I love sleep more than life itself. I’m also terrible at it. You’d think we as a species would have figured out something as simple as lying down and closing our eyes, but I’m not the only one who sleep eludes. It doesn’t help that we sabotage our sleep in more ways than we realize throughout the day and night.
“It’s not just the quantity of sleep. It’s also the quality,” family medicine doctor Susan Besser, MD, tells Bustle. Most people need six to eight hours of sleep per night, she adds. But while that’s necessary to perform at optimum energy, it’s not sufficient. You also need to sleep uninterrupted through the night.
“Sleep is not just one stage — it’s a continuum of several stages of sleep from light (REM) sleep to deep sleep,” Besser says. “During the night, we cycle through these stages. The full cycle takes about 90 minutes, so there are several cycles throughout the night. If sleep is disrupted or fragmented, you might miss a stage, and that affects sleep quality.” So, we can hurt our chances of sleeping well not only through habits that make it take longer to fall asleep but also through sneakier ones that make the sleep less restful.
Here are some ways you might be sabotaging your sleep without realizing it.
1. Sleeping In A Noisy Place
“Noise can disturb your sleep, wake you up, or cause you to switch from deep sleep to light sleep,” Rebecca Lee, Registered Nurse and founder of RemediesForMe.com, tells Bustle. If there’s noise outside your window, get a white noise machine or wear earplugs.
2. Sleeping With Light Around You
“Exposure to light at night can reset the body’s clock and delay sleep,” says Lee. Use blackout shades or blinds to block out streetlight, and turn electronics off so LED displays aren’t visible. Even turning on the hallway or bathroom light briefly can disrupt your sleep, so put a dim nightlight in these places instead.
3. Leaving Your Room Too Hot
The right temperature for your room during the day won’t be optimal at night because your body temperature drops in your sleep, says Lee. The best temperature for sleeping is between 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to keeping your room within this range, use a fan in the summer, and make sure your comforter isn’t too warm.
4. Using Electronics Before Bed
Computers, phones, and other electronics give off blue light, which tricks your brain into thinking it’s daytime and stops you from producing melatonin. “Studies have shown that people who are exposed to blue light before bed have a harder time falling asleep, are more alert, and have less REM sleep,” says Lee. To reduce the amount of blue light you’re exposed to, use lightbulbs that emit a different color and wear blue-light-blocking glasses when you’re exposed to screens at night or use an app like f.lux that decreases the amount of light your devices emit before bedtime.
5. Being Sedentary
Research shows that people who exercise regularly have an easier time sleeping, says Lee. One National Sleep Foundation poll, for example, found that over three-fourths of exercisers but only a little over half of non-exercisers slept well over the previous two weeks. Lee recommends at least half an hour of aerobic activity four to five times a week.
6. Consuming Caffeine In The Evening
Caffeine not only makes it harder to fall asleep but also makes you wake up throughout the night, says Lee. Caffeinated drinks consumed as early as six hours before bed can still affect your sleep. One study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that people who took a caffeine pill six hours before bed slept 40 minutes less and took twice as long to fall asleep as those who took a placebo, so it may be worth cutting back and/or changing the time of day you drink your coffee to see if you notice any differences in your sleep.
7. Drinking Too Much Alcohol
Alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, but it makes you wake up more during the second half of the night and reduces the amount of REM sleep you get, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology. To prevent this, Lee recommends capping yourself at one drink a night.
8. Getting Stressed Out
Anxiety releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that can lead to insomnia, says Lee. When you’re sleep-deprived, you get more anxious, making the insomnia self-perpetuating. To break this cycle, try listening to relaxing music before bed, doing yoga, or practicing progressive muscle relaxation — that is, tensing and releasing one muscle group at a time from your toes to your head.
If you’re having trouble getting to the root of your sleep problems, talk to a doctor. A small change can go a long way, so don’t give up.