If you fall asleep the second your head hits the pillow, you should probably rethink your strategy. “People who do that are sleep-deprived,” says Phyllis Zee, MD, PhD, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “It usually takes a healthy person about 10 to 15 minutes to fall asleep.”
On the other hand, if you’re still staring at the clock 30 minutes — or an hour, or many hours — later, one or more of these nighttime bad habits may be to blame.
Many of us think we can’t function in the morning until we’ve had our coffee, so why would anyone think having a cup late in the day would be a good idea?
The cutoff time for coffee is 2 p.m., says James Maas, PhD, author of “Sleep for Success.” If you’re really sensitive, it may be best to limit your caffeine to one cup in the morning. “Caffeine can affect you for six, seven, eight, maybe even more than 10 hours,” Zee says.
Sure, a nightcap may help you fall asleep — but it won’t be a sound sleep. That wine or gin will make you wake up during the night, experts say. “It ruins REM sleep, which is key for body and brain restoration,” Maas says.
Feel free to have a glass of wine with dinner, but cut out alcohol within two to three hours before your bedtime, Zee recommends.
As if you need another reason to stop being on your phone 24/7… but hear this: Blue light sources like those from your phone, tablet and laptop suppress the production of melatonin, Zee says.
Melatonin is a hormone that controls your body clock, and those levels typically increase as it gets darker in the evening. But if you’re too busy swiping on Tinder or responding to work emails into the wee hours, your melatonin levels won’t rise, and you won’t feel sleepy.
If you’re not ready to put your smartphone, tablet or laptop down, use a program or app like f.lux, which changes the color of your screen to more of a reddish tone closer to bedtime. This is easier on your eyes and may help with sleep.
The amount of blue light your television emits depends on the type, but no matter what, the light is bright, Zee says. And while you sit farther away from your big screen than you do your phone, you still want to avoid any kind of bright light because it all impacts your melatonin levels.
Plus, something like “Game of Thrones” or even the news might be disturbing or thought-provoking, which isn’t conducive to rest — or the show could just draw you in, and before you know it, it’s 2 a.m. and you. can’t. stop. watching. Turn off your television an hour before you go to bed, Zee recommends. (You can always binge-watch your Netflix on the weekend.)
Working out can help you sleep better, but you have to time it correctly.
In one study of more than 2,600 adults, those who did at least 2.5 hours of moderate-to-vigorous activity per week saw a 65% improvement in sleep quality. They also said they felt more alert during the day.
However, a study in the journal Sleep looked at how the time of day women sweated impacted their sleep. Those who exercised in the morning had less trouble falling asleep, whereas those who worked out at night had more trouble dozing off.
In general, Zee recommends wrapping up your gym session within three hours of your bedtime. However, we’re all different (and maybe the only time you can fit in a workout is later in the evening), so see what’s best for you.
Eating spicy foods
That pepperoni pizza may look delicious when you’re out at midnight, but you’re asking for indigestion, which of course won’t lead to smooth sleeping.
Avoid spicy foods and anything else that might upset your stomach close to bedtime. Zee says to stop eating about three hours before hitting the sheets, but Maas says a light snack is OK. If you worry that hunger will keep you up, have some cereal, fruit and nut butter or crackers with hummus.
Turning up the heat
You may be tempted to turn up the thermostat a degree or two before you go to bed, especially in the winter.
But don’t. Your body temperature drops as you doze, so a cooler room may help you fall asleep faster. The National Sleep Foundation says 60–67°F is the slumber sweet spot.
Answering emails on your smartphone after-hours is not only is a source of blue light, it also negatively impacts your performance the next day. In a 2014 study, people who worked on their phones at night were less productive once they were in the office the following day.
“In the U.S., it’s thought of as a badge of honor, that you’re a good, hard worker because you can be reached anytime, 24/7,” Zee says. “But it’s creating burnout. Set expectations and say, ‘I won’t respond to emails after X time.’ ”
Try making a few — or all — of these tweaks and hopefully you’ll be sleeping better soon.