Can’t Catch Any Zs? 8 Things That Could Be Sabotaging Your Sleep
Sleep: it’s what many Americans dream about all day, but what many still cannot obtain. According to the National Center for Sleep Disorders Research at the National Institutes of Health, highlighted by HealthCommunities.com, about 30 to 40 percent of adults say they have some symptoms of insomnia within a given year, and about 10 to 15 percent of adults say they have chronic insomnia. The inability to sleep is thus a problem experienced by many, but insomnia is more than just frustrating, it’s also potentially dangerous. Research has shown that a wide range of consequences are associated with insomnia, including increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke.
Understanding the danger behind insomnia is enough to keep dreamers up all night, fraught with anxiety over getting the necessary shut-eye; however, maintaining certain practices and sleep rules still can help keep them from tossing and turning all night long. A lot of the time, Americans are sabotaging their sleep without even knowing it, so changing their pre-sleep routine is a simple fix to getting the necessary number of REM hours every night.
If you’re unsure whether you’re unknowingly ruining any hope you have of sleep, check out these eight ways that have been proven to keep Americans from dozing off into Never Never Land. Some habits have been cited time and time again, while others are more unexpected. Make sure you avoid these insomnia triggers if you’re ever trying to get any real shut-eye.
1. Eating Before Bed
Up first is the problem of eating before bed. Sure, midnight snacks sound like a good idea in theory, but it is hard to pinpoint what is right to eat before bed, because a lot of foods either have caffeine which keeps you awake, have salt which dehydrates you, or have sugar which stimluates you. Food is a source of energy; therefore, unless you feel like you need energy to sleep, you should try to avoid heavy snacking before bed. Experts say to try to eat at least two hours before bed and avoid fatty foods, as heavy foods take longer to digest and therefore can keep you awake.
But that’s not all. Epicurious recently published a list that Jenny K. Kennedy, a New York sleep doctor, said are pre-sleep no-no’s — and just to warn you, a lot of your favorites may find themselves on this list. Kennedy says to avoid wine, beer, booze, tomatoes, steak, chocolate, cookies, doughnuts, and high sugar carbs. She says, “If you’re snacking at night, make sure it’s a healthy snack that’s not loaded with sugar, which can alter blood sugar. Eliminating foods one by one will give you a sense if one may be affecting your sleep.”
In addition, experts also stand by the claim that consistent eaters are better sleepers than inconsistent ones. According to a study highlighted by the Huffington Post, inconsistent eating habits later in the day can negatively affect sleep. It’s okay if you enjoy a late dinner, but you should try to keep your dinner time around the same hour every night. Also, don’t forget that if you have a late dinner you shouldn’t indulge in a dessert, because the good stuff will cause fluctuations in your blood sugar and keep it from going down, effectively keeping you awake.
Next up is exercise, another commonly cited reason for insomnia. Many Americans complain that they only have time to fit in their workouts late at night; however, they may have no choice but to restructure their routines if they are having trouble sleeping. According to AZCentral.com, daily exercise generally supports a restful night’s sleep, but working out too close to bedtime can cause restlessness. Guidelines from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend avoiding rigorous exercise within six hours of bedtime, because natural stimulants like adrenaline produced during exercise have the potential to disrupt sleep.
Some experts stand by the claim that late-night exercise doesn’t have an effect on sleepers because exercise relieves stress and has a calming effect on people, but they at least all agree that strenuous and vigorous exercise should be avoided in order to keep from counteracting the sleep-improving benefits of that workout.
3. Electronics in Bed
Electronics are another commonly cited insomnia-inducer, but although many consumers recognize this reality, even more fail to do anything about it. According to US News, back in 2011, The National Sleep Foundation’s annual Sleep in America poll surveyed 1,508 people between the ages of 13 and 64.The survey found that a majority of Americans (63 percent) aren’t getting enough sleep. Ninety-five percent of those surveyed said they’d used an electronic device — such as a television, computer, video game, or cell phone — within the hour before bed at least a few nights a week.
