Everybody wants to get a good night’s sleep, and most of us do our best to ensure this happens. No caffeine after dinner, slip into comfortable pyjamas, and lights out by 9pm—your routine may look similar. But despite our best intentions, many of us may be ruining our sleep without even knowing it!
Here are seven sneaky ways you may be sabotaging your sleep:
1. Drinking alcohol before bed
Many people swear by a nightcap to help them get to sleep. Technically, they’re correct—alcohol is a depressant and will make you drowsy 1. However, alcohol also has stimulatory effects that disrupt later stages of sleep: as the body works to process the alcohol in its system, it adjusts to maintain normal sleep during the first half of the night. But once the alcohol is eliminated from the body, these adjustments lead to disrupted sleep.
A drink or two may help you fall asleep, but alcohol will reduce your REM sleep and likely keep you tossing and turning in the wee hours. It’s best to forgo alcohol a few hours before bed for the best chance at a night of restful slumber.
2. Taking a pain reliever late in the evening
Night time pain makes getting to bed and staying asleep difficult. It’s easy to reach for medication as a quick fix, but that pain reliever may be hindering your sleep. Many popular over-the-counter pain medications contain as much caffeine as a cup of coffee 2. Since the effects of caffeine can kick in as soon as 15 minutes after ingestion and last 4 to 6 hours 3, you may be hurting your sleep whilst trying to better it!
Managing pain can be tricky, so it’s best to seek advice from your GP. He or she may suggest alternatives to medication, such as exercise or pre-bedtime stretching.
3. Indulging in late night chocolaty snacks
Bad news for chocolate lovers—that block of chokkie also contains caffeine. The good news is that the amount of caffeine in chocolate is very low compared to other sources. A cup of brewed coffee contains on average 200mg 4, where 100g of milk chocolate contains just 20mg of caffeine 5. But beware of dark chocolate goodies which contain more caffeine—over 80mg per 100g 6!
If you are particularly sensitive to caffeine’s effects, you may want to avoid chocolate a few hours before bedtime. At the very least, pay attention to serving sizes to avoid ingesting too much caffeine (and sugar!).
Lighting up a cigarette is never recommended, and smoking close to bedtime is especially bad for sleep. Nicotine is a stimulant when taken in small doses, and its effects can take hours to wear off 7.
The best advice in this case is to simply quit. Your body will thank you, both day and night!
5. Turning up the heat
Body temperature plays a big part in sleep. Your temperature naturally drops during the evening, just one of the many signals to the body that it’s time for night time sleep 8. However, while many agree that sleeping during the sweltering summer heat is no fun, the natural reaction to winter cold is to turn up the heat. This could make drifting off to sleep more difficult as your body tries to shed heat through your feet and hands 9.
Keeping bedroom heat low in winter and cooling your bedroom in summer may help sleep come easier. You might even want to try keeping your feet and hands uncovered whilst you sleep to help the cooling process.
6. Sleeping with a pet
We know how you feel - it can be tough saying no to those big round puppy eyes or kicking a purring cat out of bed. For some people, sharing their bed with a pet could make them feel more secure or relaxed 10. However, others may report that their pet often disturbs their sleep. Pets can rouse you late at night for a number of reasons: night time wandering, needing to go outside, barking and meowing, or even snoring!
If you wake up refreshed each morning despite sharing your bedroom with your pet(s), then there’s probably no reason to change your routine. But, if Fido or Fluffy are continually waking you at night it may be a good idea to move them to their own sleeping quarters.
7. Watching TV in bed
We’ve talked about this time and time again, but it bears repeating: TV sets should be banned from the bedroom. The blue light emitted from televisions delay the release of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep 11.
And it’s not just TV that’s disrupting our sleep. Other electronics, such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones, are easily brought to bed, increasing their use before sleep. We recommend limiting screen time after dinner, especially one hour before bedtime. Use this time to indulge in relaxing activities instead, such as taking a warm bath or reading a paper and ink book.
The sleepvantage Team
Derry CJ, Derry S, Moore RA. “Caffeine as an analgesic adjuvant for acute pain in adults.” The Cochrane Library. More
Committee on Military Nutrition Research, Food and Nutrition Board. (2001) “Caffeine for the Sustainment of Mental Task Performance: Formulations for Military Operations.” Washington, D.C., United States: Food and Nutrition Board; Institute of Medicine.
“Caffeine, Food, Alcohol, Smoking and Sleep.” Sleep Health Foundation. 2013. More
“Basic Report: 19120, Candies, milk chocolate.” USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28. More
“Basic Report: 19903, Chocolate, dark, 60-69% cacao solids” USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28. More
“Sleep tips: 7 steps to better sleep.” The Mayo Clinic. 9 June 2014. More
Krahn LE, Tovar MD, Miller B. “Are Pets in the Bedroom a Problem?” Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 15 October 2015 More
Chahal H, Fung C, Kuhle S, Veugelers PJ. “Availability and night-time use of electronic entertainment and communication devices are associated with short sleep duation and obesity among Canadian children.” Pediatr Obes 2013; 8: 42-51.