Sleep is an integral part of everyday life that is tied to our physical and mental wellbeing. If you’re someone who struggles to get your eight hours each night, it might have something to do with your pre-bedtime habits.
Things like screen time, alcohol, coffee intake and uncomfortable environments were all identified as having a negative impact on sleep.
Sleep scientist Dr Carmel Harrington said engaging in these activities regularly could lead to sleep deprivation.
“Engaging in some of these activities or habits occasionally and treating yourself once or twice a week is okay. However, it is not ideal to do so frequently as it can impact the various stages of sleep, leading to sleep deprivation,” she said.
Dr Harrington said this lack of sleep can have devastating impacts like slower thought processes, memory errors, and a decrease in performance and motivation.
To help curb the many Aussies who are living with bad sleep habits, Dr Harrington provided some tips.
How can you break bad sleep habits?
We’re all probably aware of the negative impacts blue light can have on our brains, particularly before sleep. As Dr Harrington explains:
“When watching screens, we are psychologically stimulated, as exposure to bright light suppresses the release of melatonin, the hormone responsible for sleep regulation.”
To reduce this, it’s recommended you place limits on the use of your devices at night and switch them off an hour before bed. Remove devices from your bedroom completely and challenge your friends and family members to keep you accountable.
Late-night snacks and meals
It may be tempting to have that late-night snack, but this is a pretty bad habit your sleep won’t thank you for.
“Refrain from full meals within three hours of sleep time. A high calorie load can make sleep elusive and as the body is busy digesting it can cause sleep to be fragmented and may prevent you from getting deep sleep. This is especially important as we get older, as our metabolic rate slows and it can take longer to digest a meal,” Dr Harrington said.
Caffeine intake before bed
We rely on coffee so much to sustain us after a poor night’s sleep, but it’s important caffeine doesn’t become a contributor to that equation.
“Maximum caffeine effect is experienced one hour after drinking it, at which point it peaks in our blood. After this, depending on an individual’s metabolic rate, it can take up to eight hours to leave the body.”
To combat this, Dr Harrington recommends avoiding coffee after midday. Also bear in mind that the older we are, the longer it takes for caffeine to leave our system due to a decreased metabolism.
Alcohol may make you sleepy but it doesn’t actually help you sleep. In fact, Dr Harrington says alcohol is a “sleep stealer”.
“Alcohol can have an initial sedating effect, but it is rapidly metabolised and, after four to five hours, minimal blood alcohol will remain where the body can experience ‘rebound wakefulness’. This refers to periods of shallow sleep and multiple awakenings, sweating and an increased heart rate. Alcohol plays a major role in nearly 10 per cent of sleep troubles, so while the occasional late night of drinking is fine, frequent night caps will have a detrimental impact on sleep.”
Alcohol is a hard pass before sleep, but there are alternative drinks that can help you get some shut-eye.
Uncomfortable sleep environments
Most would agree there’s nothing worse than trying to sleep when it’s too hot, cold or noisy. Some of these things you can’t control, but there are other things you can.
“Dark, quiet, cool and comfortable bedrooms are conducive to good sleep. How you cover your body when sleeping also makes a difference.” Dr Harrington said.
“Using tools that bring comfort and aid sleep can be helpful. A white noise machine or a weighted blanket such as Calming Blankets, for example, promote deep tissue stimulation, which can calm and relax the mind and body. This helps individuals ease into sleep and enjoy a deeper sleep, particularly after a stressful day.”
Working or studying late
If you’ve had a stressful day, it’s likely you’ll have a stressful night as well. That’s why Dr Harrington recommends maintaining a work and study schedule if you want a proper sleep at the end of it.
“Deal with the issues of the day in the early evening by spending up to 20 minutes writing down concerns and solutions. Then, close the book and put it away,” she said.
“Those frequently working late could consider having a transparent conversation with their workplace to adjust their workload. Maintaining a study schedule with deadlines and a commitment to work earlier in the evening can also be helpful. Working or studying late can also increase stress and anxiety levels, and can be combatted by adding weight to one’s sleep routine, such as a weighted blanket.”
It’s easy to be guilty of this one, but going to sleep and waking at different times makes it hard to maintain sleep quality.
“Our body craves routine, and inconsistent wake-up times can cause significant sleep issues as our wake-up time determines when we are able to go to sleep that night,” Dr Harrington said. “When we wake, we set our body clock rhythm for the next 24 hours, including our sleep rhythm. For adults, this is about 16 hours after waking.”
This means if you wake up at 10:00 am one day, you may not be able to fall asleep until 2:00 am. Plan your time accordingly!
So there you have some actionable tips to curb your bad sleep habits that aren’t just resorting to drinking lettuce water. If you can take action on these, your body is bound to thank you for it!