Sleep expert lists five things you do that sabotage your nighttime sleep before you even go to bed
We spend nearly a third of our entire lives in our beds, and the rest of our lives we depend on getting a good night’s sleep to function well.
When we don’t close our eyes enough at night, it can cause us to suffer from low mood, poor concentration, and can even affect our long-term physical health.
But there are some things you could be doing wrong before you even go to bed that are actually sabotaging your nighttime sleep — without you even realizing it.
We spoke to sleep expert Motty Varghese, behavioral sleep therapist at Sleep Therapy Clinic in Stillorgan, Dublin, to find out exactly what’s wrong with your bedtime routine and how to fix it.
Here are the five things you’re doing wrong that could be sabotaging your nighttime sleep:
1. Don’t go to bed if you’re not sleepy
You shouldn’t try to fall asleep when you’re not yet tired enough because you won’t have built up enough drowsiness or appetite for sleep to fall asleep, according to Motty.
“Our bedtime behavior should be determined by how sleepy we are closer to that time,” he said.
“Instead of saying ‘I’m going to bed at 10 or 11 p.m.’, it should be determined by how sleepy we are at that time. It’s like being hungry for food. The longer you go without food, the hungrier you are.
“We have to be hungry enough to sleep. It is mainly determined by the number of waking hours we have before going to bed at night.
TO FIX: Stick to a consistent bedtime and wake-up time every day of the week.
2. Don’t turn on too many bright lights at night
If you’re exposed to too many artificial light sources at night, it can interrupt our body’s ability to produce melatonin – the natural sleep hormone. Light sources can include house lights as well as light from telephones and computers.
“Once the sun goes down, there is a lack of light naturally, and the body prepares for sleep by producing sleep hormones like melatonin,” Motty said.
“Because we have a lot of artificial light sources, we can disrupt that process because we’re looking at the phone, looking at a lot of bright light or blue light.
“It is very important for us to send the right signal to the body. Dim the lights at night, dim the lights in the house, avoid the phone or computers.
TO FIX: Sitting outside with your morning coffee and enjoying the natural sunlight for half an hour in the morning can in turn help you sleep better at night.
3. Don’t worry too much about going to sleep
Worrying too much about being able to sleep can actually make people more alert and less likely to sleep well.
“When people develop sleep difficulties like insomnia, they become anxious about their sleep,” he said. “Stress, anxiety and perfectionism make us more alert.
“For [some people], not sleeping well is a threat to them. That’s how they perceive it.
“When they go to bed and turn off the lights and they’re still awake for a few hours, it’s not a pleasant feeling. When they get anxious or stressed about it, they become more alert.
“It’s about finding the right balance between drowsiness and alertness. We need to stay calm and relaxed for this to translate into a good night’s sleep.
TO FIX: If you don’t fall asleep within the first 20 or 30 minutes, don’t just lie there. Get up and leave the room. Write down all your worries and to-do lists, watch TV for half an hour, then go back to bed and try to go back to sleep.
4. Do not drink caffeine for 8 hours before bed
If your bedtime is 11 p.m., for example, Motty advises you not to drink caffeinated beverages like coffee, coke, or energy drinks after 3 p.m.
“Try to avoid caffeinated beverages for eight hours before bed,” he says. “There’s a self-sustaining capability, so some people can have a cup of coffee later in the evening and still get a good night’s sleep.
“It also depends on how fast we metabolize caffeine. But the general advice would be to leave it on for eight hours as it can hamper the chemical process of drowsiness.
TO FIX: Replace caffeinated beverages with non-caffeinated beverages like hot milk or herbal tea.
5. Don’t eat, exercise or take a hot shower too late
Any activity that warms you up before going to bed can disrupt your sleep because our bodies need to be cool to sleep well.
Eating, exercising, or taking a shower are all activities that raise your body temperature. Motty therefore advises avoiding them as bedtime approaches.
“Keep a cooler body temperature, so try to avoid eating late at night, as digestion can raise body temperature,” Motty says.
“Exercising closer to bedtime may raise body temperature or taking a hot shower closer to bedtime may also raise body temperature.”
TO FIX: Take a shower a few hours before bedtime so that your peak body temperature has dropped in time for bedtime.