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5 bedtime mistakes that may be wrecking your sleep

4 minute read
Person having trouble sleeping

Want to snooze more soundly? Break these bad habits that can mess with your rest.

Lauren Bedosky

By Lauren Bedosky

Do you have trouble getting a good night’s sleep? It could be because your bedtime habits need some work. Your nightly behaviors can have a major impact on your sleep, as well as your overall health and mood. (For starters, ample sleep boosts your immune system and memory, reduces your risk of heart disease and diabetes, and much more.)

A few slight adjustments to your bedtime routine can help you get the quality z’s you need. Here are 5 surprising sleep mistakes that can mess with your sleep — and simple strategies for fixing them.

Mistake #1: You share your bed with pets

Having your four-legged friend in bed with you may be cozy and comforting. But it can wreak havoc on your sleep quality.

Dogs and cats have different sleep cycles than humans, says Nilong Vyas, MD. She’s a pediatrician who provides sleep consultations through Sleepless in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Your dog or cat will often move while you’re still asleep. Their movements may wake you up briefly, even if you don’t remember it the next morning. Waking up throughout the night disrupts your sleep cycle, which affects your sleep quality.

Fix it: If you feel tired no matter how many hours you’ve slept, keep your pet outside the bedroom for a few days, Dr. Vyas suggests. See how the change impacts your sleep.

Mistake #2: You check your phone one last time

Do you like to lie in bed and scroll through social media or check your email? This habit can get in the way of a good night’s rest. 

That’s because the blue light from a smartphone screen messes with a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin naturally rises near bedtime to let your body know it’s time to sleep. Then it falls when it’s time to wake up. Blue light suppresses your body’s release of melatonin, according to the Sleep Foundation. It also makes you feel more alert — which is not what you want right before bed.

Scrolling through the news can also make you feel anxious, angry or excited. All of these emotions are stimulating. So even if you were sleepy when you got into bed, the content on your phone can make you feel alert again.

Fix it: Stop using your electronics at least 30 minutes before bed. Try reading a good old-fashioned book instead.

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Mistake #3: You eat a heavy meal late at night

Eating a late dinner or filling up on dessert right before bed can keep you up all night.

Why? Because your body becomes too focused on digesting the food to worry about preparing for shut-eye.

Eating foods high in fat and carbohydrates can keep you from falling asleep, according to the Sleep Foundation. Plus, nighttime eating may contribute to obesity.

Fix it: Avoid eating big meals at least 3 hours before going to sleep. If you’re hungry before bed, have a small healthy snack. Some great options include:

  • Banana with almond butter
  • Tart cherry juice
  • Plain or reduced-sugar yogurt
  • Handful of unsalted nuts or seeds

Mistake #4: You keep your shades open

Making your room as dark as possible helps you get quality sleep. Don’t skip pulling down your shades or drawing the curtains, no matter how tired you are. “Light regulates our sleep-wake cycles,” Dr. Vyas says. “If there is too much street light or moonlight coming in through a window, it may impact the body’s ability to fall asleep.”

In fact, research in the journal Sleep found that people who live near bright street lights or signs tend to go to bed later and wake up later. They also sleep less overall and feel more drowsy during the day.

Fix it: Be sure to close your curtains, window shades or blinds tightly before bed. If the light still shines through, consider investing in blackout curtains or special room-darkening shades. A sleep mask can also help.

Mistake #5: You relax with a glass of wine

After a stressful day, it can be nice to unwind with a glass of wine in the evening. But this habit can backfire on you. Sure, drinking alcohol before bed can help you nod off. But it also shortens certain stages of your sleep cycle.

Some drinkers fall into a deep sleep quickly, then experience sleep disruptions later. “Alcohol makes some people wake up feeling even more tired,” says Dr. Vyas.

Fix it: If you enjoy sipping a cocktail in the evening, do it at least 4 hours before bedtime.

When to get help

Sometimes, fixing bad bedtime habits isn’t enough. Other strategies that can help you snooze:

Do you occasionally struggle to fall asleep? You could try an over-the-counter sleep aid, such as a melatonin supplement. But it’s important to check with your doctor first. Melatonin is not safe for everyone. For example, it can raise blood pressure in people who take blood pressure medications, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

And you should not take melatonin if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. You should also avoid it if you have an autoimmune disorder, a seizure disorder or depression. (Learn more about over-the-counter sleep aids here.)

And if your sleep problems become chronic, definitely talk to your doctor. They can work with you to find other solutions or even refer you to a sleep specialist. Your doctor will also want to rule out health problems that might be affecting your sleep, such as sleep apnea or a thyroid condition.

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Additional sources
Food and sleep: Sleep Foundation (2022). "Healthy bedtime snacks to eat before sleep”
Lighting and sleep: Sleep (2016). “Artificial outdoor nighttime lights associated with altered sleep behavior in the American general population”
Melatonin: Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Melatonin for sleep: Does it work?”