What not to do before bed

Have a bad night’s sleep – again? Some of your seemingly innocuous habits may be disrupting your ability to fall asleep. Here’s a collection of common sleep mistakes and how to beat them.

Napping

Napping too late in the day can reduce the length and quality of your night-time snooze. But what do you do if bedtime is a few hours away and you’re tired now? A 10-20 minute nap may be the solution if you need to improve your focus and productivity, based on a 2012 study published in the journal Sleep. Any longer and you may face half an hour of post-sleep grogginess. If you suddenly feel tired during the day, consider the positives and negatives of a nap before bedtime.

Having caffeine

It’s no secret that caffeine can help you wake up and stay alert. However, taking caffeine before bedtime, especially at high doses, can disturb sleep, leaving you tired in the morning, according to a study published in the journal Sleep and Quality of Life in Clinical Medicine. Consider the places caffeine may be lurking in your diet – coffee, some teas, sodas, energy drinks and chocolate – and the best times to consume it so you can enjoy a good night’s sleep.

Drinking alcohol

You may think a nightcap will improve your sleep, but chances are it won’t. A review of 27 studies found that alcohol could help healthy people fall asleep more quickly and slumber more deeply, only to reduce rapid eye movement sleep, the ‘restorative’ stage when we dream. And the more alcohol you drink before hitting the sack, the worse the effects on sleep. If you’re partial to a fine drop, consider limiting your intake and leaving a sufficient gap before bedtime.

Watching television

Do you use a lamp, television, tablet, laptop, or smartphone before bedtime? One study found that exposure to artificial light between dusk and bedtime could disrupt the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. The researchers concluded that this could negatively affect not only sleep, but also blood pressure, blood glucose, and the regulation of body temperature. So aim to use light-emitting electronics during the day and leave them out of the bedroom at night.

Hitting the ‘snooze’ button

Your alarm clock ‘snooze’ function may not be as beneficial at it seems. That’s according to Mitchell Moffit, of Asap SCIENCE, who believes that we prepare to wake an hour in advance by increasing our body temperature and releasing the substances cortisol and dopamine. He explains that after pressing snooze, we enter a deeper sleep cycle, so the second alarm potentially makes us feel more tired. His suggestion? Set your alarm for later or go to bed earlier.

Planning to sleep in

Planning to sleep in at the weekend? Think again, warns German researcher Dr Till Rosenberg, who uses the term ‘social jetlag’ to describe a mismatch between our body clocks and social or work schedules. He says staying up late on weekdays but sleeping in at weekends can make the body feel like it is switching time zones. While some people can function effectively despite inconsistent sleep schedules, experts recommend that we go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends.

Worrying about sleep

If you’re struggling to fall asleep or keep waking throughout the night, worrying about it may exacerbate the problem. Indeed, trying to control sleep, or other behaviours or thoughts, can often yield the opposite of what we desire, a phenomena that the late Harvard psychology professor Daniel M. Wegner termed the ‘ironic processes of mental control’. Consider preparing for sleep with a calming routine, such as deep breathing, practising relaxation techniques or having a warm bath. And, if you’re unable to sleep, try going to another room and returning to bed when you’re sleepier.

Popping sleeping pills, regularly

A sleeping pill is a band-aid solution – it only masks the problem. While your doctor may prescribe sleeping pills for short-term insomnia, over a long period they tend to stop working as your tolerance increases. There’s also the risk of becoming psychologically hooked to the medication, so you feel anxious about going without it, not to mention other serious health problems, some fatal. The best way to avoid physical or psychological dependence on sleeping pills is to take them only as directed and advised by your doctor. 

If you still have trouble sleeping despite changing your habits, or experience severe snoring, moodiness or fatigue, consult your doctor.