Lack of sleep is such a universal problem that the National Sleep Foundation has proclaimed the week of March 10th as Sleep Awareness Week.
How do you assess your bedroom habits and optimize your nighttime routine for better sleep? To find out, we turned to Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a New York-based neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University.
Studies show that sleep quality is directly related to sleep hygiene. So could it be that your nighttime habits are causing you to lose out on the benefits of quality sleep?
Dr. Hafeez says that “not only are people unaware of why they are suffering from insomnia or not getting quality sleep but they are unaware of the effects this has on their health, daily functions and brain.” The New York-based Neuropsychologist explains that a large part of insomnia is a result of poor sleep hygiene.
The National Sleep Foundation defines sleep hygiene as “a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness.”
Here are 10 behaviors that could be causing a decline in your sleep quality and tips from our neuropsychology expert explaining how to fix them!
Working out can help de-stress the body and reduce anxiety. However, “if done too close to your bedtime your body might still feel the adrenaline and pump of the workout and it might be difficult to fall into a sedative state,” says Dr. Hafeez.
“Nicotine is a stimulant and it is well known to cause insomnia. Depending on how your body processes nicotine you could be putting yourself at risk for low quality sleep which means a lack of REM sleep,” warns Dr. Hafeez. This stage of sleep is where we recharge the most throughout the night. In other cases, people unassumingly snack on chocolate or have a soft drink that contains caffeine and that caffeine will keep you in a state of alert and it will be more noticeable that you are alert as you stare at the roof without any other activity. “Caffeine is great at work when you need a little help staying alert, but at night it can cause you to miss out on that much-needed recharge,” Dr. Hafeez says.
Much like productivity professionals advise maintaining a designated area
for studying or work, sleep experts say your bed should be used almost exclusively for sleeping and sharing intimate moments with our spouse or lover. This is because, “the brain has a hard time adjusting to sleep mode if it gets used to being on the bed all the time, eating, watching tv, studying or just hanging out. You’ll have a harder time shifting into actual ‘bedtime,’ explains Dr. Hafeez.
For late night munchers, it is no strange notion that after a binge session at 3 a.m it may be a little difficult to fall asleep. “Your system is stuffed. Depending on how much you eat you may feel bloated or hyperactive. This can result in you feeling uncomfortable. If you’re on a diet you may feel guilty for breaking your regimen,” says Dr. Hafeez. All of these things cause your brain and system to be preoccupied with all but falling asleep.
Many people say they sleep better after drinking. That may be true for a glass of wine with a light dinner but “a restful sleep is not the same as blacking out or drinking so heavily that you find yourself inebriated prior to sleep,” explains Dr. Hafeez. Alcohol disrupts the way our body absorbs liquid, thus causing urgent and frequent needs to go to the restroom to urinate. Dr. Hafeez also says alcohol tends to disrupt the restful stage of REM.
Not only is “don’t go to bed angry” good relationship advice, it turns out it ’s great psychological and sleep hygiene advice. Dr. Hafeez explains that “if you are able to leave things off with someone in a better place or in a place of ‘we will work this out in the morning because we care for each other,’ you have a better chance of letting your body relax into sleep.” If you aren’t able to calm your frustration for the night you may find your mind circling the problem until the sun comes up.
This is a major issue in today’s digital age. People are tuned in to their phones too late into the night, reports show. “As more and more people opt to have their phone by their bedside and go to bed staring at their screens there is an increase in phone-related insomnia. Our eyes stay alert with the light of the screen explains Dr. Hafeez. “The constant scrolling and continued processing of information make it so your brain never begins relaxing,” she says. Tips for avoiding this issue are to leave your phone across the room. This also helps when waking up in the morning and having to walk across the room to turn your alarm off.
Optimal room temperature is commonly thought to be 60-67 degrees according to the national sleep foundation. “Your body has a way of regulating temperature relative to the temperature of the room in order to relax you into sleep,” says Dr. Hafeez. If the room temperature is too hot or too cold it can cause discomfort that will wake you up throughout the night or keep you from falling asleep at all.
If a room is getting too much light coming in from the window or from your bedroom hallway it can be difficult to sleep. “Many people with light sensitivity will use blackout curtains to optimize the room for sleep. When clocks move forward and the sun rises at an earlier time people often struggle to acclimate themselves to the new time because the sunlight is waking them up,” says Dr. Hafeez
Sleep is a recharge for the day's activities. If you are constantly napping or napped too heavily during the day, your mind won’t be as tired as it usually is once it’s time to tuck into the sheets for the night. “Napping if necessary is not a bad thing. But one 20 to 30-minute nap is very different than sleeping all day and then struggling at night to sleep,” says Dr. Hafeez.
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