9 Things That Are Wrecking Your Sleep Patterns

You probably already know the importance of sticking to a bedtime routine — brushing your teeth, turning off your electronics, maybe stretching for a few minutes — if you want to ensure a good night of sleep. But sometimes, even the most effective bedtime routines don’t yield a solid night’s sleep. Maybe you find that you can’t fall asleep right away, no matter what you do. Or maybe you wake up after a few hours of sleep, wide awake, staring at the ceiling and wondering what awaits you on the DVR.

If this is you, your sleep disturbances may have a surprising culprit: things you're doing during the day that are disturbing your Circadian rhythms. And this disturbance could affect you much more seriously than you realize. Dr. Joyce Walsleben, an associate professor at the NYU School of Medicine, told Prevention that sleep is as important as having a healthy diet when it comes to maintaining your overall health and well-being.

We’ve all heard more than enough about how nighttime visits from our cell phones and iPads can be brutal for our sleep health; the bright display halts your body's production of melatonin, the natural hormone that helps you get some Zzzs. But what about the things you're doing during the daytime? Are your mid-day habits secretly sabotaging your sleep? Your troubled slumber might be a mystery to you at this point, but all it takes is a little bit of research and a willingness to make adjustments — and before you know it, you’ll be able to snooze through a nuclear war. Read on for the 9 things you’re doing during the day that are preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep — and how to banish them forever.

1. Drinking Coffee Late In The Day

I will probably have to endure my fair share of Twitter hate mail for bringing this one up, but don’t worry — I’m probably more guilty of this misstep than any of you. A strong dose of caffeine doesn’t only prevent you from falling asleep — it can also make it extremely difficult to stay asleep when you finally embark on a REM cycle. It can take your body up to 12 hours to process the caffeine found in coffee, Coca-Cola, black tea, and, yes, even chocolate. Drink your latte early in the day, and before you reach for yet another cup to remedy that afternoon slump, think twice about how it might affect bedtime. If you’re in desperate need of energy late in the day, try going for a walk around the block or popping into your local gym for a quick bootcamp sesh.

2. Developing Inconsistent Eating Patterns

The body thrives on consistency — kind of like how your pet Rottweiler adores getting his meals at the same time every day. Studies show that off-kilter eating habits have the ability to steal away your much-needed shut-eye at night. You’ve probably already noticed this a bit — like how the evenings you go out with your coworkers and mess up your rhythm leave you tossing and turning more than usual. So plan out an eating schedule and try to stick to it — and keep your eyes peeled for the habits that leave you feeling the best. Keen on dinner later at night? No problem, as long as you don’t change it up too often, especially during the workweek, when routines are most paramount.

3. Not Cleaning Your Room

The American Psychological Association says stress is the primary cause of short-term sleep problems, which you probably already knew. But did you know that a messy bedroom automatically contributes to anxiety? When you waltz into your unkempt room at night, even if you're sporting pajamas and a freshly washed face, the clutter can leave you with a muddled mind. Lawrence Epstein, medical director of Sleep Health Centers in Boston, suggested to Prevention that “you eliminate the stuff in your bedroom that isn’t related to sleep,” so you can start associating the space with slumber, rather than dirty clothes and piles of papers. Make your bed in the morning before you leave for work, store your laptop in another section of the house, and try to keep your shoes tucked away in the closet.

4. Eating Too Much Protein

Dr. Kelly Glazer Baron, a sleep researcher at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, told Huffington Post that eating a big steak for lunch or dinner can leave your body working overtime when it should be snoozing. It takes a lot of energy for your body to digest and process heavy protein, and you may not be able to reach a point of relaxation while your body is at work breaking down that steak. Don’t skip out on protein altogether, though, because that will leave you feeling rundown throughout the day; just watch your portion sizes, and sometimes replace meat with beans and legumes. And if you're eating past 8 p.m., have a light snack of complex carbs, rather than a hunk of T-bone.

5. Setting Your Thermostat At The Wrong Temperature

In the morning, your perception of temperature is different from the way you perceive it in the evening; this might motivate you to set your thermostat to a high temperature, anticipating a warm, cozy home you can return to after work. Be careful when setting temperatures, however. Most of us make our homes too warm, which doesn’t allow the body and brain to cool down in preparation for sleep. What ensues next are disrupted REM cycles and a grumpy following morning. If it’s not too cold, crack a window at night for some fresh air, and aim your thermostat for between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit for maximum sleep potential.

6. Exercising Too Late In The Day

Running to a yoga class late in the day seems like a good idea in theory, especially after a long day of sitting at your desk. But if you work out within three hours of bedtime, your metabolism and heart rate will be boosted too high, and you’ll have trouble falling sleep. There’s also a high likelihood that you’ll toss and turn throughout the night. It’s best to exercise in the morning, when your energy is naturally higher and you can reap the benefits during the day. That might mean you have to wake up earlier, but since you’ll get more done earlier in the day, you’ll have the luxury of going to bed sooner rather than later, too.

7. Worrying Too Much

You’re always going to be dealing with a certain level of stress during the day. But the way that you choose to approach it can impact your sleep that night. Those of us who are constantly engaging in internal problem solving are doing ourselves a disservice. We fall into a destructive pattern of overthinking, which accompanies us to bed — and that’s when it becomes dangerous, as we have less energy to refocus our brains in order to prepare for sleep. Dr. Colleen E. Carney, assistant professor psychiatry at the Duke University Medical Center, told Prevention that people have less control over their thoughts at bedtime that during other times of the day — so if we get under our blankets while mentally muddled with worry, chances are we’ll sleep poorly. If you’re a naturally anxious person, incorporate some tricks into your daytime schedule to help you cope with the stress, such as meditation, yoga or spending more time under the sun.

8. Chewing Gum All Day

Research shows that peppermint is a stimulant for the brain, which might explain why you get a surge in creativity after chomping on a few pieces of Wrigley’s. But if you overload your system with the minty goodness, you could leave yourself more awake than you should be. Additionally, the artificial sweeteners that are in these products take a long time for your body to digest, and the energy taken from them might also bring harm to your sleep cycle. As an alternative, reach for a different flavor — anything on the fruity side — or just make a promise to yourself that you’ll chew only one or two pieces a day. Besides, haven’t you heard? Gum gives you bad breath.

9. Surrounding Yourself With Lemon Scents

If you’re a citrus lover, brace yourself. The scents of lemon, orange, lime, and any other citrus fruit boost your energy and mental stimulation. Which might be great mid-day, but could make it hard to fall asleep at night. It’s recommended you nix the lemon tea at night before bed (maybe replace it with a chamomile) and double-check any scented detergent you're using, as well as any scented candles you like to light in the house. If everything in your home is overwhelmingly citrus-y, that lemon-fresh scent could be the thing that's stopping you from drifting off peacefully.

Images: Megan Schuirmann/Flickr; Giphy (9)