7 Bad Sleep Habits You Didn’t Realize You Started, According to Experts — And How to Fix Them

published Mar 7, 2021
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While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to a good night’s sleep, there are steps you can take throughout the day to get a better night’s rest. Think of it as practicing proper sleep hygiene, which is “anything that we do during the day that can help us to prepare our mind and body for better sleep at night,” Dr. Christine Hansen, the CEO of Sleep Like a Boss, tells Apartment Therapy. “You should be able to fall asleep within half an hour of going to bed and wake up feeling refreshed, which generally means sleeping for at least six hours and no more than nine.”

Whether you have difficulty falling asleep or find yourself waking up frequently throughout the night, Dr. Ankit Garg, the medical director at MVP Health Care, says that there are certain practices you can follow — and habits you can break — to increase your chances of getting a good night’s rest. “Everything from drinking too much alcohol to having access to a phone at your bedside can affect your sleep quality,” he explains. 

Curious what small yet impactful daytime habits might be affecting your sleep? From not drinking enough water to exercising too soon before bed, here’s what sleep experts say you might be doing during the day to disrupt your sleep quality at night — and what you can do to correct it. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Drinking caffeine within eight hours before bedtime

If you thought that just because you can’t feel the effects of your afternoon coffee or tea that the caffeine is no longer in your system, Dr. Michael Breus, aka the Sleep Doctor, says you’d be mistaken. “Caffeine has a half-life of six to eight hours,” he explains. “Many people can still fall asleep while having had caffeine, but their quality of sleep will suffer.”

No surprise then that Breus says the earlier in the day that you cut off your caffeine intake, the better quality of sleep you’ll likely receive that night. “Stop consuming caffeine about eight hours before you go to bed,  to ensure that at least half of it is out of your system by bedtime,” he advises. 

Credit: Minette Hand

Exercising too close to your bedtime

Like it or not, Garg says working out right before you go to bed might make it harder for you to fall — and stay — asleep at night. “Exercising before bed will put your body into hyperdrive,” he explains. “When you exercise, your body is called to be alert since this act enables stress hormones, and these take a while to calm down after the activity.”

If you absolutely must exercise within two hours of your bedtime, Garg suggests sticking with a low-intensity workout, like yoga or taking a walk, instead of a more vigorous cardio routine, such as running or sprinting. “This way, fewer stress hormones are released,” he says.

Sleeping with your phone right next to you

If you have a tendency to check your phone while you’re in bed, Adriana Davidson, a psychotherapist with virtual health platform PlushCare, says there’s a good chance it’s messing with not just your quality of sleep but your quality of life. Having your phone next to your bed can tempt you into scrolling, reading, and clicking away the hours which can mean a lot of added stimulation when you’re trying to get to sleep. Having devices around “…can trigger sleep disturbances that impact energy levels and mood the next day,” Davidson says.

Instead of sleeping with electronic devices, like smartphones, tablets, and TVs, within arm’s reach at night, Garg recommends removing them from your bedroom entirely if possible. “Try to read a physical book, or listen to a sleep story or calming music to wind down,” he advises.

Not taking enough breaks throughout the day

Along with exacerbating feelings of depression and anxiety, Dr. David Borenstein says that going to bed when you feel stressed or overwhelmed is almost always an uphill battle. “When people are under a lot of stress, they produce extra cortisol, which can give them a ‘second wind’ of energy at the end of the day,” he explains.

If you regularly struggle with feelings of stress and worry in the evening, Hansen says taking a few short breaks during the day can be a big help. “Sometimes people don’t realize it takes more than the 10 minutes before you go to bed to wind down,” she says. “Whether it’s 10 minutes of meditation or a 15-minute walk, taking strategic breaks throughout the day can help diffuse stress so you can sleep better at night.” 

Not sticking with a consistent sleep schedule

If you aren’t going to bed at the same time every night, and waking up at the same time every morning, Dr. Nicole Avena, author of “What to Eat When You Want to Get Pregnant,” says you’re doing it wrong. “Even the occasional late-night or all-nighter can disrupt your sleep routine and sleep quality,” she says. “Try planning out your day so that you are free for the last hour or so of the night to relax and prepare to sleep.”

To ensure you fall asleep around the same time every night and wake up feeling refreshed, Garg recommends setting your alarm for a specific wake-up time and working your way backward. “For example, if you have to wake up at 6 a.m., aim to be in bed by at least 9:30 p.m. to get eight hours of sleep,” he says. “This would give you 30 minutes to unwind and fall asleep, but you can adjust if this typically takes you longer.”

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Going to bed dehydrated

Not drinking enough water throughout the day isn’t doing your sleep schedule any favors. Nor is drinking too much alcohol, whatever that limit means for you. “Alcohol is both dehydrating and a diuretic,” Hansen says. “So it can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night needing water and to pee.”

In addition to drinking plenty of water a day, Breus suggests cutting off your alcohol intake at least three hours before bed. “Try enforcing a two-drink maximum, and always drink at least one glass of water for every alcohol beverage you consume,” he says. As with any adjustments to your food and beverage intake, you might find it helpful to talk to your doctor about the limits your body feels best with.

Doing non-sleep related activities in bed

Whether you’re answering emails or eating breakfast, Garg says doing anything other than sleeping (or having sex) in bed can make it harder for you to fall asleep at night. “It’s common, especially during COVID-19, to do everything from work to having dinner in bed,” he explains. “Instead, it’s important to use the bed only when you are ready for sleep because it helps your body and mind get into sleep mode.” 

To help ensure you only use your bed for sleep-related purposes, Bornstein suggests keeping the blinds or curtains in your bedroom closed — or installing blackout-lined window treatments — to limit the amount of natural light the room receives and therefore limit your time in the space. “Sunlight disrupts sleep and circadian rhythms,” he explains. “Darkness promotes melatonin production (that makes you feel sleepy), while sunlight blocks it, so keeping your room as dark as possible can help you fall asleep faster and help train your brain not to be alert while you’re in there.” Finally, you’ll get the kind of sleep dreams are made of.