Americans don’t get enough sleep. With an ever-blurred line between work and home life, constant access to distractions, and a mounting pile of daily stress, the fact that we live in a collective state of Sleep Deprivation could hardly be considered news anymore. But just because we’ve become used to the idea that six hours of sleep is a luxury and eight is a fantasy doesn’t mean we should accept it.
Solid sleep health has proven benefits, and the opposite is also true: the less sleep you get, the more likely you are to expose yourself to a slew of risks. Skipping a full night of rest can spell big trouble down the road; weight gain, hypertension, dementia, anxiety, depression, fatigue, cardiovascular disease, a higher likelihood of getting in a serious automotive or work-related accident…do we need to go on? The good news is that sleep-related health issues are preventable. You just have to break a few bad sleep habits to do it.
1. Being glued to your smartphone.
A recent study published in PLOS ONE suggests that higher amounts of smartphone usage, particularly right before bed, can lead to a decrease in the amount and quality of sleep habitual smart phone users get. It could be that the glow of your phone’s screen has been linked to melatonin disruption. It could be that it’s really easy to lose track of time while you’re sifting through your Facebook feed. Or maybe some easily accessible work snafu is stressing you out and keeping you awake. Whatever the reason, curb your use.
The fix: Set your phone to warmer night tones, swipe the little “Do Not Disturb” toggle, and charge your phone outside of the bedroom. Your body will thank you for it.
2. Indulging in sugary drinks regularly.
Is there no end to the ways that caffeinated, sugary soft drinks wreak havoc on our health? Turns out the same stuff responsible for increased diabetes and obesity risk could also be messing with your sleep health, too. A study published in Sleep Health found that 13% of the 19 thousand study participants slept five hours or less a night. What did they have in common? That group drank a whopping 21% more sugar-sweetened drinks than their well-rested counterparts.
The fix: Sleep isn’t the only reason to quit the sugar-bomb beverage habit, but it’s a really good one. If you can’t go cold turkey, start by replacing one soda a day with water, and slowly make the switch.
3. Battling the 2 o’clock slump with a cup of coffee.
Most of us can’t imagine even functioning before that first cup of coffee in the morning. There’s no doubt about it, caffeine is literally the most popular drug in America. And while a cup of joe a day isn’t independently linked to health risks, going back to the carafe over and over again all day can interfere with your sleep. Caffeine has a six-hour half-life, which means if you reach for a cup at 3 PM, it’s only halfway out of your system by bedtime.
The fix: If you start to feel your energy waning toward the middle of the afternoon, skip the coffee, grab a bottle of water, and take a ten-minute walk. The increase in blood flow and change of scenery is often enough to do the trick.
4. Squeezing in an evening workout.
Contemporary wisdom says that there’s no bad time to work out: in addition to being sleep deprived, we’re also all growing more sedentary. Exercising can’t possibly be a bad habit, can it? Well, if you’re already having trouble getting the sleep you need, a late workout could do more harm than good. One of the key benefits of exercising is the energy boost, after all! But that same energy boost may just keep your mind racing long after lights out.
The fix: Try to finish your workout a good three hours before bedtime. If you can’t push it back or skip the evening exercise, find a less strenuous activity, give yourself ample time to cool down, and run cool water at the end of your shower to drop your body temperature a little before bed.
5. Sleeping in until noon on the weekends.
Weekend lie-ins are pretty tempting, aren’t they? And if you habitually get less than 8 hours of sleep a night, you’ll rack up enough sleep debt to train your body to sleep well into Saturday morning to offset the weekly deficit. But sleep-ins are disruptive and undermine your body’s schedule.
The fix: If you want to regulate your natural sleep cycle, you’ll have to wake up at the same time every day. Schedule something you look forward to on weekend mornings if you have trouble with this one. Knowing you’re getting up for a quiet walk or breakfast with friends can give you the motivation you need.
6. Catching up on sleep with an afternoon nap.
Napping in and of itself isn’t necessarily bad. When you nap instead of push through drowsiness, you can decrease work-related injuries or car accidents, and shift workers can often benefit from planned napping. The problem is that most of us don’t know how to do it effectively. Waiting to nap until you’re exhausted, napping for too long, or napping late in the day can lead to sleep inertia and throw off your sleep cycle.
The fix: If you absolutely must nap, you can’t let yourself drowse off once you’re too tired to function and sleep for hours. Instead, use this Harvard Professor’s Nap Wheel to find the perfect time to rest and then limit yourself to 10-15 minutes only.
7. Grabbing an evening snack.
Eating before bed is another habit that isn’t bad all on its own. It has more to do with what you eat; foods that are acidic can irritate your stomach and esophagus when you lie down, and if you aren’t well hydrated, dairy snacks like cereal and ice cream can thicken your mucus and interfere with healthy breathing. Plus, sugars and caffeine hide out in all manner of snacks, which can keep you up instead of helping you wind down.
The fix: Get enough to eat during dinner, and if you’re craving a snack grab some fruits or veggies instead of something salty, acidic, or dairy-based.
8. Neglecting your hygiene.
Your sleep hygiene, that is. Sleep hygiene includes consistent sleep and wake up times, but it also means turning your room into a sleep sanctuary. Keep it dark and comfortable at night, and allow light to flow through in the morning. Most importantly, your bed should be for sleep and sex, not for folding piles of laundry or functioning as a home office.
The fix: Think of your nightly routine. Do you like to catch up on the news? Read a book? You can still do those things – just do them outside of the bedroom.
9. Unwinding with a nightcap.
Lots of people love to wind down with a nice glass of red or white wine or a stiff drink at the end of a long day. But if you’re regularly using alcohol to get you off to dream land, you could be in for trouble. While the alcohol may initially be soporific, it tends not to last as the alcohol metabolizes in your blood stream after bed. This can wake you up, and since alcohol works on the pituitary to suppress the Anti-Diuretic Hormone (ADH), you’ll probably be back and forth to the bathroom a few times before daybreak.
The fix: Bump your nightcap back a few hours or skip it altogether if its keeping you up at night. If you’re struggling with insomnia, a sleep health professional can teach you about ways you can get to sleep — no alcohol or medication required.
10. Checking that email one more time.
The house is quiet. The chores are done. The lights are off. And then you get it: that little voice in the back of your head telling you that you might as well check to see if your boss signed off on that proposal or if your child’s teacher responded to your conference request. But going back into work mode online or popping onto Facebook one last time can put your sleep off in more ways than one. The melatonin-suppressing screen and potential stress or distraction can keep you up much later than you ought to be, or keep your brain racing even if you lie down immediately afterward.
The fix: Just don’t do it. Resist, and back away from your computer. Everything will be there in the morning.
Having trouble getting a good night’s rest? Snoring & Fatigue Center can help! Discover our low-cost sleep health solutions and book an appointment today.