Habits around sleep can have a big effect on your sleep quality. What we get up to every night — and during the day — has consequences for how we rest at night. But it turns out that some habits that you think can help your sleep actually aren't all that great for your Zzz's. So, what should you do instead? These other five habits can be pretty compelling tweaks.
Sleep quality is very important for health; getting restful sleep at night can impact everything from cognition and memory to wound healing and how well you fight off colds. While some of us can flourish on five hours or so a night, most of us will require between seven and nine hours, and sleep deprivation — whether it comes from insomnia, sleep interruption or another cause — can mount up quickly.
It's important to note that habits are only part of the story; if you've examined your routines and can't find the cause of your sleep issues, it's a good idea to check in with your GP and discuss other possible underlying causes. Here are five habits that can help your sleep — and five that you might not realize can't.
Helpful: Not Consuming Caffeine In The Evening
This seems like a no-brainer: stimulants like caffeine will not be particularly helpful if consumed too close to bedtime. The right time to stop consuming caffeine-heavy beverages like coffee and black tea is likely up to six hours before bedtime, according to science reviewed by Healthline. Check the caffeine content of any beverages you're drinking with your evening meal.
Not Helpful: Napping Close To Bedtime, Or Too Much
A short nap or two throughout the day might help you stay alert, providing that you keep it short. WebMD cites researchers who note that naps should be under 25 minutes long, and that you shouldn't have one within about six hours of bedtime, if possible. The Sleep Foundation also notes that eliminating naps throughout the day may actually help you sleep better at night if your sleep quality isn't great right now.
Helpful: Exercising Regularly
Not Helpful: Exercising Too Close To Bedtime
Research published in 2018 found that you can actually exercise up until about an hour before you hit the hay — but no later than that. Exercise raises endorphins and body temperature and makes the body more alert, all of which might cause sleep issues, but if you're a habitual evening exerciser, you may not have noticed any effects on your rest. That's likely because you do it early enough in the evening to avoid any effects on your sleep. Don't try to fit in your push-ups just before you get in the shower before bed, and make sure your body is cool — and that you've stretched — before you try to sleep.
Helpful: Getting Enough Sleep When You're Ill
The relationship between sleep and the immune system goes two ways: the more restful sleep you get, the better your immune system functions, and vice versa. "Without sufficient sleep, your body makes fewer cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation, effectively creating an immune response. Cytokines are both produced and released during sleep, causing a double whammy if you skimp on shut-eye," explains the National Sleep Foundation. If you don't get enough sleep, your immune system will likely suffer. Similarly, if your immune system is fighting something off, you should probably sleep when your body sends signals that it's tired; it'll help your recovery.
Not Helpful: Taking Medications That Make You Sleepy During The Day
Sleep-inducing medications aren't actually that great for your overnight sleep if they're not used properly or you don't know the side effects. The National Sleep Foundation highlights many kinds of medications, including antihistamines, anti-arrhythmics, diuretics, headache and pain medications with caffeine, nicotine replacement products, SSRIs and thyroid hormone, that can interfere with sleep rhythms through inducing sleepiness or excess arousal.
Helpful: Eating Sleep-Inducing Foods
There are various foods that may help induce sleep, so a small snack before you sleep as part of a regular nighttime routine can be a good idea. One option? Warm milk. "Scientifically, there may be some link between the tryptophan and melatonin content of milk and improved sleep," says the National Sleep Foundation. "But perhaps more powerful is the psychological link between warm milk and bedtime as a child."
Not Helpful: Eating A Large Meal Right Before Bedtime
If you eat a heavy dinner just before going to bed, you may find that it interferes with your sleep patterns. "In general, it is recommended that you wait for two to three hours between your last meal and bedtime. This allows digestion to occur and the contents of your stomach to move into your small intestine. This may prevent problems like heartburn at night and even insomnia," explains VeryWell Health. The process of digestion can keep you awake, so it's best to leave time between dinner and bedtime.
Helpful: Drinking A Bedtime Tea
One part of bedtime routines that might prove helpful to sleep is a warm drink, and if you don't like milk, teas can also help. "Chamomile is commonly regarded as a mild tranquilizer or sleep inducer," notes Healthline. "Its calming effects may be attributed to an antioxidant called apigenin, which is found in abundance in chamomile tea. Apigenin binds to specific receptors in your brain that may decrease anxiety and initiate sleep." While the herbal tea itself might only be a placebo, the routine of drinking it nightly might be a great help too; the National Sleep Foundation says that having a relaxing bedtime routine, like sitting with some tea and reading after dinner, can improve sleep quality.
Not Helpful: Drinking Tea Less Than An Hour Before Sleep
That nighttime tea might be a good idea, but taking it just before you try to drop off could actually damage your sleep quality in the night. "Nocturia is the medical term for excessive urination during the night," explains Healthline. "Although hydration is vital for your health, it is wise to reduce your fluid intake in the late evening. Try not to drink any fluids [one to two] hours before going to bed." If you find that you're very prone to waking up in the night multiple times to pee, you may want to cut out all liquids before you go to sleep. Otherwise, move that night tea a little earlier in the evening.
If you're seeing some changes in your sleep, examine your habits and whether they might have changed lately. Shifts in your behavior might be having unintended consequences — for your rest and beyond.