We humans are notoriously bad at getting enough sleep. Theories abound as to why this is, but maybe the best answer is rather simple: too many underestimate the importance of good sleeping habits.
As we’ll discover from the research below, this is more than just a theory.
There are still countless others who would like to improve the quality of their sleep and don’t know how. These folks don’t understand why their sleep is terrible. They’ve “tried everything” and are still unable to cultivate and sustain healthy sleeping habits.
But sleeping well is more than knowing what to do. It’s just as important to know what not to do. As you’ll soon discover, most of us have atrocious sleeping behaviors.
Before getting into the three sleeping habits that are ruining your slumber, discussing the basics of sleep science is essential. If some of this info looks familiar, that’s because it’s everywhere.
We’ll also provide some insights into the latest research.
Let’s get to it then!
The Importance of Sleep (Again…)
“Sleep is the Swiss army knife of health. When sleep is deficient, there is sickness and disease. And when sleep is abundant, there is vitality and health.” ~ Matthew Walker (source)
Okay, so for many of you, the following will sound like a broken record. But here we go again: the vital functions of getting enough rest:
- Elimination of brain toxins (Which help prevents dementia…)
- Energy conservation (Staving off exhaustion…)
- Enhances personal performance
- Modulation of the immune response (So you’re not sick all the time…)
- Normal cognition (Being able to actually think…)
- Promotes vigilance and proper response times (You actually feel alive when you’re awake…thus enabling you to respond faster than a slug.)
- Supports mental health
- Promotes physical health
- Um, those sound pretty important.
Lack of sleep is also implicated in several severe medical conditions, including anxiety, depression, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure (hypertension) obesity, and others.
A 2018 study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that just one night of poor sleep resulted in the buildup of beta-amyloid in the brain. Beta-amyloid accumulation in the brain is thought to be one of the primary causes of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The Research Is In: Bad Sleepers Are Everywhere
“You know lack of sleep can make you grumpy and foggy. You may not know what it can do to your sex life, memory, healthy, looks, and even ability to lose weight.” ~ Camille Peri, Author
In an 11,006-person survey commissioned by Royal Philips, adults from 12 countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, the Netherlands, Singapore, South Korea, and the U.S) were asked about their “attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors) about sleep.
The major finding? Just 50 percent of adults worldwide cite a lack of sufficient rest as having a “major impact on their overall health and wellbeing.” Half of adults don’t know/think that sleep is vital to personal health.
Some other rather embarrassing exciting findings from the study:
- On average, adults sleep less than 7 hours per night.
- 63 percent sleep longer on weekends to “catch up on sleep.”
- 40 percent state that their sleep has worsened over the last five years.
- 69 percent try to improve their sleep by watching television…
- …57 percent tried a set bedtime/wake-up schedule. (Notice that this is 12 percent lower than those who think watching the tube is better for inducing sleep.)
- 80 percent want to improve the quality of their sleep…
- … 60 percent of those have never asked their doctor for advice.
- Just 14 percent have sought health from a sleep specialist
75 percent of adults list at least one medical condition that impacts their sleep. Insomnia (37% of survey respondents) is the most common, followed by:
- Snoring: 29%
- Shift work sleep disorder: 22%
- Chronic pain: 14%
- Sleep apnea: 14%
- Restless leg syndrome: 9%
- Narcolepsy: 3%
- Other (unlisted): 9%
So, let’s get this straight. 80 percent of us want to rest better – and 69 percent of us think that turning the T.V. on will help.
Oh, boy. We’ve got some work to do.
Three Sleeping Habits Ruining Your Sleep
“If you suffer from consistently poor sleep, implementing standard sleep hygiene tips … likely won’t be enough.” ~ Nick Wignall, Psychologist and Sleep Specialist (source)
It isn’t possible to “hack” your way to a night of better sleep. You can try darker curtains, noise machines, less light, lower room temperature, and the like – but if you have consistently bad habits, any improvement in sleep quality is unlikely to last.
It is crucial to nip any poor pre-bedtime behaviors in the bud, which includes the following:
Going to bed too early
Have you ever hit the hay early because of “a big day tomorrow?” While your head may have been in the right place, this almost certainly points to out of whack sleeping habits.
We all have internal clock cycles – for better or worse. Our body gets into a rhythm in a way that is very difficult to interrupt. Heading to bed early on account of some special occasion will do little else besides throwing our circadian rhythm more out of whack.
In all likelihood, your body will not be ready to “shut down.” And you’ll probably just lay in bed awake. The longer this goes on, the more likely you’re training the subconscious part of your brain to associate bedtime with arousal.
The fix: Don’t go to bed if you’re not tired. Those with an overactive mind will probably end up thinking about something. This may create or exacerbate disadvantageous nighttime habits.
(Note: while many researchers have been on the same page regarding the disadvantages of sleeping in, mainly that it interrupts the circadian rhythm, some very recent research has found that lying in bed on the weekends may extend lifespan. Go figure!)
Sleeping in on the weekends
Here’s a surprising one: we don’t accumulate “sleep debt.” At least not any sleep debt that can be “repaid.” While sleeping in on the weekends to atone for lost shut-eye during the week seems like common sense, it turns out that there’s no scientific evidence that something like a sleep debt exists.
Some sleep specialists believe that the consequences of sleeping in resemble those of ‘social jet lag.’ Basically, our internal clock doesn’t match the actual time, but rather than a different time zone being the catalyst, the real cause is a weak sleep schedule.
To illustrate the concept of social jet lag, let’s say that you stay up two hours later on Friday and Saturday evening and wake up two hours later on Saturday and Sunday morning. The effects of doing so are the same as crossing two time zones. Worse, the symptoms of social jet lag – chronic fatigue, irritability, and ‘brain fog’ – last up to a few days.
The fix: While going to bed and waking up at the same time seven days a week may sound unappealing for some, it is simply the best practice for getting adequate, quality slumber.
Not having ‘wind-down’ time
Many of us head to bed after a long and hectic day and expect our mind to just shut themselves off. Of course, it doesn’t work this way.
Just as a jumbo jet needs to glide onto the runway and apply the brakes, your powerful brain needs to slowly glide itself to rest before coming to a complete stop in sleep. Mental stimulation doesn’t just stop when we climb into bed.
The more active that your brain is during the day and especially right before bedtime, the longer the wind-down period. By understanding this point, we can initiate some changes that may make all the difference to our rest quality.
The fix: First, know that your brain needs time to come to a halt. Don’t expect too much too soon. Second, adjust your priorities and schedule for a two-hour wind-down period.
In these couple of hours, abstain from any heavy intellectual work. Get yourself comfortable with the attitude that you’ll be heading to bed soon. Stay off the phone and away from digital screens of any kind. Forgo any impulse to consume food or drink (especially caffeine or alcohol) during this period.
Forming new habits–and eliminating old ones–takes time and commitment. You’ll gradually get used to the changes as you continue to eliminate your poor sleeping habits and replace them with healthier options. Then, you will reap the handsome reward of a great night of rest every night.