13 Sleep habits to break for a better night's sleep
If you are struggling to get a good night’s sleep, then it may be time to start troubleshooting your sleep habits. One of the first steps a healthcare professional will do when helping you to get a better night’s sleep is to take a sleep history which can help you identify any habits you may have adopted that could be affecting your sleep. Can you relate to any of these unhealthy sleeping habits?
1. Bedtime bingeing
We’re all so busy these days that our evening meals seem to be creeping closer to our bedtime. However, it may be worth considering that the time you eat may impact your sleep, but also potentially your weight.
Nutritionists advise that your last bite to eat should be at least 3 hours before you go to bed, as this allows the contents of your stomach to move into your small intestine and reduce the risk of night-time heartburn which can affect your sleep.1
Eating too close to bedtime can disrupt healthy sleep patterns but also potentially cause weight gain, particularly in females.2,3 It is also worth noting that if you don’t get enough good sleep it can drive you to eat more and crave unhealthy foods.4
2. No caffeine curfew
Caffeine is readily available in the hot drinks, foods and medicines we consume. This includes anything from coffee, breakfast tea, green tea, cola and energy drinks to chocolate, cereals and even painkillers.5
Most people welcome the intake of caffeine as it can be a useful stimulant that helps you feel more alert.6 Caffeine works by increasing your adrenaline production and blocking sleep-inducing chemicals like adenosine.6 As much as caffeine can be helpful in keeping you awake, it is less than helpful when it’s time to go to sleep.
Did you know that it takes around 6 hours for half the caffeine in your system to be eliminated? This is why it’s recommended to have your last dose of caffeine at least 6 hours before bedtime.6 Otherwise, it’ll take you longer to get to sleep, reduce your total sleep time and make you feel like you’ve had a rough sleep.7 May be it’s time to introduce a caffeine curfew if you want to get a better night’s sleep.
3. Too many nightcaps
Many people use alcohol to help them sleep because it can be a potent somnogen (sleep inducing agent). However, alcohol is also known to disrupt sleep homeostasis (balance).8
Sleep is choreographed into stages that each serve a specific function and alcohol disrupts that choreography (or sleep architecture).9 Alcohol has been known to cause insomnia, circadian rhythm abnormalities, short sleep duration and even aggravate breathing-related sleep problems such as obstructive sleep apnoea.9
Next time you think about having that nightcap, remember that alcohol and a good sleep don’t mix.
The use of nicotine within 4 hours of bedtime is associated with poor sleep quality.10 In one study, nicotine was shown to be more damaging to sleep when compared to coffee, energy drinks, and even cocaine.11 Practitioners have advised that to get a better night’s sleep it is worth considering reducing your nicotine intake, particularly close to bed time, or cut out nicotine altogether.11,12
Social media scrolling
Are you on your phone late at night scrolling through social media?
Social media in bed and close to bedtime is a habit that could potentially be disrupting the quantity and quality of your sleep.13 Studies have recently revealed that social media impacts our sleep in 3 ways13:
- The time spent on social media at night displaces the time for sleeping
- The content on social media is stimulating which makes it hard to ‘switch off’
- The blue light emitted by digital devices suppresses the production of hormones which make you sleep
So, is your habit of checking social media before bed affecting your sleep?
6. Tech in bed
Bed should be reserved for sleeping, not for browsing on our mobile devices. Did you know that the light coming from your device could be tricking your body into thinking it’s daytime?
You have unique receptors in your eyes which detect light and send signals to the brain telling you if it’s day or night. This feedback system feeds into your natural circadian rhythm or ‘body clock’.14 When your eyes detect light it supresses the release of melatonin, a hormone which makes you sleepy.14
So, when you’re busy browsing on your phone, tablet or laptop, your eyes are telling your brain it’s not time for bed, keeping you awake even longer.14 To get a better night’s sleep you should limit or avoid use of technology for at least an hour before bed.
7. Hitting the snooze button
Are you in the habit of hitting the snooze button in the morning? Did you know, there’s a word for hitting the snooze button over and over? It’s called ‘drockling’.15 The extra sleep you get by hitting the snooze button doesn’t last long enough for you to feel any benefit.16 In fact, you are more likely to experience ‘sleep inertia’ which is a feeling of grogginess.16
Hitting the snooze button confuses your internal ‘body clock’ or circadian rhythm, so you don’t wake up refreshed.15 From now on, you should rename the snooze button, the ‘groggy button’.
8. Lack of routine
Routine is important for helping program your brain and internal body clock.17 There are studies to show that when you have a lack of routine, such as an irregular bedtime schedule, you are more likely to get less sleep as well as poor quality sleep.18 If you’re a parent, and your child is the one that’s waking you in the middle of the night or early in the morning, routine is even more important for you and your family.19
Routine has been shown to improve both child and parent sleep quantity and quality.19 If you want a better night’s sleep it may be time to create your own daily routine.
9. Evening exercising
Do you find yourself trying to squeeze in a workout at night because you didn’t have time in the morning? Exercise can be very helpful to get a good night’s sleep.20 However, the timing of the exercise can influence whether it is good sleep or bad sleep.20
Exercising in the evening has the potential to disrupt your sleep, particularly if it’s a vigorous workout.20 Working out raises your body temperature, speeds up your heart rate, and stimulates your nervous system, which is not ideal for helping you sleep.20
If you want a better night’s sleep, a morning workout has been shown to be better for maximising deep sleep versus midday or evening workouts.20
10. Binge-watching TV
Do you spend your nights catching up on your favourite shows by binge-watching TV?
