Stop Sabotaging Your Sleep: Common Activities That Keep You From Falling Asleep
Written by Marek S.
Edited by Emily Garber, APRN
Sleep has become known as the Swiss army knife of health. A good night's sleep certainly does wonders for your body, mind, and mood.
Unfortunately, too many people unwittingly keep themselves from experiencing proper sleep. We have developed a variety of bad habits which sabotage our ability to nod off into peaceful slumber.
Here are some of the most common activities that might be keeping you from falling asleep, and then sleeping soundly throughout the night. How many of these do you have?
Drinking caffeine too late in the day
Did you know that caffeine has a half-life of about six hours in your body, and a quarter-life of twelve hours? This means that if you drink a single Starbucks coffee at 11am, which contains 200mg of caffeine, then when you get into bed at 11pm that night, you still have 50mg of caffeine in your bloodstream.
That's the same as knocking back a quarter-cup of coffee just before you turn out the lights. This is ruinous to your sleep. If you can't cut out caffeine altogether, it's a good idea to at least try to keep your coffee consumption to the early hours.
Drinking alcohol before bed
Alcohol disrupts proper sleep cycles in a different way. It prevents you from entering the deeper sleep cycles naturally, which is why you might wake the next morning still feeling exhausted.
This might be an unpopular suggestion for some, but it's best not to drink alcohol for at least two hours before bedtime.
Late night social media
Social media stimulates cortisol, which is a wakefulness hormone. Cortisol is great for the early mornings when we want to wake up, but at night it has a terrible impact on our ability to sleep. It's best to avoid social media, and also news reports, for an hour or two before sleep.
Bright light, especially blue light
Our brains evolved in a time prior to electricity. In the past, we would rise with the sun and settle down for sleep as the darkness came on. Our natural internal sleep cycle, known as our circadian rhythm, uses the rhythms of sunlight and nightfall as signals for when to produce sleep hormones or wakefulness hormones.
Electric light is a wonderful thing, but it also confuses our circadian rhythm, signaling our minds to wake up when we should be drifting into drowsiness. We can help remedy this by dimming our lights as the evening falls, and then trying to sleep in pitch darkness, if possible.
Screen-time before bed
Blue light emitted by the screens of our phones and computers also confuses our brains. It suppresses melatonin, the sleep hormone, which we need to fall asleep. For at least an hour before bed, it's best to avoid screens altogether.
Irregular sleep hours
The better we nurture our regular circadian rhythm, the better it will serve us and help us fall asleep when we wish to. Perhaps the most powerful way to ensure your mind is producing melatonin at just the right time of night, is to always go to sleep and wake up at the same time.
Too many people have irregular sleep patterns, and the quality of their sleep suffers as a result.
Going to bed too late
Remember that for thousands of years, we went to sleep as the sun fell, and got up when it rose. Our minds and bodies still crave this natural rhythm. If possible, it's optimal to fall asleep before midnight, and wake as the sun rises.
Not enough sunlight during the day
Many of us travel from home to work and back again each day spending most of our time either indoors or inside a car. As a result, our bodies don't get enough natural sunlight.
It may seem strange to require sunlight to fall asleep, but remember that it's all part of a daily rhythm. This rhythm starts in the morning. Direct sunlight encourages cortisol to rise at the right time, and melatonin to decline.
If we are bathed in sunlight during the day, we sleep better that night. Daytime exercise has a similarly beneficial effect.
An overly warm bedroom
Perhaps counter-intuitively, it's best to sleep in a nice cold room. As the external air cools our hands and feet, our body sends energy to warm them up, which redirects energy away from our brains, increasing our sleepiness.