When the sun sets and your bedtime approaches, the side effects of your everyday habits start to become more apparent. Your afternoon cappuccino stops you from feeling naturally tired and your later-than-normal wakeup leaves you feeling as if it’s mid-afternoon when it’s really 9pm.
Our daily habits have a huge effect on not just the time that we feel tired and ready to fall asleep, but the quality of sleep we get. Even habits that seem inconsequential and normal can have serious negative effects on our sleep quality.
In this blog post, we’ll share five everyday habits that make it harder for you to fall asleep quickly, prevent you from achieving deep and refreshing sleep and leave you feeling drowsy, tired and out of steam the next morning.
Watching TV or browsing the Internet before sleep
Although we live in an age of iPhones and Internet connectivity, our bodies are still designed to revolve around the natural cycle of the sun. When it’s hot and bright, we feel energetic; when it’s dark and cool, we begin to naturally feel tired.
It’s more than just the light of the sun that keeps us awake – the heat produced by the sun keeps our body at a stable temperature and prevents the creation of sleep hormone melatonin by our pineal gland.
The bright light emitted from an iPhone, computer monitor or television does more than just help you see – it also tricks your brain into thinking that you’re still living in an environment lit by natural daylight.
This inhibits melatonin production and instead tells your body to keep producing a different hormone called cortisol, which produces a natural awakening response to prevent you from dozing off.
Avoid being kept awake unnaturally by TV or your computer by switching off your electronic devices at least an hour before bed. It’s also worth turning off any non-essential house lighting to maximise the melatonin-producing effects of darkness.
Drinking coffee (and other caffeinated drinks) in the afternoon
Are you addicted to caffeine? Many people with a healthy once-a-day coffee habit consume their caffeine too late in the day, preventing them from falling asleep on time and throwing their body clock out of sync.
Caffeine has a surprisingly long half-life, taking about five hours to exit the body in half of its original quantity. This means that half of the caffeine from a cup of coffee you finished at 4pm is still circulating throughout your body at 9pm.
Interestingly, the half-life of caffeine changes based on your lifestyle and a range of common medications. Smokers dispel half of their caffeine in just three hours, while women on hormonal birth control have to deal with a 10-hour caffeine half life.
Other common medications, particularly SSRIs, can further increase the half-life of caffeine, making your morning energy boost a potential insomnia cause. Due to the numerous products containing caffeine, you may be taking in more than you think.
While caffeine isn’t unhealthy in small doses – it actually has numerous benefits for your health and longevity – it’s worth paying attention to how much you consume in the day and, more importantly, when you consume it for healthier sleep.
Exercising too late in the day
For the most part, exercising more helps you sleep. However, the time of day that you choose to do your workout has a huge effect on the amount of time it will take you to fall asleep.
Exercising too late at night – particularly within one or two hours of your bedtime – can prolong your period of alertness and make dozing off difficult. This is especially true if you’re performing high-intensity cardio exercise or heavy weightlifting.
When you sprint on a treadmill or lift a heavy weight above your head, your body’s natural sources of energy often aren’t enough. As a result, a pair of hormones called epinephrine (better known as adrenaline) and norepinephrine are released.
These hormones, which are incredibly useful for helping your body perform at its best under the strenuous conditions of a long run or weightlifting routine, go away slower than they arrive. This is one reason for the ‘post gym high’ many people feel.
Time your exercise so that you’re finished on the treadmill, track or weights room at least two hours before you plan on sleeping. By that point, the hormonal response of your body to exercise will be extra tiredness, not extra adrenaline.
Waking up (or going to sleep) at a different time every day
Do you want up at 8am one day, 7am the next and 10am on the weekend? Changing your wake-up time frequently can have a serious effect on your circadian rhythm – the natural clock inside your body that coordinates your 24-hour schedule.
Small changes to your sleep and waking routine are normal and don’t have a huge effect on your circadian rhythm. However, when you wake up at a different time on a daily basis, your natural late-night melatonin release can be disrupted.
This makes it harder for you to fall asleep at night, triggering late-night insomnia and other frustrating conditions. It also makes it very difficult to move back into a normal sleep cycle after you drift at least a couple of hours out.
Avoid letting your natural sleep cycle fall out of sync with your lifestyle by getting out of bed — really out of bed and on your feet – within one minute of your alarm ringing every morning.
Using your bedroom for work, technology or entertainment
Do you use your bedroom for browsing the Internet, reading books, watching TV and sleeping? The more you use your bedroom for everyday activities, the longer you’ll take to fall asleep when you eventually get into bed at night.
When you watch TV, listen to music or read books in your bedroom, you begin to associate it with things other than sleep. This reduces the mind-body connection between the two and makes falling asleep more challenging.
Make falling asleep easier by watching TV, browsing the Internet and reading books in your living room before heading up to your bedroom for sleep. The small change in environment can make a big psychological difference, prompting quicker, deeper and more refreshing sleep.