Text By Thomas Cox and Martha Kendall Custard You might be surprised by the amount of Americans who aren't getting a good night's sleep. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three Americans is not getting adequate sleep at night. "Sleep is so important to proper brain functioning," explains Catherine Jackson, licensed clinical psychologist and neurotherapist. "When we do not get enough quality sleep, [we are] more susceptible to stress, with a compromised immune system and at an increased risk for inflammation. A lack of sleep also impacts our ability to focus and concentrate."
These astounding numbers may be the result of some bad before bed habits like scrolling through social media before bed or eating spicy food as a late night snack. If you are trying to get better sleep, break the following bad habits.
It may seem obvious that drinking a cup of caffeinated coffee or tea before bed is a bad idea, but caffeine can lurk in other foods. For example, chocolate, mocha-flavored ice cream, and even non-cola sodas feature caffeine in their ingredients list. "Having caffeine at night may disrupt our ability to fall asleep, sleep duration, and sleep quality," says Jackson. To ensure caffeine isn’t disrupting your sleep, try to avoid these foods and drinks at least six hours before bedtime.
Eating Spicy Food
Spicy food can raise your body temperature. This change in temperature can disrupt your sleep schedule, according to Jackson. Eating spicy food before bed can also bring about vivid dreams, which could disrupt your sleep. "You don't have to avoid spicy food altogether. But when you eat it, consider having it for lunch instead of at dinnertime," Jackson advises.
You probably already know the negative consequences of using your phone right before bed, but "it is worth noting the effects of screens do not simply apply to mobile phones," says Jackson, who recommends you "discontinue use of computers, video games, tablets, mobile phones, and even TVs two hours before bed. The blue light from these devices can sabotage sleep because they throw off our circadian rhythms and tell our brains to stay awake." To get the best sleep possible, keep electronic devices out of your bedroom.
Eating Right Before Bed
Jackson warns against eating right before bed, and it can trigger unwanted body responses like heartburn and indigestion. These responses can keep you up at night. For the best sleep, plan your dinner at least two hours before bedtime.
If you are answering last minute emails, researching topics, or starting a new project right before bed, you aren’t doing good things for your quality of sleep. "When we engage in such activities, it gets our brains—and sometimes our creative juices—going," says Jackson. "These thoughts can be hard to turn off once the ball is rolling and, in turn, they impair your ability to fall asleep." Keep your work schedule in check and avoid working hours before bedtime.
Not everyone has time to go to the gym in the morning. If your mornings are on the busier side, you might try working out late at night. Late night exercise, however, "can have an adverse impact on your sleep cycle," says Jackson. "When we exercise, it releases chemicals in our brains that keep us alert." To give your body time to settle and relax, plan your workout at least three hours before bedtime.
If you are going to sleep with unsettled arguments looming over your head, your relationships won’t be the only sufferers. "When we sleep, our brains store and re-organize information," Jackson says, adding that negative information—like that of a fight with our partner—"becomes more difficult to forget." What's more, "your brain is still thinking about and processing the anger as you sleep," Jackson says, "and you may wake up still angry. This does not make for a good night's sleep nor quality sleep." Settling arguments and finding a resolution before bedtime is a great way to get better sleep.
Text By Thomas Cox and Martha Kendall Custard