Toss and turn, punch the pillow, stare at the ceiling, toss some more. Sound familiar? More than two-thirds of Americans struggle with sleep problems at least once a week, according to a 2016 Consumer Reports survey. Lack of proper sleep can be debilitating in the short run, and it can cause serious health problems over time.
If you have insomnia or other sleep problems, examining your daily routine may help. Here are four potentially harmful habits to watch out for:
1. Getting too much blue light
Exposure to blue light from devices and eco-friendly lighting can interfere with circadian rhythms and has been said to contribute to sleep deprivation. Ways to help avoid possible sleep interference include leaving your phone outside the bedroom to help avoid the temptation of using it and getting lots of natural sunlight during the day, which helps keep circadian rhythms on track. You might also consider turning off all screens a couple of hours before you retire and using incandescent instead of fluorescent or LED lightbulbs in the bedroom, as energy-efficient bulbs tend to have more blue light.
2. Exercising in the evening
Getting physical activity improves the quality and the length of sleep, but the timing of your exercise is important. A vigorous workout will energize and raise body temperature for several hours, so for some insomniacs it might be best to exercise in the morning or afternoon. If you prefer a late workout and have no problem falling asleep, there’s no reason to make a change. If that late workout is the only option, yet still causes sleep problems, try a more relaxing activity in the evening, like stretching or yoga.
3. Choosing the wrong evening snacks
There is a lot of debate in the research community about whether what we eat – either before bed or all day long – can impact sleep quality. There is early indication that a diet rich in whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats may improve sleep because they increase serotonin levels. Fruits and vegetables may also be helpful. Some evening snacks that fit into such a diet include low-fat cottage cheese, raspberries, popcorn, yogurt and nuts.
Besides what we eat, what we drink can be a factor. As a stimulant, caffeine is not conducive to sleep. It affects people differently, but a good rule is to cut intake after noon and read labels carefully to make sure you’re not caffeinating unconsciously through things like pain relievers or chocolate. Another habit you may want to avoid is drinking alcohol before bed. It might put you to sleep, but it’s disruptive after the initial effect wears off.
4. Keeping an erratic sleep schedule
It’s best to get at least seven hours of sleep and go to bed and get up at roughly the same time every day, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute says. You can’t “catch up” on sleep on the weekend, according to the American Heart Association, and inconsistent sleep habits may contribute to heart disease and obesity.
Contrary to popular belief, the amount of rest our bodies need doesn’t decline after age 18. Schedule bedtime like any other appointment and stick to it.