Long-term sleep deprivation can impair your concentration, memory and mood. according to Charles Samuels, MD, medical director of the Center for Sleep and Human Performance, and the clinical assistant professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of Calgary. Too-little sleep can also alter your brain’s mechanism for interpreting hunger, leaving you with the tendency to overeat and potentially gain weight. Here are eight common sleep stealers, and how they rob you of a good night’s slumber.
1. Tech in the bedroom
You take your smartphone and tablet everywhere, so it’s not unusual for your gadgets to hit the sack with you, but these accessories can interfere with snoozing. “Using these devices at bedtime has a significant impact on sleep quality. For people who struggle with sleep, technology should be turned off two to four hours before bedtime,” says Dr. Samuels. The bright light emitted from smartphone and tablet screens can interfere with your internal body clock’s sleep mechanism, which prevents your brain from relaxing and for sleep to take hold.
Despite what some smokers believe, a cigarette before bed isn’t a calming ritual. Cigarette smokers are four times as likely as nonsmokers to feel tired after a night’s sleep, according to a study from the American College of Chest Physicians. Scientists also discovered that smokers didn’t sleep as deeply as nonsmokers, and the blame points to nicotine—a stimulant that can cause withdrawal during sleep.
3. Taking daytime naps
“Generally a 20- to 30-minute post-lunch nap is an excellent thing for people to do,” says Samuels. “But if you suffer from insomnia, a nap reduces your sleep drive for nighttime and can worsen the insomnia.”
4. Pets on the bed
“Co-sleeping with animals is a behavior that people do for psychological and emotional reasons, and it often interferes with getting good quality sleep,” says Dr. Samuels. Move pets to their own beds and let everyone in the family sleep peacefully.
5. Eating heavy evening meals
Enjoying large food portions in the evening can put extra stress on your digestive system, creating abdominal discomfort, acid reflux and the potential for sleep disruptions. “Dinner should be the smallest meal,” says Dr. Samuels. “And make sure eating is done four hours before bedtime. A little snack before bed is fine, but not large meals.”
6. Drinking alcohol
A study published in the April 2013 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research found that drinking excessive amounts of alcohol in the evening creates unsettled sleep during the later stages of the night. “One or two drinks at supper four hours before bed is reasonable, but when you start having four drinks in the evening, or drinking in order to fall asleep, it’s terrible,” says Dr. Samuels. While the study found that alcohol shortens the time it takes to nod off, it also creates a disrupted, less satisfying sleep.
7. Consuming too much caffeine
Do you know why caffeine keeps you up at night? “Caffeine suppresses the body’s natural desire for sleep,” says Samuels. “One to two cups of coffee in the morning is fine, but when you drink four to six cups through the day, it’s going to affect sleep.” Caffeine’s effects can linger for up to eight hours, so enjoying coffees, colas, energy and sports drinks containing caffeine past the lunch hour can upset your sleep hours later.
8. An inconsistent sleep routine
Going to bed and waking up at different times every day can play havoc with your shut-eye. “A routine with a regular bedtime and wake time is the number one thing that makes sleep better,” says Dr. Samuels. Try to hit the sheets within one or two hours of the same time every night and aim for the same window when getting up.
When you have the urge to sleep in on weekends, Dr. Samuels suggests putting a limit on how long you let yourself sleep. “Catching up on sleep is important, but there’s a window. It’s reasonable to sleep in for an hour or two, but sleeping past 10 or 11 a.m. starts to screw up your sleep for the next week,” he says.
Still not sleeping?
If you’ve changed your habits but are still experiencing sleeping difficulties, seek help from your physician. Try to ignore the urge to purchase over-the-counter sleeping medications from a pharmacy since self-medicating is not the right choice for everyone. “We discourage the use of over-the-counter sleeping aids,” says Samuels. “The problem needs to be addressed behaviorally, and should be evaluated by a health care professional.”