Allison G. Harvey, a sleep specialist and professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, explained via US News after the report that light exposure before sleep can disrupt body rhythms and suppress the release of the hormone melatonin, which promotes sleep. Since the human body runs on a 24-hour Circadian Rhythm that has a great impact on our sleep, it’s important to remember that that rhythm is sensitive to light. The continuous light from the TV or a computer can interfere with that.
It is best to power down at least 30 to 60 minutes before you’re ready to go to sleep. Sleeping in a dark room where you won’t be tempted by your lit-up cell phone is also necessary.
4. Meds Before Bed
Up next are those meds you like to pop before bed. Some Americans take their daily medication before bed because that’s when it is easiest to remember, but several health experts have cited proof that certain medications hinder sleep because ingredients in them act as stimulants, or they sabotage sleep more indirectly.
According to Yahoo Health, the most common culprits for sabotaging sleep include asthma medications, corticosteroids, blood pressure medications, and antidepressants. Ingredients in some of these medications include stimulants, for example, the asthma-fighting medication, albuterol. Bronchodilators like albuterol and salmeterol, used to treat asthma and bronchitis, can stimulate you before you sleep, yet patients are often directed to use them at the end of the day. In addition, recent studies have found that medications like Prozac, Zoloft, and Celexa affect sleep in a significant number of patients because beta-blockers interfere with melatonin release.
As for medications that affect sleep indirectly, a good example is a diuretic that interferes with sleep by causing you to use the bathroom at night. Like many side effects, sleeplessness from medications can affect some people but not others.
5. Washing Face With Cold Water & Going to Sleep With a Minty Mouth
If you’re looking for a really easy sleep fix, try changing up your pre-sleep routine, and consider changing the way you wash and rinse before bed. The Huffington Post says that washing your face with cold water helps close your pores, but it also stimulates the body, releasing energy to keep warm and stay awake. Give washing your face with warm water a try.
As for brushing your teeth, you can continue doing that before sliding under the covers, but consider switching out your toothpaste for one that is a little less minty fresh. According to the Huffington Post, research has shown that the scent of peppermint stimulates the brain and makes you feel more awake. An alternative flavor like strawberry or bubblegum is better.
6. Smoking Before Bed
Smoking before sleep is another no-no, as the nicotine in cigarettes serves as a stimulant and has been proven to affect sleep. Health experts say that if you are a smoker, you should have fewer cigarettes during the four hours before bed, and don’t have any 30 to 45 minutes before bed.
In addition, if you can’t cut out nighttime nicotine just before you sleep, WebMD suggests that you take long, slow drags and pause between puffs, as this method produces the least stimulating effects as opposed to short, quick puffs. Even Forbes says that although smokers equate smoking with relaxing, that’s only a neurochemical trick. When you smoke before trying to sleep, you can expect to wake up several times throughout the night; much as you would if you drank a cup of coffee.
7. Bedroom Temperature
Before you climb into bed to snooze, also make sure that your bedroom temperature is not too hot and not too cold. Burrowing yourself under all the covers may sound like a good idea in theory, but an increase in body temperature can disrupt sleep. The same can be said for being too cold, though, so don’t kick off all those comforters and turn down the thermostat. Any room above 75 degrees is considered too hot, and those below 54 degrees are considered too cold.
Along those same lines, make sure your room is as dark as possible and try to minimize noise. Investing in a good set of ear plugs and window shades can easily solve this problem.
8. Not Having a Set Bedtime
Lastly, that timely bedtime routine. Not everyone can commit to pulling down the covers at the same time every night, but WebMD says that waking up at the same time every morning and going to sleep at the same time every night keeps your biological clock going in the right direction. There’s a reason parents are instructed to put their babies to bed at the same time every night. You should follow those babies’ lead.
So, choose a bedtime when you normally feel tired, and when you know you won’t toss and turn. Maintaining this routine is easier on weekdays than on weekends, as many people are tempted to go to bed later on weekend nights and sleep in, but it is still important to at least try to support some kind of schedule. If you want to change your bedtime, help your body adjust by making the change in small daily increments, such as 15 minutes earlier or later each day.
In addition, watch the napping. Sure, almost everyone is tempted to get some quick shut-eye after a long day of work, but for some people, especially those older, napping can make insomnia worse. If you have to nap, do it in the early afternoon, and limit it to thirty minutes.