You need sleep. How much sleep you need varies, but sleep deprivation, over time, can lead to memory and judgment impairment and chronic fatigue – among other problems.
Be on alert for these lifestyle habits and environmental factors that could be messing with your sleep – and learn how to fix them – so you can wake up feeling well-rested.
#1: Your Wake-Up and Bed Times Vary
The Issue: “Our bodies have what we call a biological clock or circadian rhythm, and that’s usually regulated by different things – melatonin, light, or night and day, body temperature – so what happens is when your sleep schedule is not regular, your circadian rhythm is going the same rate, which is going to create problems,” Mohammad Sheatt MD, director of the Sleep Center at Bethesda Butler Hospital, says.
For example, if you go to bed earlier than what your biological clock is telling you, it will probably take you longer to fall asleep.
The Fix: Aim to go to bed at roughly the same time every night and to wake up at the same time every morning. This will help your circadian rhythm (the body’s internal 24-hour “clock” that plays a critical role in when we fall asleep and wake up), which relies on consistency.
#2: You Sleep in a Room with Lots of Light
The Issue: Light and darkness are our body’s natural cues for waking up and falling asleep. So if you sleep in a room that’s not dark enough or has artificial light, like a computer monitor or lit up smartphone screen, it could hinder your ability to fall asleep.
The Fix: When it’s dark, your body produces more melatonin, which is a hormone secreted by the brain that helps maintain the body’s circadian rhythm. Start dimming lights and powering down electronic devices about an hour before you plan to be in bed. If you sleep in a room with windows that let in moonlight, buy black out curtains or an eye mask to help your body’s melatonin levels rise, signaling that it’s time for bed.
#3: You Drink Alcohol Before Bed
The Issue: Alcohol is a sedative, so it may help you fall asleep; however, the problem is that it affects your quality of sleep throughout the night. “You have periods of arousal, where the brain wakes up or you wake up, so it actually does fragment your sleep,” Dr. Sheatt points out. You may have no idea your brain has woken up throughout the night, though.
Additionally, the more you drink, the more it disrupts your sleep.
The Fix: While a drink or two may be OK, the more you drink, the more your sleep will be interrupted. Dr. Sheatt recommends avoiding alcohol for about three hours before you go to bed.
#4: You Toss and Turn in Bed
The Issue: If you repeatedly have nights where you spend a significant amount of time (more than an hour) trying to fall asleep, with no success, your mind starts to associate your bed with restlessness. “This makes falling asleep harder and reinforces an abnormal sleep pattern,” Dr. Sheatt says.
The Fix: After you’ve spent a half-hour or 45 minutes tossing and turning, get out of bed and try a relaxing activity, like reading or meditating, until you are tired enough to sleep.