Getting enough sleep, as well as getting good quality sleep, is essential for optimal physical and mental health.[1,2]
When we are asleep, many important things are happening in our brains and bodies. We consolidate learning and create memories, we get rid of toxins, we balance our hormones, we strengthen our immune systems, and so much more. Without enough sleep, our risk for everything from heart disease to diabetes, obesity, and depression goes up.[1,2]
So if you have trouble sleeping, it is time to do something about it. There can be many different factors that can contribute to sleep problems, but a good place to start is by looking at your sleep routines and environment to ensure you aren’t making some common – yet fixable – mistakes.
Everything from the foods we eat to the temperature of our bedroom can impact how well we sleep each night. Unfortunately, it is easy to fall prey to common mistakes that sabotage restful sleep.
Here are some common offenders that you might not realize could be affecting your sleep:
Did you know that the temperature of your environment can affect how well you sleep? If your bedroom environment is either too hot or too cold, it can disrupt your sleep patterns and keep you up at night.[3,4]
Our body temperature actually decreases at night when we are sleeping.[3,4] This means that we may need to keep our bedroom a bit cooler at night than during the day to sleep comfortably.
Somewhere between 66°F and 70°F is considered an ideal sleep temperature by many experts. Turn down the thermostat at night, and adjust your bedding as necessary as the seasons change.
Light has powerful effects on our 24-hour biological clock (also called the circadian rhythm). When we are exposed to light during the day, it signals us to be awake, alert, reactive, in a good mood, and thinking clearly. At night, when the sun goes down, darkness allows us to calm down, rest, and fall asleep.[5,6]
If we are exposed to artificial light at night when it is supposed to be dark, it can interfere with our natural circadian rhythm and it can disrupt our sleep. One reason for this is that light at night suppresses melatonin production, which is the hormone that helps us fall asleep.[5,6]
Unfortunately, in addition to disrupting our sleep patterns, light at night can also have other harmful health effects and is associated with health concerns like heart disease and mood disorders.[5,6]
It all comes down to this: light exposure is beneficial during the day, but it is harmful at night. If you are having trouble sleeping, you might just need to turn down the lights.
Turn off all sources of light in the bedroom at night, use good blinds or even blackout curtains to block out street lights, and keep digital devices with screens out of the room. Your goal is to have it as dark as possible in the bedroom.
It is also important to dim your lights in the evening as you approach your bedtime. The darkness will help to cue your body to prepare for sleep, so that when you finally do get in bed your body is ready.
We are all familiar with the feeling of being awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of a baby crying in the next room, our partner snoring, or a car alarm going off in the distance.
Noises in the environment are considered one of the primary causes of sleep disturbances. They can absolutely interrupt our sleep, keep us up at night, and leave us sleepy during the day.
Quiet your room as much as possible. Turn off your phone so that notifications are muted at night. Use a white noise machine ($20 on Amazon). This can help to drown out other noises like a loud motorcycle driving by at 3am. And if all else fails, consider ear plugs to help you rest without disturbance.
Remember how artificial light at night can disrupt your sleep patterns? Screens count, too! If you spend your evenings illuminated by your digital devices, and you don’t put them away until you close your eyes for the night, then it could be taking a massive toll on your sleep.
Blue light, which is the kind of light that comes from electronic screens and LED bulbs, is a specific wavelength of light that has profound effects on our circadian rhythm. It suppresses melatonin more than other wavelengths, which can make it harder for us to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Set your screens aside at least 30 minutes before bed. That includes TVs, tablets, smartphones, gaming systems, etc. Better yet, don’t look at any of these digital devices at least 2-3 hours before your bedtime.
Also consider wearing blue-light blocking glasses at night. These can help to filter out the most harmful blue wavelengths. Screen filters or programs that adjust screen settings can also help.
Do you start to feel sluggish in the afternoon or evening and then drink a cup of coffee to lift your energy? If so, this habit could be a major problem.
Studies show that caffeine can make it harder to fall asleep and can reduce both sleep quantity and quality. And it’s not just caffeine right before bed that is problematic; it turns out that even a moderate amount of caffeine up to six hours before bedtime can significantly disturb your sleep.
Experts recommend that you stay away from caffeine at least six hours before bedtime. So set yourself a firm deadline at least six hours before you plan to go to sleep, and avoid coffee or other caffeinated beverages completely after that time.
This is probably the biggest mistake most of us are prone to making. We run around staying hectic, busy, and overly stimulated right up until our bedtimes, and then we hit the sack hoping to fall asleep instantly. But we can’t expect our body to drift off into peaceful sleep without some time to transition out of the day and prepare for rest.
Giving yourself some quiet time to wind down at the end of the day is one of the most important things you can do if you want to improve your sleep. This might look different for everyone, but the key is to slow down, release the day’s stress, and do calming activities that get you relaxed.
Stay away from anything that is stimulating or activating for you. While you may love a good suspense novel or horror movie, try not to consume any media or entertainment content in those genres in the time leading up to bed. And try not to engage in other stimulating activities like strenuous exercise, intense games, or arguing either.
Instead, pick a few “quiet time” activities that help you feel settled and calm. Consider ideas like:
Have you been unintentionally sabotaging your sleep thanks to one of the six common mistakes above? If so, don’t get discouraged. This is actually good news; now you are armed with helpful information that you can do something with.
If your bedroom environment is an issue, make simple changes like turning down the thermostat, adjusting your bedding, moving light sources out of the room, or giving earplugs a try. If your routines are more the problem, start shifting your habits bit by bit in manageable ways that will better support your sleep. Shut off the TV one episode earlier than usual, and fill the open time with a quiet time activity like stretching or journaling. Charge your cell phone outside of the bedroom so you don’t scroll through it in bed. Get some decaf coffee or a delicious herbal tea to replace your late afternoon or evening cup of coffee.
Easy, simple changes like these could make all the difference. Get started today, and sleep well tonight!