From sleep apps to candles, there is no lack of expertise about how to get a better sleep. Among tips, tricks and products for a restful slumber, there are also a number of bad habits that could be sabotaging your sleep before you even get into bed (and without you knowing).
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When it comes to catching zzz’s, taking preventative measures is perhaps the best defence against tossing and turning. So with that in mind, we’ve rounded up the common yet easily avoidable factors contributing to a restless sleep.
- Heading to bed only when you’re tired
Your body loves routine. When you stick to a sleep schedule you are more likely to shut down on cue. This is why ‘listening to your body’ isn’t necessarily the best thing to do as far as sleep is concerned. Waking up and going to sleep at the same time every day – even on weekends – will make it much easier to fall asleep in the long run. While a little variation is fine (let’s be real, we deserve a sleep-in on the weekends), implementing a sleep ritual five out of seven days is the way to go.
- Exercising too late in the day
It is a well-known fact that exercising in the day can help promote a deeper sleep, but an evening workout may very well have the opposite effect. Although a good workout can indeed make you exhausted afterwards, exercising causes your heart rate to rocket and makes your body produce adrenaline, meaning you will feel alert most likely for a good few hours afterwards. Though researchers have indicated that it all depends on the individual, insomniacs should take note.
- Eating the wrong foods
You’re probably well aware that you need to avoid stimulants such as coffee and heavy meals later in the day, but there is one unsuspecting food that could be keeping you up at night – protein. This is because protein takes considerable energy for the body to digest. You don’t have to avoid it altogether though – if you have a protein-rich meal for dinner (or any meal for that matter) make sure to give it a couple of hours before hitting the hay to allow ample time for digestion. Your body will thank you for it come morning!
- Going to bed hungry
On the other hand, going to bed with a rumbling tummy is really not a great idea either. Thanks to your hunger hormone, ghrelin, the body is more alert when you’re hungry – if it doesn’t keep you awake to begin with it will probably cause you to wake up during the night. Instead of snacking on junk food after dinner, try a small healthy snack to tide you over until morning.
- Alcohol before bed
While you’re not alone if you turn to the bottle for an easier way of getting to sleep, alcohol is another stimulant linked to poor sleep quality. Consuming high amounts of alcohol makes it harder to enter REM, the stage of sleep where you dream and where you brain and body are energised. Overall it can lead to a more disruptive sleep, leaving you feeling way groggier in the morning.
- Too much screen time
As tempting as it is to binge-watch your favourite TV shows in bed, too much screen time before sleep can be very stimulating on the body. Your eyes are glued to the screen, making you alert, your heart rate increases because of stress or excitement, and all that thinking you’re bound to be doing can even trigger anxious thoughts.
If avoiding screen time all together isn’t realistic, at least try to switch off half an hour to an hour before bed. To get into relaxation mode, you could read a book, have a bath or do some gentle yoga.
- Consuming caffeine without realising
While a mid-afternoon cup of coffee is obviously not wise come bed time there may be other unsuspecting sources of caffeine at play. A sweet treat post-dinner can actually contain a fair bit of caffeine – from ice cream to chocolate (and the dark variety has the most out of all chocolate). For instance, hot chocolate on a cold winter’s night sounds positively blissful, but this beverage could be compromising your sleep in a big way.
- Sleeping in on weekends
Although one study found sleeping in on the weekend could help you live longer, on the other side of things opting for a big snooze outside of your 9-5 can cause your body to feel really out of whack, making it that much harder to fall asleep come Sunday night. This is down to your body’s circadian rhythm, the process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle (and the reason you usually feel drowsy at 3pm every day).
It’s not just sleeping in that can wreak havoc on your circadian rhythm – staying up way to late on the weekends has exactly the same effect.