If you've ever been tired and felt like you were extra forgetful, you've discovered how important it is to get enough sleep each night. Although sleep duration is important, it's not the only aspect that matters when it comes to how well your brain functions. There are a number of other sleep habits that can mess with your memory, including something as seemingly harmless as playing with your phone before bed. Anything that affects your quality of sleep can impact your memory, which is why it's important to engage in good sleep hygiene even if you're already sleeping the recommended seven to eight hours a night.
"Sleep is vital for memory," neuroscientist Dr. Tim Royer, PsyD, tells Bustle. "Every week a new journal publishes how sleep quality protects our memory and wards off things like dementia and Alzheimer's. Getting the right quantity and quality of sleep allows our brains to complete vital long-term tasks such as consolidating memories and even flushing out toxins in the brain. When we get to bed too late or don't dedicate enough time for sleep, we end up cheating our brains out of important brain recovery."
To make sure you're preserving your memory as best as possible, avoid these seven surprising sleep habits that mess with your memory, according to experts.
1. Using Electronics Before Bed
Streaming shows or scrolling through social media before bed can affect sleep quantity and quality, which can have a negative impact on your memory. "Blue light in the evening has been shown to interfere with a person’s circadian rhythm," behavioral psychologist and sleep expert Dr. Sara Nowakowski, tells Bustle. "Light exposure will interfere with the body’s production of melatonin (that is regulated by light/darkness) and can interfere with sleep. It is recommended to not use electronics in bed and to try to power down an hour before bed to allow the body to unwind and bring closure to your day."
2. Falling Asleep To The TV
"Similarly, having a television playing in the bedroom or other sources of intermittent light and sound can also deprive individuals of good quality sleep and impact memory," Dr. Nowakowski says. Multiple studies show that sleeping with the TV on not only worsens sleep quality, but shortens sleep duration as well.
3. Having Caffeine In The Late Afternoon
Caffeine makes us more alert by blocking a hormone our bodies produce called adenosine, also known as a "sleepy hormone, Dr. Nowakowski says. However, caffeine has a four-to-six-hour half life, so drinking it too late in the day will impact that night’s sleep. "Many people feel they are not impacted by caffeine or it does not interfere with sleep, but they have just habituated to it and it will impact sleep quality and sleep stages," she says. "Therefore, it is recommended to limit coffee or caffeine to two cups before 2 p.m."
4. Going To Bed At Different Times Every Night
An irregular sleep schedule can not only impact the quality and quantity of you sleep, but can also impact your sleep stages. "If you sleep in on the weekends, the brain does not know what to expect, and it is not a predictable pattern," Dr. Nowakowski says. "Then come Monday morning, when your alarm goes off, you may be disrupting your sleep. This robs your brain of precious REM sleep and may be slow to wake up and perform well. Therefore, it is recommended to try to maintain a consistent rise time (within one hour) even on weekends."
5. Drinking A Night Cap
Many people use a glass of wine to fall asleep at night, but this can be harmful to your sleep quality. "Although it’s true that alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, ultimately it interferes with your sleep cycle," Dr. Sujay Kansagra, Mattress Firm’s sleep health expert, tells Bustle. "Alcohol can worsen existing sleep disorders and may even cause new disorders, such as sleep apnea."
6. Taking Sleep Meds
"Unless you have a specific medical issue, sleeping pills are a poor substitute for the natural sleep cycles that the brain needs in order to function well," cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Caroline Leaf, tells Bustle. "Sedation is not real sleep, and it may make it hard for you to sleep naturally when you stop." Research out of Indiana University also found that older adults taking medications such as Benadryl and other common drugs had a higher incidence of mild cognitive impairment, including memory problems, difficulty processing information, and performing complex mental tasks.
7. Sleeping In A Bad Sleep Environment
Most people don't realize the impact that their bedroom has on sleep quality. "Having a clean, cool, dark, and quiet sleep environment is key to getting the right amounts of useful sleep," Royer says. "If you fall asleep with the TV on or keep a pile of clothes stacked up in the corner, you may be putting your sleep quality at risk."
Keeping your memory sharp requires getting better quality sleep at night, so do everything you can to get a good night's rest.