Falling asleep at night might be the hardest thing you do all day. Thanks to “go-go-go” lives filled with work deadlines, family responsibilities and home chores, it’s no wonder many of us struggle with insomnia. Problem is, many of our favorite ways to wind down at night may actually worsen our sleep. Discover which parts of your sleep routine keep you up at night and learn how to ditch them so you wake up feeling more energized than ever.
Sleep crutch No. 1: A goblet of vino
Although alcohol can cause drowsiness and help you fall asleep faster, it also throws off your body’s sleep-wake cycle. Booze relaxes your throat muscles and rushes you into slumber, making it more likely that you’ll snore or have difficulty breathing. Alcohol is also a diuretic, which increases your odds of getting a wake-up call from your bladder. In addition, it’s likely you won’t feel restored the next morning, as alcohol shortens the amount of time you spend in the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep phase, which is crucial for rebuilding next-day memory and concentration levels.
The solution? Finish that glass of merlot at least three hours before bedtime and unwind with a relaxing activity like reading or light yoga instead. “You may miss its calming effects, but you’ll eventually teach your brain to power down on its own,” says Jay Puangco, M.D., service chief at the Judy & Richard Voltmer Sleep Center at Hoag Hospital in California.
Sleep crutch No. 2: Nodding off in front of the TV
Zoning out in front of the tube as part of your sleep routine can actually stimulate your brain, making it even harder to unwind. In addition, electronics (including tablets and cell phones) emit blue wavelengths that inhibit your body’s release of melatonin, the hormone that helps you prepare for sleep.
To solve this problem, remove the TV from your bedroom. Turn it off at least 30 minutes before bed, and avoid staring at a tablet, phone or computer before bed.
Sleep crutch No. 3: Tackling your to-do list
We’re all guilty of trying to squeeze in chores after everyone else is in bed, but finishing your to-do list as part of your pre-bed sleep routine is a surefire way to increase your stress level. “You can’t zoom around at 80 miles per hour and then go right to sleep,” says Ruth Benca, M.D., Ph.D., a sleep specialist and head of psychiatry and human behavior at the University of California-Irvine School of Medicine. “You need to unwind, otherwise you tend to ruminate on the day’s worries and stresses.”
Instead, aim to finish the to-do list before dinner. Any tasks you don’t complete can wait until tomorrow. Planning out when you’ll take on bigger projects (like researching a family vacation) can also keep you on track.
Sleep crutch No. 4: Earplugs — to block out a snoring spouse
If a partner’s snoring wakes you in the night (especially if punctuated by pauses in breathing), it may signal sleep apnea, a serious condition that can increase the risk of heart disease. Seeking treatment is essential for both your partner’s health and your own.
To remedy this situation, talk to your partner about scheduling a doctor’s appointment or seeing a sleep specialist who will examine his/her nose and throat and may recommend an overnight sleep study. With snoring and sleep apnea in check, you’ll both rest easier.
(Family Circle offers family-friendly recipe ideas, health advice, and plenty of content for all members of the family to enjoy together. Online at www.familycircle.com.)
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Erin O’Donnell is a freelance health and science writer, parent, and graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Walks by Lake Michigan make her happy.