SLEEP ∙ 4 minutes read

7 mistakes you’re making before bed

By Joseph Lee | Medically reviewed by Dr Jaskirt Matharu

We’re all guilty of checking our phone at 1am if we can’t sleep. Sometimes a midnight snack might even turn into a full takeaway order. We all make mistakes, but mistaking the importance of sleep should not be one of them. 

If you’re finding yourself in a sleep deficit, or counting sheep just isn’t cutting it, we’ve put together some of the biggest sleep mistakes to avoid before lights out.

7 biggest sleep mistakes

Pioneering sleep researcher, Allan Rechtschaffen, noted how important sleep is for humans to function. He pointed out that one of the biggest potential mistakes of evolution would be to dismiss the importance of sleep, by saying “If sleep does not serve an absolutely vital function, then it is the biggest mistake the evolutionary process has ever made.” 

So it seems that we need sleep. It’s integral to our being. Thousands of years of human evolution and we still need to lay our heads down for slumber at the end of each day. However, many people are still making mistakes when it comes to sleeping. Here are 7 of the most common sleep mistakes…

1. Eating late

Consuming lots of carb-rich, fatty foods before bedtime is one way to impact the quality of your sleep. This is because foods high in carbohydrates such as crisps, ice cream, pizza and sugary snacks affect your sleep cycle, in both Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non-REM sleep. Research shows that people who sleep for a shorter duration take in more energy from carbs and fats. 

One of the reasons you may not be able to get to sleep after eating calorie-dense food is because your metabolism fires up in order to break down food in your stomach. When your metabolism spikes, your core body temperature rises. This rise in body temperature may affect your body’s sleep-wake rhythm, which in turn could impact the consistency of your sleep.

2. Being hungry

You might find it difficult to sleep if you go to bed loaded with a stomach full of carbs and rich foods, but going to bed hungry can be an equally disruptive sleep mistake before bed.

Although we don’t physically move much when we are asleep, our brain still requires energy to be active during sleep cycles. Eating a small amount of food that contains simple carbohydrates before bedtime may help insulin secretion and enable the human brain to get a vital glucose source from sugar in food. The amount of carbohydrates you eat before bed can have a significant impact on both getting to sleep and staying asleep. 

Research shows that people who have a shorter sleep at night don’t consume adequate nutrients such as vitamin A, C, D, E and K. These sleep problems may be overcome by supplementing your diet with key vitamins

3. Doing intense exercise 

You might think you’re doing yourself a favour by getting a late night gym session in before the clock ticks past midnight, but intense workouts or exercise right before bedtime could be detrimental to your sleep quality.

Although moderately intense exercise is widely believed to improve quality of sleep, high-intensity exercise right before your head hits the pillow could impact cardiac control of your heart during the first few hours of sleeping. 

However, there is good news for those who regularly exercise and like to train hard in the evenings. High-intensity exercise performed 2 to 4 hours before bedtime does not disrupt sleep in healthy, young and middle-aged adults. 

4. Looking at screens before bed 

Although we need melatonin-suppressing blue light to keep us alert during the day, blue light at night-time is a big no. Being exposed to blue light right before sleep can have serious impacts on sleep quality and circadian rhythm.

Circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles that let our bodies know when it’s time to engage in necessary functions. Melatonin, sometimes referred to as the ‘sleep facilitator’, has an important role in the functionality of circadian rhythms.

But if you are a night owl and often find yourself looking at a screen at night time, it’s advisable to use a blue screen filter. Blue screen filters are often an added extra for eyewear glasses and most electronic devices now have night-mode features. Activating the night-mode feature on your phone adjusts the screen temperature to a yellow/orange tone by filtering out the blue light - do yourself a favour and make sure it’s switched on if you use your phone at bedtime.

5. Leaving notifications on your phone 

We’ve all been there, you are just drifting off to sleep, then “Ping. Ping. Ping”. Someone adds a load of messages to the WhatsApp group and you immediately look at your phone. Blue light exposed and now you are distracted by the link sent by your pal. Another night’s sleep is cut short by something that is easily avoided. 

For some, it might be email notifications that buzz when it’s bedtime. The most surefire way to stop notifications from waking you up is to put your device on Airplane mode. 

6. Drinking alcohol 

Even though alcohol is a depressant that may have the effects of sedation and sleepiness, drinking alcohol in excess has a significant impact on sleep quality. Research shows that men who drink 2 alcoholic beverages in the evening may experience a 39% decrease in sleep quality

People who drink alcohol are also more likely to suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a condition that causes breathing to repeatedly stop and start during sleep. Many people with the condition wake up lots during the night and the next day complain of headaches, being irritable and feeling tired the next day.

7. Consuming caffeine and other stimulants

Even though a milky nighttime coffee might make you feel warm and cosy, ready to hit the hay, or maybe a cuppa with biscuits is your go-to midnight snack, the overall impact of caffeine close to bedtime means your sleep quality could be impaired.

Research shows that ingesting caffeine within 6 hours before bedtime can disrupt your sleep that night. 

It probably goes without saying illegal substances are likely to leave you in bed, wide-eyed and wide awake. The use of the addictive stimulant, cocaine, is proven to increase sleep disturbances and with regular use can lead to the development of insomnia.

The bottom line 

If you suffer from sleep disturbances or poor quality of sleep, you may be making some common sleep mistakes that could be easily avoided. Giving your body the best possible chance to adhere to a healthy circadian rhythm will enable you to get a restful night’s sleep. 

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