Getting enough sleep is an absolute necessity if we are to be our best selves. Unfortunately, many of us don’t – 35% of the population state that they don’t get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep a night. Consequently, inadequate sleep is quickly becoming a public health epidemic. Wait, epidemic? Is it that serious? The Center for Disease Control – the U.S. foremost authority on public health – says that it is.
The reason for this is simple: sleep deprivation does not only harm the individual (which is reason enough), but harms our entire society. Sleep insufficiency has been linked to:
– motor vehicle crashes
– industrial disasters
– medical errors
– other occupational errors
Also, individuals who suffer from sleep deficiencies are more likely to suffer from health issues, such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, obesity, increased mortality, cancer, and reduced quality of life. It is estimated that around 50-70 million Americans have a sleep or wakefulness disorder.
But it’s not just the “severe” consequences of sleep deprivation that have public health officials concerned. Consider these self-reported statistics of sleep-related difficulties reported by adults 20 years or older.
– 23.2% (49.2 million) have difficulty concentrating.
– 18.2% (38.8 million) have difficulty remembering things.
– 10.5% (22.3 million) have difficulty taking care of finances.
Certainly, our schedules are loaded with things to do. Work, school, kids, spouses and other responsibilities take up a large portion of our day. But is there something that we are doing that’s causing such poor sleep habits? The Center for Disease Control and other health officials give a resounding “YES!” to that question.
Here are 10 of the most common habits to avoid before bed:
1. Going to sleep or waking up at different hours
According to Dr. Brandon Peters at About Health, we should select a wake time that is observable during both nights and weekends. For most people this would involve selecting a time that allows us to go to work or school, and then getting up at the same time on Saturday and Sunday. The reason for this is that our bodies follow what is called the circadian rhythm which relies on consistency. To us, this means that our bodies signal when we should be truly awake and when we should be sleeping. We’re more alert and better prepared for work, school, etc. when we follow this pattern. We also sleep much better.
2. Drinking water immediately before bedtime
Notice the word immediately. Nobody is saying that drinking water isn’t important, it is! But if we’ve done our part and hydrated appropriately throughout the day (7-8 12 oz. glasses), it becomes less necessary to drink a bunch of H2O at nighttime. Drinking water causes us to pee, and waking up to pee disrupts our sleep. Pretty simple stuff here!
3. Consuming alcohol or tobacco
Alcohol and nicotine are sleep disruptors. One is a depressant (alcohol), and one is a stimulant (nicotine/tobacco); neither are conducive to a good night’s sleep. Alcohol reduces REM (Rapid Eye Movement), or deep sleep. Nicotine stimulates the brain and body, which makes it more difficult for us to settle in and drift off. For a good night’s rest, lay off the wine and cigarettes!
4. Eating a large meal
Ingesting a lot of food before bedtime can disrupt sleep. The reason is that our metabolism has to kick in, which makes it difficult fall asleep and stay asleep. Further, a large amount of food in the stomach can become uncomfortable, which makes us prone to waking up. If that still isn’t enough, consider that eating large meals before bedtime has been associated with weight gain, gastroesophageal reflex disease, and other nasty physical effects.
5. Using a tablet or smartphone
Yep, this one kind of sucks…for everyone involved. We love our gadgets, and what is better than playing a game, texting, or reading an e-book while snuggled under the covers? We love it, but our bodies hate it. More specifically, our brains hate it. The reason is that electronics stimulate our cognitive faculties, making it more difficult for our brains and bodies to transition into a state that invites sleep. For a good night’s rest, lay off of these gadgets while preparing to fall asleep.
6. Texting in bed
This one is a no-brainer, especially given that we’ve already discussed #5. However, texting at night, especially in bed, is so common and sleep disruptive that it deserves its own section. Texting in bed is a double-edged sword: (1) we’re using an electronic device (smartphone) that makes it much more difficult to sleep, and (2) text messaging is perhaps the most powerful time vacuum; we get sucked deep into a conversation and, before you know it, an hour or two has passed. Definitely lay off chatting with your besties before bed.
Chalk this one up, along with drinking water, as the one of the two healthy activities that we shouldn’t do before bedtime. Exercise is awesome any other time of the day. The reason that this isn’t healthy before bedtime is that the brain becomes highly alert due to the influx of “feel-good” hormones, such as endorphins. The muscles and the heart are also stimulated, which increases this alertness – not a good combination before sleep time.
8. Eating spicy or junk foods
Eating before bedtime is not good, but eating spicy or junk food before hitting the sack is worse. Spicy food increases body temperature, which causes sleep disruption. It also further speeds up the body’s metabolism. Junk food stimulates more brain waves, which disrupts our brain’s normal evening activity. Obviously, junk food also contains a heavy amount of sugar, which is counterproductive when trying to fall and stay asleep.
9. Trying to force sleep
With all of the emphasis being placed on getting a good night’s sleep, it may become natural to just stay in bed until sleep comes. In fact, this is not good practice, and we are probably all guilty of doing it. The reason why trying to force sleep doesn’t work is because sleep requires a calm state of mind and body. When trying to force sleep, we become stressed and anxious and make the problem worse. Instead, we should just get out of bed and do something else completely. Doing so takes our mind off of sleep and makes naturally tires us out a bit, making sleep easier to come by.
Our bodies have an internal clock that’s set for many things. One of them is sleep. Just as it’s important to get enough sleep, it’s important to not overdo it. The main reason is that it jacks up our internal clocks; we feel groggy, foggy and out-of-sorts and it becomes more difficult to get back into a good sleep pattern. We have to be careful with this next statement, but sleeping in every once in a while is probably just fine!