One study, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, showed that people who identified as binge-watchers had a 98% higher likelihood of having poor sleep quality compared with those who did not consider themselves binge watchers.21 This study revealed that people who identified as binge-watchers also had more daytime fatigue and more symptoms of insomnia.21
Could your TV habits be impacting your sleep?
11. Working late
Do you lack a work-life balance? Does your workload eat into your evenings?
Working long hours has been shown to be a risk factor for the development of shorter sleeping hours and a difficulty in falling asleep.22 When you bring your work to your bed it can leave you with a racing mind. A racing mind was identified as the most common reason for sleeping problems in a survey of more than 20,000 people.23
Longer working hours not only impact your sleep but also your mental and physical health.24 Excessive weekly working time has been associated with negative effects such as increasing the risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, chronic infection, diabetes, anxiety and depression.24
Lack of sleep can affect your productivity and effectiveness at work so it can turn into a vicious cycle. If your work is interfering with your sleep, or vice versa, it may help to talk to your colleagues or boss about how you can find a better balance.
12. Long naps
Do you ever feel a little sleepy in the afternoon and consider going for a nap? Well, it turns out humans are hard-wired to feel a little tired, usually between 1 and 3 in the afternoon.25
Having a short nap that lasts 20 minutes or less is not likely to disrupt your sleep at night.25 However, it is the timing and length of the nap that can influence whether the siesta was beneficial or detrimental.26
If naps are longer than 30 minutes they produce an after effect called ‘sleep inertia’ which is where you feel groggy and confused.26 If you nap after 4 in the afternoon it is also likely to impact your ability to fall asleep at night.
So, if you’re considering a nap, make sure it’s less than 20 minutes and not too late in the afternoon.
13. Staying in bed
How much time do you spend in bed versus the time you spend sleeping? If you want to calculate whether you are an ‘efficient’ sleeper, divide the time spent sleeping by the total time spent in bed, this calculates your ‘sleep efficiency’.27 If you score less than 85% it’s deemed as poor sleep efficiency.27
Many people spend more time in their bed with activities beyond sleep, and we’re not just talking about sex. Here’s an example: imagine you get into bed at 10pm, browse social media for 30 minutes before getting hooked on 3 episodes of your favourite TV show. Before you know it, it’s 1am!
It takes you another 30 minutes to fall asleep as you’re busy calculating how much sleep you’ll get since you have to wake up at 7am for work. You’ve spent 9 hours in bed, but only 5 hours and 15 minutes sleeping. Your sleep efficiency would only be 58%.
Your bed should really only be used for sleeping and sex. Spending more time in bed for anything else is negatively programming your mind and impacting your sleep.
Start prioritising sleep
Identifying and breaking unhealthful sleep habits can be a key step to getting a better night’s sleep. However, if you find that you have no bad habits affecting your sleep and you’re struggling to identify the cause of your sleeplessness then it may be helpful to speak to your local pharmacist.
You should only see your doctor if your sleeping problem has been going on for longer than 3 months or is impairing your ability to function during the day.
The majority of us are struggling to sleep because we are prioritising other things instead of sleep. If you want a better night’s sleep as well as better physical and mental health, then it’s time to make sleep a priority in your life.
- Association Between Dinner-to-Bed Time and Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease – 1. Fujiwara Y, Machida A, Watanabe Y, et al
- Relationship between Food Intake and Sleep Pattern in Healthy Individuals – Crispism et al
- Eating at night disrupts sleep – Huffington Post
- Sleep deprivation linked to junk food cravings – Berkeley News
- Surprising Foods That Contain Caffeine – Sleep.org
- Caffeine and sleep – Sleep Foundation
- Coffee, caffeine, and sleep: A systematic review of epidemiological studies and randomized controlled trials – Clark & Landolt
- Alcohol disrupts sleep homeostasis – Thakkar et al
- Alcohol and sleep-related problems – He et al
- Evening intake of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine: night-to-night associations with sleep duration and continuity among African Americans in the Jackson Heart Sleep Study – Spadola et al
- Impact of Nicotine and Other Stimulants on Sleep in Young Adults – Caviness et al
- Nicotine dependence and sleep quality in young adults – Dugas et al
- Addicting Content, Blue Light, and Curtailed Sleep: The ABCs of Social Media Use and Sleep – Yau et al
- The inner clock—Blue light sets the human rhythm – Wahl et al
- 34 Ways to Wake Up Feeling Refreshed and Ready to Go – Healthline
- Stop Hitting the Snooze Button Once and For All – Sleep.org
- How to get to sleep – NHS
- Effects of an irregular bedtime schedule on sleep quality, daytime sleepiness, and fatigue among university students in Taiwan – Kang & Chen
- A Nightly Bedtime Routine: Impact on Sleep in Young Children and Maternal Mood – Mindell
- The Best Time of Day to Exercise for Quality Zzz’s – Sleep Foundation
- Binge-watching television associated with poor sleep in young adults – American Academy of Sleep Medicine
- Long Working Hours and Sleep Disturbances: The Whitehall II Prospective Cohort Study – Virtanen
- The Great British Sleep Survey – Sleepio
- Impact of working hours on sleep and mental health – Afonso et al
- Debunking Sleep Myths: Does Napping During the Day Affect Your Sleep at Night? – Sleep Foundation
- Benefits of napping in healthy adults: impact of nap length, time of day, age, and experience with napping – Milner & Cote
- Measuring Sleep Efficiency: What Should the Denominator Be? – Reed & Sacco