25 Things You're Doing That Would Horrify Sleep Doctors
These seemingly harmless habits can seriously disrupt your sweet slumber.
It's no secret that a good night's sleep is important. Aside from giving your body the break it deserves after a long day, it can help maintain a healthy metabolism, keep your memory sharp, and promote the overall health of your brain, according to Harvard Medical School. However, whether you realize it or not, you may engage in certain behaviors that can make that sweet slumber nearly impossible to achieve. From watching television in bed to cuddling with your dog, these are the bad habits that would horrify any sleep doctor.
Leaving the lights on
Do you often find yourself falling asleep to the glow of a bedside lamp or the light emanating from your closet? Well, according to Rose MacDowell, the chief research officer at sleep accessories review site Sleepopolis, these light sources could be stopping you from achieving a good night's rest. Even "light from outlets, cable boxes, and clocks can be enough to halt production of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, delaying or disrupting sleep and lowering sleep quality," she says.
Drinking alcohol before bed
Sure, a glass of wine may seem like a relaxing way to ready your body for sleep, but according to MacDowell, the substance has the habit of messing with your body's circadian rhythm and preventing you from entering into a satisfactory REM cycle.
"Alcohol of any kind too close to bedtime may help you get to sleep, but you'll pay for it later," she says. "Alcohol wreaks havoc on your circadian rhythm and causes the body to spend too much time in deep sleep and not enough in REM sleep, which can affect dreams and the processing of memories and emotions."
Keeping your bedroom too warm
As it turns out, your body is much more likely to settle into a deep sleep when your bedroom is cool. "The body reduces its core temperature in preparation for sleep, making a warmer environment less conducive to slumber," MacDowell says.
So what's the sweet spot on the thermostat when it comes to sleep? According to the National Sleep Foundation, your bedroom should be anywhere between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
Though it's common to ditch your socks before climbing into bed, a 2018 study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology found that keeping them on promotes longer and more gratifying sleep. In fact, those who wore socks in bed slept least 32 minutes longer than those who didn't, the study found. That extra sleep was also accompanied by more restful shut-eye due to the body being better able to regulate its temperature.
Having an inconsistent sleep schedule
Even if your career or lifestyle has you waking up in the middle of the night and going to bed in the middle of the afternoon, there is still a way to get a healthy amount of sleep, MacDowell says.
"Sleep doctors recommend going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends, to help regulate your circadian rhythm and maintain consistent sleep patterns," she says. Unfortunately, that means your 10-hour sleep sessions on Sundays may have to come to an end.
Reading or watching TV in bed
Though you may enjoy reading a book or watching TV in bed, MacDowell warns that these activities will keep your brain active up until the point when you're attempting to settle into a restful sleep.
"Reading, watching TV, studying, or working in bed can stymie your efforts to sleep," she says. "The brain and body are sensitive to habit and routine. Use your bed for anything other than sleep and sex and you may condition yourself to associate sleep with waking activities."
Bringing your problems to bed with you
"If you lie in bed thinking about everything on your schedule for the next day, chances are your sleep will suffer," says MacDowell. "Sleep depends not just on your circadian rhythm and your level of fatigue, but [also] on your ability to quiet your thoughts and central nervous system. Ruminating can cause the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which activate the nervous system and keep your brain on high alert."
To combat these restless thoughts, engage in some meditation or try writing in a journal. Whatever you can do to rid your mind of any thoughts that could impede upon your ability to relax will result in a better night's sleep, she says.
Staying in bed through bouts of insomnia
The next time a bout of insomnia leaves you lying awake in bed at 2 a.m. agonizing over your sleep-deprived future, MacDowell suggests getting up and moving your frustrations out of the bedroom.
"Lying in bed in frustration when you can't get to sleep or fall back to sleep after waking can condition your body to associate the bed with the inability to sleep," she says. "If you don't fall asleep or get back to sleep after 20 minutes, get up and read or engage in another quiet activity until you're ready to sleep."
Sleeping on the wrong sheets
The National Sleep Foundation recommends investing in the perfect set of sheets to make your sleeping experience more comfortable. According to the experts, you'll want to look at two factors: thread count and fabric.
The higher the thread count, the softer the sheets. And during the summer months, you'll never want to sleep on sheets that exceed a 400-thread count, as anything too high will trap heat and prevent your body from properly ventilating. Similarly, sheets made out of cotton, bamboo, and linen will keep your body particularly cool as you sleep.
Or on the wrong mattress
Improving your quality of sleep might be as simple as throwing out your old mattress and investing in a new one that will give your body the support it needs. "There's nothing worse than fidgeting all night on an old mattress, knowing you'll never get comfortable and waking up with a sore back or shoulders," MacDowell says.
And since everyone sleeps differently, it's crucial to have a mattress that meets your specific needs. "Back sleepers tend to need a firmer mattress, while those who sleep on their side need a slightly softer mattress to conform to their bodies," she says.
Sleeping in the wrong position
According to experts at The Better Sleep Council, there are six sleeping positions that exist: fetal (on your side, curled up); yearner (on your side, arms outstretched); log (on your side); solider (on your back); starfish (on your back, sprawled out); and free fall (on your stomach, sprawled out). And simply by switching up your sleep position, you might find sleepless nights to be far less frequent.
The council says the best sleeping positions are those on your back and side, since sleeping on your stomach can put a strain on your back and neck.
