleepiness, body temperature, blood pressure and blood sugar levels. The solution is relatively straightforward: If you’re up way past sunset, dim the lights while you work and consider taking melatonin if you have trouble falling asleep.
4. Playing Catch Up on Weekends
It’s tempting to “borrow from your future self” by skipping sleep during the week, then making up for it on weekends. But even 30 minutes of lost sleep a day can add up to long-term consequences for your body weight and metabolism. A researcher from Weill Cornell Medical College found that people with a weekday sleep deficit were 72 percent more likely to be obese and were also more likely to be insulin resistant, meaning sleep debt could contribute to developing Type 2 diabetes. But researchers also found that a 30-minute nap can reverse the impact of a night of poor sleep, which might be a good technique for night and shift workers.
5. Working Too Much
According to a 2014 study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, work was the primary culprit that kept people from getting enough sleep. Unsurprisingly, this was often tied to early start times and long commutes. Another 2014 study found that repeatedly getting too little sleep could lead to memory problems. And University of Arkansas research found that lack of sleep might make someone more likely to react emotionally when facing stress. According to the National Sleep Foundation, those 18 to 64 years old should get between seven and nine hours a night, and those 65 and older should get seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Try negotiating for a later start time at work: Researchers found that starting one hour later in the morning increased sleep time by about 20 minutes.
6. Skipping Your Workouts
Although feeling tired isn’t always a great motivator when you’re trying to fit in a workout, regular exercise has been shown to improve your sleep quality and reduce feelings of sleepiness during the day. A 2011 study published in Mental Health and Physical Activity found that getting 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a week resulted in a 65 percent improvement in sleep quality for participants. Maciek Drejak, founder of the Sleep Cycle alarm clock, which asks users to record sleep diaries to examine lifestyle habits that contribute to sleep quality, says, “We frequently see low sleep quality scores connected with a low number of daily workouts.” He also says that users with more workouts also reported lower coffee consumption. Consider upping your exercise to get a better night’s sleep. The National Sleep Foundations 2013 Sleep in America poll found that, regardless of exercise level, one-half of respondents reported that their sleep quality improved on days they exercise.
7. Constant Sleep Disruptions
Even if you’re in bed for eight hours, if you’re often woken up, you might feel as if you haven’t gotten any rest at all. Even small amounts of light and noise can be a barrier to obtaining deeper, restorative sleep, says the National Sleep Foundation’s Natalie Dautovich. Research from Tel Aviv University’s School of Psychological Sciences found that interrupted sleep is the same to your body as four or fewer consecutive hours of sleep. No surprise here: This type of sleep was linked to difficulties thinking, a shorter attention span and a bad mood. Even if the interruptions are just five minutes, they can have serious consequences. To limit disruptions, set your phone to automatically revert to “sleep” mode at bedtime. And although sleep masks and ear plugs can help, researchers from Capital Medical University concluded that in a bright, noisy environment, taking one milligram of fast-release oral melatonin could help you get more (and better) sleep.
8. Being Addicted to Caffeine
According to lifestyle habits reported by users of the Sleep Cycle alarm clock, which tracks sleep quality and helps users wake up during lighter sleep periods, users with later bedtimes and wake-up times generally record higher coffee consumption. Although caffeine can help with alertness during the day, it stays in your body for hours after consumption, meaning it might make it harder to fall asleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. As a stimulant, caffeine can also cause insomnia or sleep disturbance. Many of us are addicted to caffeine, but drinking less, especially in the hours before bed, could also ultimately reduce daytime sleepiness if sleep quality improves. And maintain a regular exercise routine to gain more energy. Sleep Cycle founder Maciek Drejak found that users who record more daily workouts also report lower coffee consumption.
9. Ignoring Aches and Pains
Sleeping through physical discomfort can limit the body from going into deep sleep, says Kurt Walchle, founder of Active Edge, which imbeds products like Survival Straps with electromagnetic frequencies that reduce inflammation. “Inflammation, back pain, headaches and ailments like arthritis and fibromyalgia all negatively affect REM sleep,” Walchle says. “A person can be in non-REM sleep and not even realize the body is having these pains.” He recommends rehabilitation, exercise and maintaining a healthy weight. In clinical trials, Walchle says that participants wearing Active Edge products reported a decrease in back and neck aches and a decrease in soreness, stiffness and pain — and improved quality of sleep.
10. Using Electronics Before Bed
You’ve probably heard that it’s not recommended to use your smartphone in bed. Reading on your cell phone, laptop or e-reader before bed can mess with your circadian rhythms, according to a 2014 study conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital comparing e-readers to traditional books. Researchers found that the blue light from electronic devices resulted in taking longer to fall asleep, reduced melatonin and reduced alertness in the morning. Solution: Read a book, not your email.
11. High Daily Stress
High stress and poor sleep might be a “chicken or egg” scenario because feeling tired adds to feelings of stress and makes high-stress situations harder to handle. According to a 2013 survey by the American Psychological Association, 43 percent of respondents said that stress had caused them to lie awake at night in the past month, and those with lower stress levels reportedly got more hours of sleep each night than those with higher stress levels. And according to Maciek Drejak, founder of the Sleep Cycle alarm clock, users with a high daily stress recorded low sleep-quality scores. One solution? Spend more time in bed. Drejak also said that users with more time in bed generally record lower stress levels. Trouble falling asleep? Try meditating. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, sleep time, efficiency and quality all improved after patients used meditation. And according to a 2015 article published by JAMA Internal Medicine, mindfulness meditation improved sleep quality for older adults who suffer sleep disturbances.