10 Unexpected Sleep Habits That Can Lead To Inflammation

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When you were a kid, you probably dreaded nap time. Now that you're an adult, though, finding time to sleep more than seven hours a night is almost a luxury. Suddenly, a night of crawling into your soft bed early and sleeping for as long as you can probably seems like a dream. Just be sure to avoid these sleep habits that lead to inflammation so that your snooze time is restorative instead of harmful for your body.

"Cortisol and adrenaline are known to negatively affect your inflammatory response," Julie Lambert, a certified sleep expert at Happysleepyhead, tells Bustle. "Considering the fact that the level of these hormones in your blood increases when you lack quality sleep, it becomes pretty clear that poor sleep hygiene can lead to inflammation." But poor sleep hygiene isn't always obvious.

According to sleep experts, there are a number of sleep habits that can contribute to inflammation, and they might not be what you expect. While most people know that sleeping too little isn't great for you, it might be surprising to learn that mouth breathing, sleeping on your stomach, and even letting your pet stay in bed with you can all lead to inflammatory problems if not corrected. What's more, sleeping too much isn't great for your body either. Luckily, with a few simple tweaks, you'll be able to get back to a sleep schedule that's able to renew your mind and your body.

1. Mouth Breathing

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If you're someone who usually breathes through your mouth while you sleep instead of through your nose, you could be more likely to experience inflammation, Tara A. Clancy, M.A., a breathing specialist and sleep educator, tells Bustle. "Because air comes in cold, dry and unfiltered through the mouth, the tissue gets dried out," she says. "Bacteria can then proliferate. One solution is to make sure you go to bed with a clear nose." Her “nose unblocking breathing exercise” is a game changer when it comes to clearing a stuffy nose, she says.

2. Going To Bed Too Full

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Nobody wants to go to bed hungry, but making sure you aren't falling asleep super full can help prevent inflammation, says Clancy. It's not ideal to make your body digest a full stomach's worth of food while trying to relax. "The contents of the stomach combined with the relaxation of muscles during sleep can lead to acid reflux," she says, "and the acid can irritate and inflame the tissue." Try to give yourself a window of about two hours before bed where you aren't having a meal or snacks.

3. Going To Bed Stressed

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"Generally speaking, any stress is a trigger for inflammation, but this is even more relevant when the stress affects your sleep," Caleb Backe, a certified personal trainer and health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. "Going to bed stressed, or without winding down your body and mind, can increase inflammation," he says. Devote some time before you climb into bed to doing some self-care activities like taking a warm bath, journaling, or meditating, to help calm both your body and your mind.

4. Sleeping On Your Back

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Unfortunately, pain and inflammation can accompany a poor sleeping position, Dr. Sujay Kansagra, a double board-certified child neurologist and Mattress Firm’s sleep health expert, tells Bustle. To relieve strain on your back and joints, back sleepers should try putting a small pillow under your knees, he says. If you're a side sleeper, you're best off keeping your knees bent and putting a pillow between them.

5. Sleeping Somewhere That Isn't A Bed

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When you're exhausted, you're exhausted, which means that suddenly even the tiniest bus seat or firmest kitchen chair seems like a great napping spot. But sleeping in places that aren't your bed can cause inflammation, Bill Fish, a certified sleep science coach and founder of Tuck Sleep, tells Bustle. "When this happens, our spine and neck aren't supported properly and our muscles work hard to get them back aligned, which often results in inflammation," he says. "If you do want to nap on the couch, be use to use a pillow so your head and neck are properly supported."

6. Sleeping On Your Stomach

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While sleeping on your back poses some inflammation risks, sleeping on your stomach without good support does as well. "In this situation, the pelvis sinks into the mattress, putting your spine in a bit of a contorted position," says Fish. "The lower back muscles work hard to bring the spine back to alignment, and upon waking up, our back can be both sore and inflamed." This is a great time to make sure your mattress is the right firmness to support you properly or even switch to another sleep position, he says.

7. Sleeping Too Much

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The more sleep the better, right? In terms of inflammation, nope. "Though we usually consider lots of sleep to be healthy, too much sleep is disordered sleep," Rose MacDowell chief research officer at Sleepopolis, tells Bustle. "Like sleeping too little, sleeping more than seven to nine hours on a consistent basis can cause chronic inflammation and serious medical conditions," she says. Do your best to stick to a pretty regular sleep routine instead of sleeping way too little during the week and then opting for marathon snooze sessions on the weekends.

8. Sleeping Too Little

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As bad as it is to sleep too much on a regular basis, skimping on your sleep time is also a potential inflammation trigger, MacDowell says. "Inflammation markers increase after just one night of insufficient sleep, and stay elevated as long as poor sleep continues," she says. Even something as seemingly insignificant as cutting out 20 to 30 minutes of sleep a day that you really need can cause chronic inflammation over time, MacDowell says, so make sure to care for your body by prioritizing your rest.

9. Not Treating Sleep Disorders

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"Sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, chronic insomnia, and other sleep disorders can disrupt the sleep-wake cycle," says MacDowell. Without getting proper treatment for these sleep issues, you're not only making yourself more likely to experience issues like depression, but you're also setting yourself up to have chronic inflammation, she says. If you're noticing any sleep issues, check with your doctor about potential solutions so that you are avoiding damage.

10. Sleeping With Your Pets

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There's nothing sweeter than snuggling up with your furry pup or sweet cat for a refreshing nap. But letting your animal friends sleep with you at night can trigger the inflammation process in your body, Lambert says. "First, animal fur and skin cells are potential allergens," she says. "Second, pets tend to move a lot during the night, which can disrupt sleep and lead to an increase in the levels of stress hormones." If you still want to keep your fur baby close, try moving them to a comfy pet bed in your bedroom.

Next time you're ready to sleep, slip into your coziest pajamas, diffuse some lavender essential oil, and give yourself plenty of time to relax. You'll be reducing your risk of inflammation.