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How to Sleep Better: Avoid These Common Mistakes

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“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” How many times have we heard this being said (or said it ourselves)? Sorry to break the news dudes, but you’ll actually be dead if you don’t sleep.

Somehow, as a society, we have made sleep the enemy. We have all accepted that to lead a healthy life, we have to stay active and eat our veggies. But what about sleep?

A 2019 study by YouGov revealed that one in three Australians are not getting enough sleep, and that only one in seven sleep through the night.

 

Image by YouGov 

Image by YouGov 

 

That’s scary stuff guys, especially knowing the multitude of health problems associated with insufficient sleep – from weight gain to increased risk of cancer.

Just as our bodies need food and water, they need sleep to function optimally. It is during sleep when our brains forge new connections and our bodies heal. How are we still depriving ourselves of one of the world’s greatest and most peaceful pleasures??

I know that prized 8-9 hours of sleep isn’t always possible. Maybe the pup needs to one last poop at 11pm, or the bub starts crying at 4am. Fortunately, following healthy sleep habits that improve the quality of sleep can increase your restfulness during sleep.

We all know the obvious ones – avoid coffee late in the day, skip the long afternoon naps… but here are some other common sleep hygiene mistakes you might be making that are preventing you from great sleep.

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

 

Common Sleep Hygiene Mistakes

1. You’re drinking alcohol to help you sleep

Who doesn’t enjoy a drink to take the edge off the work day? Just one glass to feel nice and relaxed. Then just another for good measure. And one last one, to get you sleepy.

Sound familiar?

Drinking increases the production of adenosine, a sleep-inducing chemical in the brain, which makes you sleepy initially. But the adenosine level drops quickly soon after, and the alcohol starts to act as a stimulant a few hours into your sleep, making you more likely to wake up in the middle of the night.

What to do instead:

There are many natural supplements that can help relax the body and induce sleepiness.

  • Magnesium: calms nerves and relaxes muscles
  • Valerian root: a mild sedative that helps to calm your nervous system by lowering the anxiety response
  • Chamomile tea: a very mild natural sedative which soothes and calms
  • Passion flower: with its anti-anxiety effects, it helps to calm the brain and lessen racing thoughts during bedtime
  • 5-HTP: the building block of melatonin and converts to serotonin, the body’s feel good hormone. This supplement is tailored more towards people suffering from insomnia that’s secondary to mood disorders. It improves sleep and is also a mood booster.

 

2. You're letting blue light into your eyes

Do you really have to check Instagram and your emails one last time before bed? Nuh-uh. Not only are you stimulating mental activity, but you’re also tricking your brain into thinking it is still daytime.

The screens of your devices emit a large amount of blue light, which is fine in the day. But close to bedtime? Not so much. The blue light affects your circadian rhythm, making the brain confused about what time it really is.

What to do instead:

Try to power down an hour (two would be even better) before bed. Dim the lights and either turn your devices off or to airplane mode.

If you do have to be on your devices, download apps like f.lux that change the colour of your computer screen to resemble the current time of day. This can help your body recognise that bedtime is approaching.

 

3. Your room isn’t pitch dark

Just like the screens of your laptop and phone, LEDs, standby lights from electronics and other sources of light as small as an ant can mess with your circadian rhythm.

The same goes with curtains or blinds that let light through. It might seem so insignificant, but every little counts.

What to do instead:

Stick tape over that annoying green light on your air-con unit and cover up any lights on your cable box, clocks and devices in the bedroom to make the room as dark as possible. Pitch black is always ideal.

It may also be worth investing in blackout blinds, or eye masks for a cheaper option. Just because your eyes are closed doesn’t mean it’s dark behind the eyelids – 20% of light still reaches our retinas.

 

4. You’re doing too many non-sleep related activities in bed

This would be especially relevant if you live in a small house or a studio apartment, where it’s easy to practically live in bed. Reading, working, watching Netflix or even eating (I hope that’s not you) in bed is a sure way to experience difficulty sleeping at some point. 

What to do instead:

It’s best to reserve your bed for sleep (and sex) – nothing else. You want both your brain and body to have a strong association between your bed and a state of sleepiness, not wakefulness.   

 

5. You’re sleeping too early

Yup, there is such a thing as sleeping too early.

When you try to sleep before you’re truly tired, you end up tossing and turning for 30 minutes, which goes on to become an hour… And then you tell yourself “don’t think about sleep, don’t think about sleep.”

But uh, that’s thinking about sleep. The next thing you know, its 4am and your whole head is consumed by thoughts of how annoying it is that you can’t sleep.

What to do instead:

Do not battle with sleep. If you’ve been in bed for 20 minutes and sleep hasn’t come to you, stop trying. Get out of bed, go to another room and do something else until you feel sleepy.

Just remember not to engage yourself in activities that are too exciting like playing video games. Read a book (not on your iPad) or listen to music – anything quiet and restful which doesn’t involve bright light.

 

6. Your sleep schedule is all over the place

I know you have a social life. I know the weekends are for sleeping in. But it’s not so great for your sleep as a whole, it seems. 

Irregular sleep patterns can affect your melatonin levels and circadian rhythm. Staying up and sleeping in can alter your body’s internal clock, which makes it more difficult to fall asleep on following nights. Studies have also linked irregular sleep patterns to metabolic disorders such as high cholesterol and obesity.

What to do instead:

Establish a routine and go to bed and get up at roughly (doesn’t have to be exactly) the same time daily. This way, you set your body clock to expect sleep during a certain window night after night, and you’ll find yourself falling asleep much faster.

 

7. You’re not getting enough physical activity

Although researchers don’t yet fully understand how exercise directly improves, they do know that moderate aerobic exercise improves slow wave sleep, as well as calms the mind for sleep.

Also, stress is often the culprit behind insomnia, and since exercise is an amazing remedy for stress and anxiety, it is likely getting the body moving promotes better sleep in this way.

I mean, it’s a bit of a no-brainer. You have to feel tired for sleep to come. So if you’ve been skipping the gym workouts with the excuse of “I just don’t have time”, I suggest getting back into it, for sleep’s sake.

What to do instead:

You don’t even have to sign up for an expensive gym membership – there are lots of affordable online training programs you can try out.

Keep in mind not to exercise too close to bedtime. Exercising raises your body temperature, heart rate and adrenalin levels, so vigorous exercise too close to bedtime (1-2 hours) could potentially interfere with your sleep.