Ways You Might Be Sabotaging Your Sleep

Ways You Might Be Sabotaging Your Sleep

by Jacinta Kreimer

Sleep is one of the most important parts of a person’s life. The ability to sleep well is the ability to live well. Without proper rest a person is compromising their body’s ability to rejuvenate and refresh for the next day. While you might be thinking that you are doing the best that you can, the truth is that the very things you are doing to help with sleep could be inhibiting your ability to get a good night’s rest. Here are the top 7 things you are probably doing (or not doing) that interfere with your sleep:

#1 Screen time

This is something that everyone is guilty of: doing that last scroll for 15 or 20 minutes before bed, checking messages and social media to wind down and relax. We have all heard we should avoid being on our screens before we go to bed, but we are not fully educated on the real damage we do ourselves by not taking this advice. The blue light from screens such as a phone, laptop, or TV will inhibit melatonin in our bodies, delaying sleep latency. A 2015 Harvard study shows that screens delay sleep latency by an average of 10 minutes. Many people actually use screen time to fall asleep, and this is also a dangerous move because having our eyes closed does not stop the blue light from entering our eyes. The blue light can go through our eyelids, telling our brain that we are still being exposed to light. This will lead to a less peaceful night interrupted with more waking up and less deep sleep which is much more restful than earlier stages of the REM cycle.

#2 Lying Awake in Bed

Something that might come as a shock to most of us is the fact that staying in bed when we wake up in the middle of the night is not a good thing for our sleep. Usually, we lie in bed and toss and turn until we can fall asleep again. However, by lying awake in bed we are making our beds a place of wakefulness for our brains, training them to become alert while we are there. In order to avoid our beds being a trained stimulus for being awake, we have to get up and do something if we find ourselves unable to fall back asleep after an appropriate time. Of course, we should avoid doing something on a screen, but we can take this opportunity to read or do something we like until we feel sleepy enough to return to bed. It is better to do things while you are awake in order to build sleep pressure for the next night rather than compromising your bed as a place for sleep only. If after two weeks of trying this strategy along with other good sleep hygiene is not proving effective, it may be that you need to see a sleep specialist to seek a solution.

#3 Thinking You are the Exception

One of the ways we really compromise our ability to get good rest is by thinking that we do not need it. There is always an exception to every rule, but most likely if you think you don’t need as much sleep as everyone else, you are just fooling yourself. You may be functioning on less sleep, but you are not at our best performance level. Most likely you are just not realizing how much better you feel and perform when you do have good sleep habits. A study published in 2018 kept track of the sleep patterns of over 10,000 people and then tested them on cognition and memory. Their results consistently showed that those who got 7-8 hours of sleep scored the highest, regardless of gender or age.

#4 Trying to Compensate 

Many adults experience acute insomnia at some point in their lives, and most adults will try to “make up” for the amount of sleep they lost the night before by sleeping in, napping, etc. While this intuitively makes sense, this is not the right way to go. The truth is that if you encourage this type of mismatch sleep schedule while experiencing acute insomnia you will end up with chronic insomnia. Instead, it is recommended to just continue with your normal routine and let the missed sleep make you more tired for the next night. Letting the sleep pressure naturally build like this will make you eventually cycle out of your insomnia. If you do have to change something about your sleep schedule, it is recommended to delay your bedtime by the average amount of time that you are losing in sleep to help build that sleep pressure.

#5 Using Melatonin

Another tempting solution to experiencing a disturbance in our sleep is to self-medicate with melatonin supplements. There is a time when it’s use is good and beneficial, but more often than not melatonin is greatly misunderstood in its effect and in its use. Your body starts producing melatonin when the sun goes down, which starts prepping your body for bedtime, but not immediately. It takes a couple of hours before melatonin actually starts to have the sleeping effect on most people. Another mistake people make when taking melatonin is by taking it at inconsistent times. Because melatonin is your body’s signal that the sun is going down, taking it at inconsistent times is telling your body that you are constantly switching time zones. If that doesn’t sound exhausting, I don’t know what does. The American College of Physicians recommends cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia and not melatonin as approaches like this focus on sleep restriction therapy and stimulus control.

#6 Not Giving Sleep Enough Credit for Your Problems

Emotional ups and downs are a part of daily life, but how often do we think of how our sleep may be affecting our emotional state? The constant temptation is to blame other people or circumstances for our problems and mood, however it may only take an honest look at our sleep schedule to see that the people around us don’t have as much of an impact as we thought. In a recent study two groups of people were asked to do a simple task while an obnoxious noise was being played in the background. One group was working off of 7 hours of sleep while the other group was working with 2-4 hours less. The group with more sleep showed much more emotional control and expressed much less anger and frustration than the group that had less sleep. When working with less sleep the brain has less resources to manage emotions, making sleep deprived individuals more prone to reactivity and lack of control. It also affects the area of the brain which processes another’s intent, making it harder for a person working with little sleep to understand another’s perspective and understand what they mean. This can quickly lead to a cycle of lack of empathy, relational frustration, and isolation.

#7 Not Taking Power Naps

But wait, didn’t we just talk about how we shouldn’t compensate for lost sleep? While this is still true, a well-timed power nap of just the right length can be a great way to reboot when you hit the afternoon slump. This is evidenced by the fact that many countries in Europe and South America embrace an after lunch “naptime” as part of the cultural routine. Studies show that the best time to nap is after lunch, before 3 pm, for 15-20 minutes. This is the golden time because it is long enough to give our bodies the chance to rest while not long enough to reach deep sleep in the REM cycle. It is important to avoid deep sleep when you are napping because waking up after your body has entered deep sleep will disorient you and leave you in a sleepy grogginess that will be hard to recover from.

What are the things in this list that you do which sabotage your ability to get the best sleep? Maybe this is an opportunity for you to take some time and be honest about where you fail to promote the healthiest sleep for yourself. Then be proactive and do what you can to do sleep better, so that you can do life better.

Jacinta Kreimer is a G3 Contributing Writer.


Psychology Today, The New Sleep Science