Working right up until bedtime
As researchers at Sleep Advisor point out, your brain needs time to decompress after a long day. That's why they advise against working right up until your bedtime—otherwise, your brain will still be operating in work mode when you're trying to power down. Even if you do have to work late, be sure to give your mind a brief break before you inevitably decide to settle in to slumber. The time between those two activities will ensure that your active brain doesn't keep you up all night.
Hitting the snooze button
Even if hitting the snooze button at least once in the morning has become a part of your routine, the experts at Sleep Advisor say that you could be harming your sleep schedule.
"Even though it's hard to wake up first thing in the morning, hitting snooze won't provide you with restful sleep," they say. "You'll probably doze for a few minutes in light sleep and then be jarred awake moments later. By the time you do finally get up, you're more likely to be groggy and irritable than if you had just gotten out of bed when your alarm first buzzed."
Exercising too late
Though your only opportunity to work out might fall just before bed, hitting the gym too late at night could be preventing you from having sweet dreams.
"Working out raises our adrenaline levels and heart rates, making it difficult to fall—and stay—asleep," says Terry Cralle, a clinical sleep educator and consultant for Saatva "Instead of going to the gym or running on a treadmill, perform more low-impact activities such as Pilates or yoga. These activities will keep your adrenaline and heart rate stable, while still getting in the necessary exercise."
Looking at social media in bed
As Cralle points out, scrolling through apps on your phone as you lie in bed has been proven to drastically disrupt your sleep cycle. That's why the expert says you should "ditch the social media scrolling" and instead, "put on a sleep mask and listen to a short podcast to catch up on the daily news."
Eating the wrong late-night snacks
At a certain point in the night, that half-empty container of cookie dough ice cream almost seems to be calling your name from the kitchen. But, according to Cralle, answering the tempting call could be what's preventing you from settling in to a restful sleep.
"Foods high in fat and sugar, like chocolate, have been linked to less deep sleep and lead people to wake up more throughout the night," she says. "Instead of a late-night bowl of ice cream, take the time to eat foods that promote melatonin—a sleep-inducing hormone—such as cherries and yogurt."
Or a big meal right before bed
As it turns out, eating a large bowl of pasta for dinner may reduce your likelihood of shut-eye. In fact, eating anything too heavy a few hours before your bedtime could result in stomach pain and heartburn, both of which can cause you to toss and turn all night long.
"Try to make dinnertime earlier in the evening, and avoid heavy, rich foods within two hours of bed," says HelpGuide. "Spicy or acidic foods can cause stomach trouble."
Staying indoors throughout the day
Though you should be limiting your exposure to light as you wind down for the evening, it's also important to take in as much natural sunlight throughout the day as you can, according to HelpGuide. After waking up, you should try heading out into the sunshine as early as possible, as natural light helps to kick your circadian rhythm into gear.
As if it isn't bad enough that smoking can shorten your lifespan, in a 2008 study published in the journal Chest, cigarette smoking was also linked to unsatisfying sleep. According to the researchers, cigarette smokers experience nicotine withdrawal during crucial points in their sleep cycle, causing them to get less restful, often interrupted, sleep. So, to receive the best sleep possible—and improve your overall health—consider kicking your smoking habit immediately.
Taking medications containing caffeine before bed
Many over-the-counter pain medications, like Excedrin, contain high levels of caffeine that can seriously alter your sleep cycle, says the National Sleep Foundation. And other medications—like ones used to treat ADHD, asthma, and high blood pressure—can cause insomnia and make getting a healthy amount of sleep even more difficult than it already is.
So, before popping a pill to ease your migraine, be sure to examine the amount of caffeine present in each dose, as it could be the reason you're up all night. And if you think that your prescription medication might be the root of your problem, talk to your doctor about other options that may be available to you.
Or drinking caffeinated beverages less than six hours before bed
Drinking any sort of caffeinated beverage can affect your quality of sleep, the National Sleep Foundation says—and not only if consumed right before your bedtime. Six hours after consumption, half of your caffeine intake is still in your body, leaving the stimulant to wreak havoc on your sleep schedule. In order to avoid the insomnia that caffeine can induce, try to restrict the amount of coffee and/or tea that you consume to the first half of the day.
Inviting your pets to sleep with you
Despite the fact that sleeping with your pets can make you happier, a 2017 study published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that sleeping separated from your furry friend increases your chances of securing the highest level of rest. After all, with your pet nearby, you're more likely to spend the majority of the night ensuring that you aren't accidentally kicking them in your sleep.
The good news? The same study found that having your pet sleep in your room at night does not infringe on your quality of sleep—so you can still throw your dog a bone by allowing them to drift off into dreamland just a few feet away from you.
Taking long naps
Though this might seem like pointing out the obvious, long naps can severely alter your sleep schedule. What's more, the Mayo Clinic points out that taking a nap during the day that lasts for more than 30 minutes can also make your insomnia and sleep quality worse.
To best reap the benefits of a nap, which include improved mood and reduced fatigue, ensure that they are short and sweet—about 20 to 30 minutes at most.
Leaving your contacts in
Not only can the irritation from leaving your contacts in affect your quality of sleep, but, according to the National Sleep Foundation, it can also deprive your eyes of both a much-needed break and a healthy dose of oxygen.
So, if you want to make your eye doctor and your sleep doctor proud, take the time to remove those contact lenses before you lay down to rest.
Sleeping in a noisy room
Noises that are erratic and uncontrolled—a crying baby, road construction, or maybe a snoring spouse, for example—can disrupt your sleep and keep you awake, says the National Sleep Foundation. For the best sleep quality, use a white noise machine or soft music to lull yourself to sleep.