Most people who can’t sleep look to add something to their routine, usually in the form of a pill. But the best solution to your sleep problem may be simply changing some of your nighttime habits. See a list of 14 common problems that are preventing you from getting the sleep you need to stay on top of your game.
Reasons You Can’t Sleep
1. Too Bright: Light reduces the amount of melatonin that your body produces, a hormone which helps you sleep. Make sure to turn out all of your lights and shut the curtains on your windows before you go to bed. Spend a night in a hotel with black-out shades and invest in a set if it dramatically helps you sleep. Or try wearing an eye mask as a lower cost option.
2. Too Hot: Your body naturally cools as you fall asleep, so setting your room to a lower temperature can help you fall asleep even faster. Experts recommend that you set the temperature between 5 and 10 degrees colder than your usual setting.
3. Too Loud: Loud rock music will obviously make it hard to fall asleep, but smaller sounds can cause problems as well. A drip in the bathroom sink, ticking clock, or even the wind getting through a small crack in your window can all keep you up at night. If you can’t eliminate all of the noise in your room, try a pair of earplugs that mold to the shape of your ears or a soothing sound-machine to cover up the noise.
4. Distractions: Keep TVs, computers, and other potential distractions out of the room.
5. Exercise: While very light exercise before bed may be ok – a walk around the block, for example – avoid any rigorous exercise 1-2 hours before bedtime if you want a restful night.
6. Stressful or demanding tasks: Do not plan or participate in stressful or demanding activities before you go to bed, such as that conversation with your mother-in-law you have been putting off. Set aside time to do something that will relax you instead, and clear your mind of the day’s events.
7. Caffeine: If you’re having trouble sleeping, save the caffeine for the morning only, and certainly not after 4 pm; its effects can last as long as 14 hours.
8. Smoking: Nicotine is a stimulant and will work in much the same way as caffeine in your system. While a smoke before bed may seem to relax you, it may actually make it difficult for you to fall asleep.
9. Alcohol: While a couple shots may help you to fall asleep, drinking before bed can also cause you to wake frequently and lead to night sweats and nightmares.
10. Drinking after 8pm: Drinking before bed may not make it harder to fall asleep, but it can lead to you waking up during the night to relieve yourself. And it’s not only water that’s an issue. Celery is a natural diuretic, which means that it causes more frequent urination. This may not make it more difficult to fall asleep, but it can cause you to wake up frequently throughout the night.
11. Eating a large or spicy meal at bedtime. When you are upright, gravity keeps food in your stomach. When you’re lying down, especially after a larger spicy meal, your stomach may put a “return to sender” notice on it and send that food right back up where it came from. An example? Pizza can be the perfect storm in your stomach when it comes time to sleep. The tomato sauce, fat, and grease are all contributors to heartburn. And if you’re adding meat to your pizza…fuhgetaboutit! You’ll be up for hours thanks to the slowly digesting toppings.
12. Sugar. Eating a lot of sweets or drinking soda or fruit juice at bedtime will give you a quick energy burst followed by a drop in blood sugar, leaving you wide awake and sweating. If you need a nighttime snack, go with sugar-free ice cream or even savor a square of dark chocolate. (Bonus: one small square of dark chocolate a day may be 25 times as effective at preventing heart attacks as cholesterol-lowering medications.)
13. Indigestion. If you wake up in the middle of the night with acid reflux, don’t take an acid blocker medication; these are addictive and will actually make your indigestion worse. A better idea? Take half a teaspoon of Arm & Hammer baking soda in 4 ounces of water to turn off your stomach acid at bedtime. You could also get a specially designed sleep wedge pillow or prop your head on a few regular pillows so gravity is working in your favor. Another way to prevent indigestion is to take 5 mg of melatonin at bedtime, which can decrease nighttime acid reflux.
14. Hunger. If you have trouble sleeping through the night, you may want to have a 1 ounce high protein snack right before you hit the sheets. This can be enough to trigger the “rest and digest cycle” called the parasympathetic nervous system, which can help you fall asleep. Make sure you don’t each too much though; 1 ounce is just enough protein to help maintain stable blood sugars while you sleep. Good snacks include a hard-boiled egg, turkey or chicken, or a handful of nuts (not peanuts).
If you’re having problems sleeping make sure your bedroom is set up for a restful night, you’re not doing activities that will stimulate your system before bed, and you’re staying away from foods that will keep you up.
This article was reviewed and approved by Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum.
Photo by Schmirn