- Getting a good night's sleep can be difficult, but some things you do could be making it harder.
- Sleeping in on the weekend may throw your body off.
- Using your cellphone as an alarm is not recommended.
- For more stories, go Businessinsider.co.za.
We've all heard that getting a good night's sleep is important, but actually accomplishing this can be easier said than done. Unfortunately, there are plenty of ways you might be negatively impacting your ability to rest at night, and not all of them are obvious.
INSIDER consulted with sleep experts to identify a few ways you might be sabotaging your sleep and how to get back on track.
You obsess about getting eight hours of sleep
According to the National Sleep Foundation, most adults over the age of 26 need about eight hours of sleep. However, some adults may feel fine after seven hours or might need up to nine hours to feel rested. If you're constantly worrying about missing that eight-hour mark, you may be doing yourself more harm than good by creating anxiety around sleep. And this makes sleep more difficult.
Despite what you've heard, you can actually be perfectly healthy and get less than eight hours of sleep, especially if you're sleeping soundly and not getting up in the middle of the night, Morton H. Shaevitz, Ph.D., ABPP, wrote in Psychology Today. If you wake up feeling energetic and productive and can make it through the day without feeling like you're about to nod off, it's likely you are getting enough sleep.
You wear a sleep-tracking device
It may seem counter-intuitive, but wearing a sleep-tracking device might actually be messing with your ability to get a good night's rest. Although sleep-tracking devices can provide insight into your sleep, you should be aware that the data might not always give an accurate picture of the quality of your sleep.
Just as some people might not have any problem with sleep until they strive for eight hours, some people may not have any concerns about their sleep until they see data from a sleep tracking device that suggests they didn't sleep well, even though they feel rested. This can create doubt and uncertainty around sleep that might make it harder to doze off.
You sleep in on the weekends
Ditching the alarm on Saturday mornings seems like the perfect way to catch up on sleep lost during week, right? Maybe not. According to the National Sleep Foundation, it's not really possible to "catch up" on lost sleep. Sleeping in can also disrupt your body's natural sleep rhythm, making it harder to fall asleep at night.
Though you might feel less sleepy during the day after a late lie-in lingering in bed on weekend mornings can actually reduce your ability to focus and lead to mental grogginess.
You have a cup of coffee with lunch
Plenty of people rely on an afternoon jolt of caffeine to power through the rest of their workday. Unfortunately, that lunchtime coffee might affect your sleep long after the buzz has passed.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, caffeine has a half-life of six hours in your body. That means that about 50% of the caffeine in the cappuccino you enjoyed at 15:00 will still be in your system at 21:00. Can't tolerate the thought of ditching coffee with lunch? Try opting for decaf or a smaller size to reduce the impact of coffee on your sleep.
You go to bed before you're actually sleepy
A common piece of sleep-related advice is to follow a regular sleep schedule - to go to bed and get out of bed at the same time every day. However, you should never force yourself to hit the sheets before your body is actually ready.
"By going to bed before sleepiness or drowsiness has developed, the ability to sleep is likewise lost. Similarly, lying awake for prolonged periods in the morning can be detrimental. Even short periods of sleep will diminish the sleep drive and could affect the circadian rhythm," Brandon Peters, a double board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist, wrote in Well+ Good. "Therefore, train yourself to go to bed when you are feeling sleepy, not because the clock says it is time to sleep or because you are fatigued."
Going to bed before you're actually tired enough to sleep can lead to tossing and turning or lying awake. The frustration of not being able to nod off may actually make it harder to fall asleep.
You eat dinner right before bedtime
Do you typically go straight from the dinner table to the bedroom? It turns out that eating too close to bedtime can actually interfere with your sleep.
Dr. Chirag Shah told INSIDER that snacking or eating dinner before sleeping can make you more likely to experience sleep-disrupting acid reflux. The National Sleep Foundation also recommends avoiding late-night eating so your body has time to digest before lights out.
You use your bed for things other than sleep or sex
If you use your bed for things like surfing the internet, answering emails, texting, or reading, you might be setting yourself up for restless nights.
"Hanging out in bed but not sleeping can sabotage our sleep. It can lead to maladaptive conditioning where we associate our beds with being places of wakefulness," Susan Malone, PhD, sleep researcher and senior research scientist at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing, told INSIDER. "It is important to make a strong connection between our bedrooms and sleep so that when we enter our bedrooms, our bodies anticipate and begin preparing for sleep."
Watching TV in bed might be an especially pernicious habit. The National Sleep Foundation cautioned that the blue light emitted from television screens and mobile devices can actually block the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy. A recent study from the University of Massachusetts Amherst also found that children under five who watch TV may sleep significantly less than those who don't.
You always hit the snooze button
Slamming the snooze button can become almost automatic, but temporarily silencing your alarm isn't doing you any favours. In fact, you might actually end up groggier than if you hadn't continued to doze.
"Much of the latter part of our sleep cycle is comprised of REM sleep, or dream sleep, which is a restorative sleep state," Reena Mehra, M.D., M.S., director of Sleep Disorders Research at Cleveland Clinic said in a blog post. "And so, if you're hitting the snooze button, then you're disrupting that REM sleep or dream sleep."
When a sleep cycle is interrupted, you can wake up feeling un-refreshed and lethargic. Rather than reaching for the snooze button, it's best to set your alarm to latest possible rise time so that those extra minutes in bed are more likely to be restful.
You use your cellphone as an alarm clock
Setting an alarm is sometimes a necessary evil. However, the type of alarm clock you use can have a significant impact on how easy - or painful - it is to start your day.
The National Sleep Foundation suggests using an alarm clock that doesn't emit blue light from a display screen, as this kind of light (or any light) can make it more difficult to nod off. You might also want to opt for an alarm clock that vibrates rather than chimes, or even one that wakes you up using gradually brightening light rather than sound.
And one the one type of alarm clock you should try to avoid? Your cellphone. Though it may be convenient, using your cellphone as an alarm means that you may be exposed to extra blue light before bed. Plus, keeping your phone on your nightstand means you might be distracted or awakened by incoming texts or emails.
You don't take time to unwind before bed
Parents know that helping children wind down before bed with a bedtime story or bath makes them more likely to sleep. Taking time to unwind before bed can also help adults drift off more easily.
"I suggest patients set aside at least 30 to 45 minutes - an hour is even better - to wind down before bed," Shelby Freedman Harris, PsyD, director of the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center and an assistant professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York told Women's Health. "Keep a general schedule or ritual for that wind-down hour so your body and mind start to know that each step is one step closer to bed."
This sleep buffer zone should be used only for pleasurable and relaxing activities (think reading, meditation, yoga, etc.) in order to set the stage for sleep.
You consume alcohol before bed
A glass of wine before bed or a beer with dinner might make you feel drowsy, but enjoying a nightcap is a double-edged sword when it comes to sleep. Although alcohol can help you fall asleep, it can actually disrupt sleep later in the night.
If you want to drink, it's best to limit your consumption and be sure to follow it up with plenty of water.
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