10 things to avoid if you want a good night’s sleep

Of all the things you can do for your health, sleeping is arguably the easiest and most important. When you sleep, your body and mind are reset and get busy preparing you for the following day. Too little sleep can harm every aspect of your mental and physical wellbeing. Yes, sleep REALLY is that important.

Despite sleep being so crucial, a third of all adults fail to get the recommended 7-9 hours per night. Many get by on six hours or less. While it’s possible to survive on inadequate amounts of sleep, it’s not recommended, especially if you want to feel, look, and perform at your best.

Sleep can sometimes be hard to come by, and a lot of people report that they are “bad sleepers,” either struggling to drop off to sleep or waking during the night. However, many of these so-called bad sleepers are actually sabotaging their chances of a good night’s sleep by making otherwise avoidable mistakes.

Here are ten things you need to stop doing if you want a good night’s sleep.

1. Going to bed at different times every night

Your body likes routines. Eat your lunch an hour later than usual, and your body will let you know it was expecting food at a particular time. The same is true for sleep. If you get up and go to bed at the same time every day, your body gets used to specific sleep and waking times. If your bedtime keeps changing, your body is less likely to sleep – even though you want it too.

It’s probably been years since you had a bedtime, but if you want to sleep better, it’s time to reintroduce one. Not only during the week but at weekends too. This means that, on reaching your regular bedtime, your body will expect to go to sleep.

2. Going to bed with a full stomach or bladder

While a light snack or a cup of chamomile or passionflower tea can help you sleep, if you consume food or drink too close to bedtime, you increase the chances that you’ll need to get up and use the bathroom during the night. This will ruin what should have been an uninterrupted night of rest.

Stop eating and drinking 2-3 hours before it’s time to go to bed to give your body the time it needs to process what you have consumed. Also, avoid very large meals so that you don’t go to bed with a stomach full of food. Big me3als too close to bedtime can cause gastrointestinal discomfort and acid reflux, both of which will disrupt your sleep.

3. Too much bright light exposure before bedtime

Bright light tells your brain that it’s time to wake up. In contrast, dim lights and darkness prime your body for sleep. Avoid all bright lights 1-2 hours before bedtime to fall asleep more easily. This includes light-emitting electronic devices such as tablets and smartphones.

4. Consuming caffeine, nicotine, or other stimulants

Caffeine, nicotine, and certain prescription and recreational medications have a stimulatory effect. They speed up your heart and breathing rate and also fire up your brain and nervous system. That can be helpful first thing in the morning when you need to wake up, or want an energy boost later in the day, but will probably stop you from falling asleep.

Tolerance to stimulants varies from person to person. Still, most people should avoid caffeine, nicotine, etc., for 3-4 hours before going to bed. If you are currently on prescription medications that contain stimulants, such as asthma inhalers and decongestants, ask your doctor when they are best taken to avoid disrupting your sleep.

5. Drinking alcohol before going to bed

Drinking alcohol can make you feel relaxed and drowsy, but it doesn’t help you sleep any better. In fact, drinking alcohol before bed could make for a restless night. For starters, alcohol makes you want to urinate more, and getting up to use the bathroom will interrupt your restful night.

Also, while alcohol can “knock you out,” your sleep will not be restorative. Alcohol-fueled sleep is not the same as natural sleep. You might wake up eight hours later feeling more tired than when you went to bed. Avoid alcohol before bed to sleep better.

6. Exercising too close to bedtime

Physical activity is vital for sleep, but working out too close to bedtime can stop you from dozing off and could lead to nighttime waking. Intense workouts stimulate your nervous system, and that’s the last thing you need before heading off to bed.

Gentle exercise such as yoga and tai chi are conducive to sleep, but energetic workouts like strength training and running are not. Try to leave 2-3 hours between intense exercise and attempting to sleep and avoid sports energy drinks, which often contain stimulating sugar and caffeine if you work out in the evening.

7. Napping during the day

If you are tired, you may be tempted to grab a nap. Unfortunately, daytime napping can make it harder to go to sleep at night. This creates a vicious cycle of daytime tiredness and nighttime insomnia. Sleeping during the day not only means you’ll be less tired at night, but it also confuses your circadian rhythm. This is your body’s system for regulating your sleep and wake cycles.

It might take a concerted effort to quit daytime napping but, if you do, you’ll sleep better at night. Also, avoid sleeping in your chair while watching TV at night. If you are so tired, you fall asleep before bedtime, you should probably just go to bed earlier, where your sleep quality will be much better.

8. Getting worked up before going to bed

It’s tough to go to sleep when your brain is running at top speed, or you feel anxious or otherwise stimulated. Avoid situations that get you worked up in the hours leading up to your bedtime. For example, if watching sporting events or political debates make you excited or angry, avoid them entirely or limit them to the early evening. Better still, record them and watch them during daylight hours.

9. Being distracted when you should be going to sleep

Imagine trying to sleep while someone is poking you in the ribs. It’d be pretty tricky, right? Watching TV, using your smartphone or tablet, or otherwise occupying your brain and body when you should be sleeping is essentially the same thing.

Once you are in bed, avoid all distractions that stop you from sleeping. If you must pass some time before you go to sleep, try reading a book or listening to relaxing music. Avoid anything that will wake you up or otherwise distract you from sleeping.

The only exception to this rule is sex; sex can actually help you sleep by flooding your body with relaxing, feel-good hormones called endorphins.

10. Weekend lie-ins 

If you have to get up early during the week, you may be tempted to lie in at weekends. Unfortunately, this is not a good idea. Sleeping in at weekends means you are more likely to stay up late, and that means you’ll wake up tired on Monday morning. In addition, your lie-ins will disrupt your circadian rhythm, undoing the benefits of going to bed at the same time during the week.

Finally, remember that you cannot repay a sleep debt with a couple of lie-ins. Unfortunately, not getting enough sleep affects you the very night it happens, and sleeping in later in the week won’t help.

Summary

Stop sabotaging your sleep by making these all-too-common mistakes. Instead, go to bed at the same time each night, stop napping during the day and avoid stimulants and heavy meals too close to bedtime. Making these changes will take effort, but you’ll be rewarded with a much more restorative night of sleep.

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