9 Health Mistakes You Make Before Bed

by Lily Feinn
working, laptop
Elva Etienne/Moment/Getty Images

Busy people know that the quality of sleep they get at night is an excellent predictor of how they will feel the following day. If you want to be on point at the office, hitting the sheets for a peaceful seven to nine hours is important. A poor night's rest will leave you feeling sluggish, forgetful, and even depressed. If your sleep pattern doesn't improve, it could put you at risk for some serious negative health effects such as high blood pressure, heart disease and even stroke.

Sleep is sacred, yet it can be so darn elusive. The older we get, the more things crop up to disturb our rest, and the less time we have to get the sleep we so desperately need. If you are having trouble dozing off, or staying asleep, it may be thanks to something you're doing before bed. How we spend those few hours before dozing off can affect not only our sleep pattern but our health in general.

There are certain health mistakes we've all made and regretted in the morning, but if they're so common, are they really that bad? Check out the list below to see what might be preventing you from getting the perfect night's rest.

1. Eating Too Much Right Before Bed

We've all been warned that eating too much before bed will give us nightmares, but with office hours growing longer, a late-night dinner is occasionally unavoidable. While you may not be playing out the plot of The Walking Dead in your subconscious every time you consume an entire pizza before going to sleep, it seems a large meal before bed can disrupt sleep patterns. The calories consumed amp up your metabolism and raise your body temperature, possibly interfering with precious REM cycles.

The Washington Post also points out that recent studies suggest eating late may even raise your blood sugar levels, putting people at risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes. People tend to reach for comfort foods late at night, so more research is needed to determine whether it is the timing or the types of food consumed that lead to the correlation between late-night snacking and health risks. If you are famished before bed eating a snack is healthy — but all things in moderation.

2. Going To Bed Hungry

While eating too much before bed can disturb sleep, hitting the hay with low blood sugar can also keep you from peacefully dozing off. Dr. Gary Wenk, professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the Ohio State University and Medical Center, told First We Feast that food and sleep are actually friends: “Sleep is a very active process and your brain needs a lot of sugar. I actually recommend to people having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before they go to bed: The bread and the jelly are great sources of simple carbohydrates, which are terrible usually, but great for sleep."

Simple carbohydrates and proteins consumed in moderation will stabilize blood sugar and aid the release of tryptophan, dietitian Alissa Rumsey told The Huffington Post, "Insulin can influence a sleep regulatory part of your circadian rhythm. Eating something that promotes insulin secretion, such as carbohydrates, might help promote a healthy circadian pattern." For the best night's sleep, keep bedtime snacks small, but definitely don't go to bed hungry!

3. Ingesting Caffeine

Caffeine is a miracle drug, keeping us awake by at once blocking the chemicals that make us feel sleepy and increasing adrenaline. While three mugs of joe a day are considered a moderate intake (eight ounce cups — not monster-sized cuppas), it can still greatly affect our bodies and even cause insomnia. As a stimulant, it may seem obvious not to drink coffee before bed, but that may mean that even your 5 o'clock espresso is affecting your Zzs. "Once in the body, caffeine will persist for several hours: it takes about six hours for one half of the caffeine to be eliminated," warns the Sleep Foundation. Other products such as tea or piece of chocolate also contain caffeine, and if your body is sensitive, even a few measly milligrams may contribute to sleep loss.

4. Using Electronic Devices

Most of us keep our cell phone charging next to our bed, or even clutching it like a teddy bear (a whopping 71 percent according to a recent survey). However, the blue glow of a computer, phone, TV or tablet may be affecting our circadian rhythms in some unpleasant ways. If you watch TV before bed, the light can suppress melatonin production, leaving us tossing and turning in our beds. The light emitted from these devices also promotes wakefulness, just like the sun tells us naturally that it's time to start our day.

To fall and stay asleep, most sleep specialists recommend carving out some tech-free time to wind down from the days events. Trade the TV for a book, a bath, or some meditation. Thirty minutes without Facebook may be difficult for some, but it will pay dividends in relaxation.

5. Skipping Sex

OK, OK, obviously you do you in regards to sex. But if you're feeling frisky and tempted to skip out on it just because you're tired, consider that you might get way better sleep after it. When we have sex, our brain releases pleasurable chemicals such as oxytocin and endorphins which will boost your mood and lessen stress and anxiety. Sex is a natural sleep aid, when after an orgasm, your body produces a hormone called prolactin which counteracts dopamine. This gives you feelings of relaxation and satisfaction, lulling you gently to sleep. But the health benefits don't stop there — research has also found correlations between sex and lower blood pressure, reduced risk of heart attack, a healthy immune system, and much more. So go ahead and get down, with someone else or solo — it's good for you!

6. Not Addressing Your Stress Level

The American Psychological Association warns that when stress increases, a person's sleep quality often decreases. The APA notes that 43 percent of adults have admitted to having poor sleep due to stress in the past month. Not getting enough sleep is taxing on the body and can lead to depression, and guess what? More stress. To break the vicious cycle, the stress must be dealt with and managed in order to get the sleep cycle back on track.

7. Smoking Weed

While many folks tend to use pot as a "natural" sleep aid, the jury is still out on whether it is helpful or harmful. Some strains of marijuana can leave you feeling drowsy and slow, but the results of a 2014 study by University of Pennsylvania actually linked pot with poor sleep quality and disturbances. Vice also points to sleep research in Holland, that suggests marijuana may suppress REM cycles and prevent proper memory formation through dreams. It may be hard to ween yourself off this crutch, but in time you may enjoy a better sleep quality.

8. Drinking Alcohol

Getting drunk can make you fall asleep quickly, but it will not be a restful sleep. After a few too many glasses of wine, your body reaches deep sleep sooner than normal, making it difficult to rouse you. Alcohol can decreases the normal five to seven REM cycles a night down to a measly one or two. That cuts back on the time your mind has to processing memories and the stress of the day. You will sweat more than usual, your body temperature fluctuating, and wake up groggy and most likely dehydrated. Yuck.

9. Drinking Too Much Water

Drinking water right before bed may disrupt sleep, requiring you to answer the call of nature in the middle of the night. For those with sensitive bladders, hold off on drinking lots of liquids two hours before bedtime and make sure you empty your bladder before hitting the hay. Start your day with a big glass of water, or chug some of the cold stuff when you need a boost of energy.

Pleasant dreams!

Images: Elva Etienne/Moment/Getty Images, giphy