Getting good sleep is like drinking enough water — a basic building block for good health. When we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies and our minds feel the effects.
But it’s one thing to talk about a healthy sleep schedule and another thing entirely to actually have a healthy sleep schedule. Whether it’s having trouble falling asleep in the first place, or waking up in the middle of the night, sleep woes can be frustrating and exhausting.
Let’s talk about some habits that can affect your sleep.
You’re looking at screens too late.
There’s a reason you’ve been hearing so much about screen time these days. In my experience, this is the No. 1 culprit for insomnia. Many people fall asleep playing on their phone or watching TV, but for healthy sleep, all screens should be turned off at least an hour before bedtime.
Why, you ask? Think about it like this: the light from the screens fools your brain into thinking it is still daytime. As a result, you don’t make melatonin, the hormone that keeps your sleep cycles regular, helping your body fall asleep and wake back up again. Without melatonin, even if you are so tired that you fall asleep, you will not stay asleep as well as you should.
So, turn the screens off! The bedroom is not the place for phones, tablets or TVs.
You don’t have a routine.
Remember when you were “sleep training” your children? Remember how they always did better with a routine? This is true for all of us. Our bodies like predictable patterns.
Keep it simple. Eat your dinner, take a shower, relax, read or spend time with your family, then go to bed. Go to bed at about the same time every night and wake up at about the same time every morning. Let your body know that this is just the schedule you keep and it’s what it is supposed to do. Then, sleepy at 9 p.m. and awake at 6 a.m. will be your body’s “default mode.”
Related: What staying up late is doing to you
You’re eating dinner too late.
I get it. Life is busy. With work and after-school activities, many days, it’s hard to get home and get dinner on the table at a reasonable hour. But if you end up eating dinner too close to bedtime, you’re not giving your body enough time to digest your meal, which can affect your sleep.
Did I mention that not having a long enough break between supper and breakfast also makes it harder to lose weight?
Eating too late and then laying down can also cause acid reflux, which can wake you up with the uncomfortable sensation of heartburn. Did I mention that not having a long enough break between supper and breakfast also makes it harder to lose weight?
Solution: Eat supper earlier. Make it a goal to eat by 6 p.m.
We all know that stress affects us in many different ways, but it doesn’t have to affect your sleep. Do your best to spend that hour or two before bed decompressing from the business of the day. Consider light yoga, meditation or reading.
If you notice that you frequently wake back up because you keep remembering the things you need to do tomorrow, then keep a small notepad beside your bed. Jot down this “to do” item and then let it go. It’s written down and you can remember to do it tomorrow. No big deal.
You’re consuming too much caffeine.
Caffeine is a common stimulant that many of us use to kickstart our mornings. It really should remain as that — a kickstart for the day, not a steady influx of soda or coffee all day long. Drinking caffeinated beverages or taking stimulants like prescription ADHD medication after the afternoon can cause a disruption in your sleep. If you take stimulants, talk to your doctor to make sure they’re not the cause of your sleep troubles.
Your environment isn’t comfortable.
Your bedroom needs to be a comfortable place to sleep. Make sure the room is dark, with minimal noise or just calm, white noise, and that the temperature is cool but not too cold. Everyone has a different preference but I find the average to be about 72 degrees. Be sure your mattress and pillow are comfortable and supportive.
I’m going to repeat my earlier screen comment here because it is such a big deal. No falling asleep to the TV!
You’re using sleep aids.
I frequently have patients tell me that they take an over-the-counter sleep aid to help with their insomnia. Here’s the issue. It may help temporarily. But all of these sleep aids will either lead to rebound insomnia. This means they might help initially, but then they actually start keeping you awake. Or, you can develop tolerance to them. There are some reasonable sleep aids that are not addictive and that do not have significant side effects. Here’s where your doctor can help you make the best choice.
In my opinion, 99 times out of 100, we can fix our sleep problems with behavioral changes like I have mentioned above. If you still are not able to get a good night’s sleep after addressing these factors, talk with your primary care physician. Don’t let poor sleep wreak havoc on your health.
Now, turn off this screen and go relax before heading to bed.
Can’t sleep? Get help today.
About the author
Kathryn Greiner, MD, is a family medicine physician on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Clinic – College Station University Drive. She attended medical school and completed her residency at Texas A&M Science Center College of Medicine. Dr. Greiner enjoys teaching her patients how to partner with her for a healthier life. She is married with three children. Book an appointment with Dr. Greiner today.