Written by: Ellen J. Craft
Updated March 4, 2021
Nearly one in three (1) American adults are not obtaining the recommended seven hours of sleep each night. Many struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep, or are experiencing sleep disorders (2) such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, or insomnia. This is concerning, as you may be sacrificing a lot when you skimp on sleep. Poor-quality sleep can negatively affect not only your health, but also your mood and your ability to perform on the job (3) or in school.
The reason sleep is crucial to your health is that while you sleep, your body produces hormones such as growth hormone (4). This hormone helps children grow and repairs cells and tissues in both children and adults. Additionally, a good night’s sleep helps the immune system (5) defend against infections, which may explain why getting plenty of sleep keeps you healthy and also allows you to recover if you do become ill.
The good news is that you can promote better sleep by creating a constructive bedtime routine and establishing excellent sleep hygiene. There’s a lot of information about what to do before bedtime to get a good night’s rest, but it’s equally important to know what not to do. Although good sleep hygiene varies based on a person’s age, gender, and health status, most people can benefit by avoiding the following sleep disruptors.
Say No to Stimulants Such as Caffeine and Tobacco
To practice good sleep hygiene, avoid consuming stimulants such as coffee, tea, energy or soft drinks, and chocolate before bedtime. Research has shown that even moderate amounts of caffeine (6) can disrupt sleep. To ensure that caffeine doesn’t interfere with your sleep, have your last caffeinated beverage or snack at least six hours before bedtime. If you are very sensitive to caffeine, it’s recommended that you have your last caffeinated drink 12 hours before bedtime.
Here are a few popular caffeinated drinks (7) and their approximate amounts of caffeine:
- 12 ounces of a caffeinated soft drink: 30 to 40 milligrams
- 8 ounces of green or black tea: 30 to 50 milligrams
- 8 ounces of coffee: 80 to 100 milligrams
- 8 ounces of an energy drink: 40 to 250 milligrams
Similarly, nicotine from tobacco can also disrupt your sleep (8). Studies have shown that nicotine in tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and vape liquid can cause difficulties falling asleep and increase the likelihood of fragmented sleep, resulting in daytime sleepiness. Additionally, smoking cigarettes is associated with an increased prevalence of sleep-related respiratory disorders, which can further worsen sleep quality and daytime sleepiness.
For a better night’s rest, abstain from tobacco products before bedtime or avoid them altogether.
Avoid Evening Activities Such as Exercise
Regular exercise is routinely recommended (9) for promoting better sleep, as it has been shown to help improve both sleep quality and duration. However, the timing of your exercise is important. Try to avoid exercising before bedtime (10). For some people, overtraining or exercising less than three hours before bed can cause restless sleep.
Instead, you may want to try a simple stretching or gentle yoga routine (11) prior to bedtime, since regularly engaging in yoga has been shown to help improve sleep quality and help alleviate insomnia.
Limit Electronics Use Such as Cellphones, Tablets, Laptops
At the end of the day, it may be tempting to check your text messages, scroll through social media accounts, watch movies, or attend virtual happy hours, but these activities could be sabotaging your sleep. Electronic devices such as cellphones, tablets, and laptops emit blue-wavelength light (12) that has been shown to disrupt sleep if used before bedtime. This light may affect sleep by suppressing melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep and can contribute to feeling alert during nighttime hours.
Avoid Alcoholic Beverages
For some people, it may be soothing to have a nightcap before bed. However, studies have shown that while alcohol may initially improve sleep, during the second half of the night it can suppress REM sleep (13), which is a critical component of a sound sleep. Drinking alcohol later in the evening has also been associated with lower levels of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin (14), as well as morning headaches due to disrupted sleep.
Avoid Medications That Can Disrupt Sleep
Certain medications can interfere with sleep (15) by elevating the heart rate or raising blood pressure, which can negatively affect sleep. As a result, it is important to know when to take medications to help avoid sleep disturbances as much as possible.
Also, some people report that common medications such as decongestants, or pseudoephedrine, cause problems with sleeping. Some people may experience restless legs syndrome (16), a disorder that often interferes with a person's ability to fall asleep, as a result of taking pseudoephedrine. Pseudoephedrine is found in cold or allergy medications, including Sudafed.
You might be wondering, does Sudafed keep you awake? If you take these types of medications, you may want to try a nighttime version, such as Sudafed Nighttime. However, other research has found that pseudoephedrine doesn't negatively impact sleep quality (17).
To find out if a certain medication you are taking can interfere with sleep, check the accompanying patient information or contact your doctor or pharmacist.
Avoid Eating Late-Night Meals or Snacks
Busy schedules and long days may necessitate eating a late dinner or snacking on comfort foods in the evening. Be aware that these late-night snacks can wreak havoc on your sleep. Eating later in the evening can disrupt your circadian rhythm (18) and increase symptoms of sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea (19). To help ensure optimal rest, avoid eating near bedtime (20).
Also, try not to overindulge at dinnertime, as eating larger meals can cause indigestion and interfere with sleep. Drinking too many fluids can also cause you to wake up with the urge to urinate. Although more research is required (21), many people believe a pre-bedtime snack might lead to nightmares, which is one more reason to avoid eating right before sleep.
To help promote better sleep hygiene, you may want to follow a sleep-friendly diet with an emphasis on the following foods:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Fish, poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy (these foods contain B vitamins that may help to regulate melatonin)
Enjoy Sleeping Soundly
Avoiding these common sleep disruptors may help you sleep more soundly. You can also help make up your sleep deficit by taking short naps during the day, or improve your slumber by taking melatonin supplements, which help regulate circadian rhythms. Keeping tabs on your sleep hygiene and designing a healthy bedtime routine are also keys to better slumber.
However, additional measures may be needed if the quality of your sleep does not improve. If you believe you are suffering from a sleep disorder, be sure to consult your doctor or a healthcare professional.
- https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html Accessed on March 4, 2021.
- https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000871.htm Accessed on February 28, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26461857/ Accessed on March 4, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8627466/ Accessed on March 2, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20398008/ Accessed on March 2, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24235903/ Accessed on February 28, 2021.
- https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/spilling-beans-how-much-caffeine-too-much Accessed on February 28, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19345124/ Accessed on February 28, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20813580 Accessed on February 28, 2021.
- https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000853.htm Accessed on February 28, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15707256/ Accessed on February 28, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29101797/ Accessed on March 2, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23347102/ Accessed on February 28, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17612945/ Accessed on February 28, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16750956/ Accessed on March 2, 2021.
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- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30853037/ Accessed on March 2, 2021.
- https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/good-nights-sleep Accessed on February 28, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25741294/ Accessed on March 2, 2021.