The average American gets less than seven hours of sleep each night, which is not nearly enough in order to reap the benefits of slumber. Even the people who are in bed for 8-9 hours a night may not be getting the high quality of sleep they need. Just because you get into bed at 11 p.m. and get out of bed at 8 a.m. doesn't mean you're getting adequate rest. With our modern lifestyle, there are many distractions in our bedroom that prevent us from properly preparing the body for sleep. From cell phones to tablets to TV, we have a million reasons to stay up late and overstimulate ourselves before our head hits the pillow.
When you hear people talking about health or even weight loss, the main things that come to mind are exercise and diet. These are of course important components, but they don't paint the whole picture. Sleep is incredibly important for overall health and wellness. It affects your hormonal balance and menstrual cycle, brain function, metabolism, memory retention, mood, digestion, immune system, and more. Many people jokingly evoke the phrase "I'll sleep when I'm dead" without realizing that not sleeping enough is actually lowering the quality of their life—even if they're not conscious of it. Once you do finally start getting high-quality sleep on a regular basis, you'll wonder how you ever functioned on the crappy sleep you were getting before.
If you're serious about improving your health, performing well at work, being vibrant and energetic for your family and friends, you need to be prioritizing sleep. Here are six common habits you probably do every night that are actually sabotaging your quality sleep—and here's how you fix them.
1. You Go to Bed at a Different Time Every Night
I suffered from insomnia for almost a year and it was one of the most miserable things I've ever experienced. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. I poured over a wide variety of sleep books and discovered there were some obvious common denominators that came from all the experts. The very first piece of advice that helps you achieve high-quality sleep is as follows: go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Yes, that means you go to bed at the same time on the weekends as you do on weeknights, and you wake up at the same time on weekend mornings as you would on weekday mornings.
Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
This is perhaps the hardest thing to do because so many of us are accustomed to living differently on the weekend than we do during the week. You stay up late on Friday and Saturday nights, and then you sleep in on Saturday and Sunday mornings. That's just the way most people live their lives. Unfortunately, this very common habit is quite disrupting to your sleep/wake cycle; your internal clock needs a routine that it can rely on so that your body knows when to wind down and rest, and when to perk up and be energetic. When your sleep/wake cycle is regulated, you won't need to rely on caffeine or any other kind of stimulants to make you alert and you certainly won't have to take anything at night to make you feel tired enough for bed.
If you're serious about improving your sleep, you have to commit to going to bed at the same time every night and also waking up at the same time in the morning. Yes, even on the weekends. This is the single best thing you can do to regulate your internal clock and help you achieve success in all three phases of sleep.
2. You Take Melatonin or Another Sleep Aid
Our bodies naturally produce melatonin, and it's a hormone released by the pineal gland at night that promotes a state of quiet wakefulness in order to prepare us for sleep. But when we have trouble producing enough naturally, we feel the need to take a supplement to get ourselves to tired enough for bed. However, taking melatonin regularly will disrupt your body's natural production and send the signal that you don't need to produce much more. This means you'll need to take a supplement every single night in order to reach the point where you're tired enough to go to sleep.
Our bodies naturally produce melatonin.
Consider other habits that will help you to fall asleep quickly, like breathing (Wim Hof breathing is great at bedtime), meditation, herbal tea, stretching, etc. These will help you wind down the body, relax, and prepare for bedtime. It's okay to take melatonin every once in a while, but don't make it a regular thing by any means because you want your body to be able to get tired on its own.
3. You Exercise Too Close to Bedtime
Sometimes our schedule gets busy and we aren't able to go to the gym in the morning, and then you get through the work day and even though you meant to workout before dinner, you just didn't get around to it. Next thing you know, it's 8 p.m. and you're finally going for a run. It feels great to sweat it out and end the day on a high note, but when you climb into bed, you just can't find a way to fall asleep. That's because you have so much adrenaline pumping through the body and it's difficult to wind yourself down in time for bed. End strenuous physical activity at least three hours before you climb into bed. You don't want to be too stimulated at night, but rather calm and serene.
4. You Eat a Late Dinner
Life gets in the way and it's easy to let dinner fall later into the night, but the earlier you can eat, the better. It takes energy for your body to process the food you eat, and you don't want your body working hard as it's time to go to sleep, as this will prevent you from calming down and relaxing. Plus, it's good to give your digestive system a long enough break between dinner and breakfast. Try to cut off meals at least three hours before bedtime, just like your workout. Give your body the opportunity to fully rest, and it will be roaring and ready to go in the morning.
Consuming bright blue light in the evening is stimulating and will keep you awake.
5. You Go to Sleep Too Late
People think it's perfectly fine to sleep from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. because, hey, that's eight hours, right? But it's not so simple. There are three phases of sleep: light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep. Light sleep is just the connector between deep sleep and REM sleep. Deep sleep is the most restorative, restful phase of sleep that is involved strongly with recovery. Most of the time, when you wake up feeling exhausted the next day and sluggish, that's a result of not getting enough deep sleep. But it's important to note that deep sleep occurs in the earlier hours of the night. Roughly between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. is when the best deep sleep occurs and you want to aim for at least 90 minutes of deep sleep each night. When you fall asleep, it takes some time to fully relax and move from light sleep to deep sleep, so if you're going to bed at 1 a.m., you're not going to get the full phase of deep sleep that you need in order to function properly. It's best to go to sleep between 9-10 p.m.
6. You Use Electronics Late at Night
You already know this, so it's more of a reminder than anything else. Consuming bright blue light in the evening is stimulating and will keep you awake; not only will it make it harder for you to fall asleep but it could also make it more difficult for you to stay asleep throughout the night. Shut off all your electronics 30-60 minutes before bed at least, wear blue blockers after the sun goes down, and limit how much you're scrolling through social media at night.