There’s nothing worse than missing out on sleep. Whether you’re tossing and turning all night, waking up every hour on the hour, or emerging from bed in the morning still foggy and exhausted, everyone can agree that insomnia is no fun.
Data collected in 2006 by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show that about 10 percent of all adults reported insufficient sleep in the thirty days before the survey. There are a lot of people out there not sleeping well, creating a huge market for prescription sleep aids, natural sleep-inducing remedies, specialized sleep pillows, and a host of other products that purport to help people fall asleep and stay asleep. Those who are desperate for a good night’s sleep will try anything: they exercise, they avoid caffeine, and they stop reading or watching television in bed. They create a nighttime routine and do meditation exercises and follow all the other advice that experts give, sometimes to no avail. If you’re stymied by sleep deprivation, one of these common habits may be the culprit.
A Room That’s Too Warm or Too Cold
The National Sleep Foundation recommends thinking of your bedroom as a cave: it should be quiet, dark, and—most important—cool. (Hey, it works for bats!) When the body falls asleep, its core temperature drops a few degrees. If the ambient temperature is too cold or too hot, the body struggles to maintain its own desired temperature, causing the sleeper to wake up.
As tempting as it might be to cocoon yourself in a warm and cozy room, it’s better to set your home thermostat to between sixty-five and seventy-two degrees for optimal sleep. Of course, each person’s internal thermostat varies, but a milder temperature is more conducive to slumber than one that is very cold or very hot. It’s also important not to layer on too many blankets, which can cause overheating. Instead, try well-ventilated linens that keep you warm but also allow for airflow.
Drinking Alcohol Before Bed
While no one doubts the comforting pleasure of a glass of wine at evening’s end, alcohol disrupts sleep—plain and simple. Sure, alcohol’s depressive effects may help induce sleep at first, but the effects don’t stop once you’re snoozing. While alcohol is in the bloodstream, it depresses the central nervous system. It does keep the body asleep, but it interferes with the production of neurochemicals that trigger normal sleep cycles, suppressing necessary REM sleep. Once the alcohol has been fully metabolized by the liver, the nervous system awakens with a bang, flooding the brain with stimulants, prompting the sleeper to wake up. Anyone who’s drifted off after having a few too many cocktails probably remembers ending up wide awake in the middle of the night. Although people without sleep problems can probably handle a cocktail in the evening, those battling insomnia should abstain for at least four to six hours before bedtime.
Hitting the Snooze Button
Pressing the snooze button is a morning ritual for many people. But for good-quality sleep, it’s best to break yourself of the habit. As the night wears on, the amount of time spent in REM sleep cycles grows longer and longer—the first REM cycle may be only a few minutes, while the later cycles can last up to an hour. Sometimes we spend the last moments of early-morning sleep in REM sleep, often dreaming. If your alarm goes off and you hit the snooze button, you might be able to doze for a few minutes, but you won’t make it to the deep, restorative stages of sleep before the alarm goes off again. When you make it a regular habit to hit snooze over and over again, you’re depriving yourself of restful sleep and are likely to feel tired or disconnected during the day. If you have trouble waking up at the time for which your alarm is set, experts recommend the simple remedy of going to bed earlier.
Waking Up at Different Times
After five days of getting up at the crack of dawn, who doesn’t love sleeping in on the weekends? Unfortunately, for sleep purposes, it’s better to keep bedtime and wake-up time more or less consistent. The body’s circadian rhythms become accustomed to waking and rising at certain times, and sleeping in significantly only disrupts those patterns. Maintaining a schedule of going to bed and waking up at specific times—yes, even on the weekends—helps your body establish a routine, making it easier to fall asleep at night and wake up rested in the morning.
Drinking Too Much Liquid
Many sleep experts recommend drinking tea, warm milk, or other soothing, nonalcoholic and noncaffeinated beverages before bed, but people often make the mistake of drinking too much of those liquids. If you find yourself waking often in the night needing to use the bathroom, consider watching your intake in the hours before bedtime.
While these quick fixes aren’t likely to cure ingrained, chronic insomnia, they’re a good jump-start for those of us who merely stagger around exhausted and bleary-eyed more often than we should. Everyone’s due for a restless night now and again, but after cleaning up some sleep-scaring habits, such nights can become fewer and farther between.