Are you tired of waking up more tired than when you went to bed? Does it seem like a good night’s sleep is more elusive than your half-remembered dreams? If you’ve been having a tough time falling or staying asleep lately, chances are, the cause is either something you’re doing or something you’re not doing. Here are eight common reasons you’re having a hard time sleeping well.
1. Nighttime Exercise
A casual around-the-block stroll with your dog before his bedtime is fine, but a heart-pumping, sweat-dripping cardio workout within three hours of your own bedtime is too much. Your body temperature and heart rate naturally drop as you fall asleep but exercise raises those two body functions and stimulates your entire nervous system making it tough to snooze. Instead, schedule your workout for the morning, or hit the gym on your lunch hour.
2. Alcohol Before Bedtime
While a single glass of wine can be an excellent forerunner to romance — and romance itself is one of the best preludes to sleep — indulge in much more alcohol than that before bedtime and you’ll probably find that your sleep is impaired. Although the initial effect of alcohol is relaxation — so you’ll probably drop off to sleep quickly after imbibing — alcohol interferes with your sleep cycle, especially the REM sleep that includes dreamtime. The result is fragmented, unrefreshing rest. Plus, you’re likely to wake up needing to use the bathroom during the night, a definite hit to your sleep quality.
3 Room Temperature Woes
Most sleep experts recommend keeping your bedroom at a moderate 65 to 72 degrees at night, but many people like to cut energy costs by turning the thermostat down to the freeze zone during the winter, and switching the AC off during the summer, leading to a sweltering bedroom. Both of these extremes hijack your trip to the land of Nod, however. Your body needs to cool slightly at night for the most refreshing sleep, which is impossible in an overly heated bedroom. A too-cold room, on the other hand, will wake you up. If you don’t want to adjust the thermostat to the comfort zone, then wear thick socks to a well-blanketed bed during cold snaps and set up a portable fan next to your bed in the summer.
4 Stress and Worry
Probably the most common non-medical reason for short-term insomnia is a mind filled with worries or stress. During the day, the activities of life tend to distract you, but once you settle yourself into bed, your mind is free to roam. For most people, it’s not the good aspects of their lives that their mind chooses to focus on, but rather, the negatives.
You can combat this in several ways.
• Make writing down your worries before bedtime, along with a few things you are grateful for, a regular part of your nighttime routine.
• If your mind really starts to fret, get out of bed without turning on any lights and go sit in another dark part of the house. This breaks the worry cycle and you’ll probably find your mind quickly calms down enough to return to bed.
• One of the most effective ways to conquer worry and stress is with a daily meditation practice. You don’t need to be an expert yogi or spend hours sitting on a mat — as little as ten minutes each day is beneficial.
5. Late Afternoon Caffeine
You know a bedtime cup of coffee is a bad idea, but did you know that the half-life of caffeine is 3 to 5 hours, meaning that half the dose is eliminated during that time, leaving the remaining half to linger in your body for many hours more? That’s why a late afternoon cup of Joe can disrupt your sleep later that night. Although caffeine’s effects on you depend on your tolerance, the dose, and your age, it is best to keep your consumption below 400 mg per day and stay away from caffeine sources after lunchtime.
6. Sharing Your Bed
While the benefits of companionship extend throughout almost every area of life, one place where you are better off alone is in bed. Sharing your sleeping quarters with a partner, whether human or four-legged, greatly reduces the quality of your sleep if your partner snores, crowds you, hogs the covers or otherwise makes you uncomfortable. While you’re probably not going to banish your spouse from the bedroom — although a surprisingly high percentage of married couples do sleep in separate rooms — you need to catch some shut-eye. Give Mittens and Fido beds of their own and encourage your snoring partner to sleep on his side, not on his back. Use a white-noise machine to block out the sound of soft snoring or try earplugs if the decibel level reaches a crescendo.
7. Too Much Light
Whether it’s coming from your bed partner’s reading lamp, the television, or outside your window, light exposure at bedtime impairs your quality of sleep. For some people, even the glow of a bedside alarm clock is enough to signal their brain that it’s time to wake up. Luckily, this is one sleep issue that’s easy to solve. Turn off your electronics (including phones, tablets, and laptops) at least an hour before bedtime. If light from an outside source shines into your bedroom and cannot be eliminated, hang blackout shades or curtains (this is especially important if you work nights and need to sleep during the day.) Close your bedroom door to shut out light from other areas of the house. Or for the simplest solution, don a satiny sleep mask before closing your eyes. You’ll feel glamorous and sleep better.
8 The Wrong Snack
Is your typical bedtime snack a slice (or two) of pizza or a bag of chips? If so, don’t be surprised when you’re lying awake staring at your ceiling. A full load of fat or protein right before bedtime sends your digestive system into overdrive, making it difficult to sleep and potentially giving you heartburn. But hunger pains can wake you up as well, as can precipitous blood sugar drops during the night. Stave off problems with a small snack before hitting the hay — your tidbit should be heavier on the complex carbs, lighter on the protein, but definitely a mixture of both. Good choices include a small bowl of whole-grain cereal and milk, one slice of white turkey wrapped around a celery stick or a piece of fruit spread with peanut butter.