Sneaky sleep saboteurs
by Amanda MacMillan
Getting a good night’s sleep is important for your mood, your energy levels, and your overall health. It’s also dependent on what you do during the day—how much physical activity you get, what you eat and drink, and how mentally stimulated you are—especially in the hours before you crawl into bed.
Use an e-reader or smartphone
Several studies have suggested that using electronic devices like e-readers and smartphones, or even watching television in or before bed can disrupt sleep. Robert Rosenberg, DO, author of Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day, recommends avoiding any light-emitting technology for at least one hour before bedtime.
Take certain medications
If you take medicines or supplements on a daily basis and you’re also experiencing sleep problems, ask your doctor whether the time of day you take your dosage may be keeping you awake. “The effects may be subtle, but some medicines can make you alert for several hours after taking them,” says Grandner. For example, antidepressants can have strong effects on sleep in either direction, and some pain medications may upset your stomach and make sleep more difficult. (On the other hand, some other medicines—such as some types of blood pressure pills—have been shown to work best when taken at night; talk to your do about when to take yours.)
Text a friend
You may think a text is less disturbing late at night than a phone call, but think twice before you message a friend or family member, or get involved in a group text conversation, shortly before bed. If you sleep with your phone in or near your bed, you could be disturbed by replies after you’ve already retired or fallen asleep.
Drink coffee (maybe even decaf)
A cup of coffee contains anywhere from 80 to 120 milligrams of caffeine per cup, and you probably already know you should avoid it right before bed. But some still like the idea of a hot drink after dinner, says Grandner, and may not realize that although they’re still several hours away from turning in, their habit could disturb sleep. Truth is, caffeine can stay in the body for up to 12 hours. “Even caffeine at lunch can be too close to bedtime for some people,” says Grandner.
Even if you do avoid coffee, you may not be as careful about another major source of caffeine: tea. Drinks labeled as “herbal tea”—such as peppermint or chamomile varieties—are probably caffeine-free, says Grandner, but varieties that contain black, green, or white tea leaves do indeed contain the stimulant.
Another sneaky source of caffeine is chocolate, especially dark chocolate with high cocoa contents. “People might not think about ice cream that contains chocolate or coffee as something that might potentially keep them awake, but if they’re sensitive to caffeine that could definitely do the trick,” says Grandner.
Skip your wind-down time
When people say they can’t shut their mind off in bed, it’s often because they haven’t given themselves adequate time to relax in the hour or so beforehand, says Grandner. “When you’re going from one distracting activity to another and not giving yourself time to sit back and reflect on your thoughts, it’s no wonder that your mind is racing when you finally climb into bed,” he says. He recommends taking at least 30 minutes before you head into your bedroom to put away anything that’s too stimulating, thought-provoking, or absorbing—anything from action-packed TV shows to work that you’ve brought home with you. Instead, focus on activities that relax you and bring closure to your evening, like making a to-do list and packing a bag for the next day.
Check your work email
Aside from the fact that a blue-light emitting device can mess with your body’s natural sleep rhythms, there are other potential problems with checking your email too close to bedtime. “Unless you’re waiting for a specific email that’s going to put you at ease and help you sleep better, I would advise against it,” says Grandner. Checking in with the office too late at night is more likely to make you nervous or agitated, or fill your mind with things you’ll need to do in the morning. In a 2014 Michigan State study, people who used their smartphones for work purposes after 9 p.m. reported being more tired and unfocused the next day.
Eat spicy or fatty foods
Having a large meal too close to bedtime can make falling asleep uncomfortable if you’re bloated or painfully full, Spicy or fatty foods may be particularly risky because they’re associated with acid reflux, which often rears its head when a person lies down at night. Ideally, you should have dinner at least two hours before going to sleep says Grandner, to give your body enough time to begin digesting it. If you’re used to eating something right before bed, stick with sleep-promoting foods like simple carbs or a glass of milk. (And ask yourself if you really need it: If you’re not careful, late-night snacking can lead to weight gain.)