15 Common Sleep Mistakes You Didn't Know You Were Making
Establishing a relaxing bedtime routine and perfecting your sleep arc is a great way to help support your overall health and wellbeing. Making adjustments to your sleep space and evening routine will help your chances of getting good sleep at night, but it's also helpful to admit what you're doing wrong. Whether it's working from bed or oversleeping on weekends, there are some common errors people tend to make that bring their quality of sleep way down.
Here are some of the most common sleep mistakes you didn't know you were making. Addressing even just a few of them will set you on a path to better sleep and everything that comes with it.
Mistake #1: Not allowing time to unwind
Actively winding down before going to bed is an important factor in falling asleep naturally and staying asleep until morning. Because you're tired, it can be easy to make reactive decisions that affect your sleep, which is why it's important to purposefully unwind. What does this look like? It comes down to abstaining from anything that has been proven to affect sleep (see below) and instead cycling through a consistent set of relaxing, sleep-inducing activities. Apart from the practical, the best way to fix this mistake is to practice making the mental shift from awake mode to bed mode until it becomes automatic.
Solution: Establish a bedtime routine and consider setting a bedtime alarm, which is a great way to signal that it's time to commence unwinding.
Mistake #2: Being inconsistent
Many people struggle with going to bed at the same time every night—especially once the weekend rolls around. Or when the latest Netflix series arrives. Or when family dinner just won't end. Going to bed and getting up at the same or similar times helps to strengthen your circadian rhythm and establish a stable internal body clock, which makes it much easier to avoid making other sleep-affecting mistakes.
Solution: If you find yourself procrastinating going to bed, think about making updates to your sleep space so that you look forward to the experience. Setting a bedtime alarm will help you get into the habit of going to bed at the same time every night. Finally, try to avoid scheduling anything too late in the evening, so that you have around two hours of wind-down time at home before your head hits the pillow.
Mistake #3: Napping too hard
It might sound obvious, but we'll say it anyway: napping during the day can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Nap if you need to, but don't nap for longer than 20 minutes—anything longer and you'll wake up groggy. If you choose to nap, do so in the early afternoon, as anything after 3 pm is likely to interfere with nighttime sleep, and do it in a quiet, dark room (i.e. not in the living room in front of the blaring TV).
Solution: When you nap, take yourself into a dark, cool room and set an alarm for 20 minutes time, and don't hit Snooze.
Mistake #4: Oversleeping on weekends
Sleep debt is real. Many people lose up to two-and-a-half hours of sleep during the work week, making weekends the perfect time to try catching up on lost sleep. It sure would make life a lot easier if you were able to store good sleep for future use, but that's sadly not how the human body works for the most part. While an extra hour of sleep on Wednesday night can help to make up for an hour lost on Tuesday night, that extra hour on Wednesday is not as restorative as it would have been on Tuesday. According to a 2016 study, it takes four days to fully recover from one hour of lost sleep. https://www.healthline.com/health/dr/sleep-deprivation/sleep-debt
Solution: Go ahead and enjoy an extra half hour of sleep on weekends, but avoid the kind of lengthy sleep-ins that cause you to miss the AM entirely. Not only will oversleeping to the extreme affect your body clock, but the extra sleep won't actually do much of the restorative work that sleep should. Plus, you'll miss out on everything that time off work offers—whether that's housework, reading a book, watching TV or catching up with friends.
Mistake #5: Working in bed
With more people working from home than ever, it is tempting to use bed not only for sleep but also for work. If you do the majority of your work on a laptop and lack a proper WFH set-up, the obvious solution is to use the dining table. But if you live in a small apartment, you might not even have a dining table, and where do you end up? The sofa. Not ideal, but it's better than what many people find themselves doing, which is working from bed.
Solution: When you wake up in the morning, get out of bed and get started with your morning routine. Change out of your sleepwear and into something a bit more work-related (even just activewear) and most importantly don't bring your laptop or whatever you use for work anywhere near the bedroom let alone the bed. If you can't let go of your nightly Netflix viewing, make a point of removing the laptop from your bed before going to sleep—that way you won't be tempted to quickly check your emails as soon as you wake up. That's a trap you want to avoid at all costs.
Mistake #6: Eating in bed
An occasional breakfast in bed can be a fun way to pretend you're in a hotel. Making a habit of eating in bed, however, is a surefire way to negatively affect the quality of your sleep. Eating in bed blurs the lines between sleep and non-sleep, potentially making it harder to fall asleep when the time comes. Eating in bed also increases the risk of bacteria and germs, making it even more important to wash your bed linen regularly. Foodstuff remnants can also attract ants and cockroaches, which we don't need to explain would work against getting good sleep. Likewise, eating in bed versus sitting upright at a table can affect digestion and make it easier to inadvertently overeat, as you are in a more relaxed and less alert mindset.
Solution: Don't eat in bed. Make your bedroom a food-free zone. This can be tricky in smaller apartments or crowded share-houses, but eating your meals anywhere other than your bed will help to preserve the integrity of your sleep hygiene.
Mistake #7: Letting pets sleep on the bed
For many whose best friend is their pet, this is a hard pill to swallow. While human-animal co-sleeping has been practiced for thousands of years, it also comes with some negative side effects. Some parasites and bacteria carried by cats and dogs can be transferred to humans, leading to skin infections and increased allergies. Meanwhile, a restless pet who doesn't sleep through the night can disrupt their human's sleep. The extra heat emitted by a pet cat or dog can also disturb their human's body temperature, which is important to regulate throughout the night. Finally, letting your pet sleep on the bed with you in some cases affects the pet's psychology, causing them to be more protective than they need to be.
Solution: Ask your pet to sleep on its own bed on the ground. Failing that, encourage them to sleep on a special blanket at the foot of your bed, and be consistent about the rules.
Mistake #8: Falling asleep on the couch
Falling asleep on the couch every now and then is inevitable, even fun. In some cases of insomnia, the change of scenery can help your brain recalibrate. But too many nights on the couch can lead to back and neck pain, and if you are taller than the length of your couch you will likely experience leg pain and numbness upon waking. If your MO is to fall asleep in front of the TV, keep in mind that this can also disturb your REM sleep and lead to bad dreams and frequent wake-ups.
Solution: When you're on the couch and feel your eyes getting heavy, take yourself straight to bed. If you find yourself falling asleep on the couch night after night, set a bedtime alarm for yourself and mindfully cycle through each of the steps in your bedtime routine. If you find that you prefer the experience of falling asleep on your couch to your bed, assess what it is that makes the experience better or easier: perhaps there are some bedroom upgrades that will make your dedicated sleep space more inviting.
Mistake #9: Staying in bed when you can't sleep
Staying in bed when you can't sleep is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You've been there before: you can't sleep, and you're thinking about how you can't sleep, and how much sleep you're losing with every second that passes, and how much you have to do tomorrow. Not only does the lack of sleep make you tired and grumpy, but the unpleasantness of not being able to sleep can affect the sanctity of your sleep space.
Solution: If you are unable to sleep, get out of bed and go to another location—one without bright lights or screens. Use all your might to avoid unlocking your phone. Eventually, you should start to feel sleepy, at which point take yourself straight to bed.
Mistake #10: Watching TV in bed
TV is a stimulant. Even if you find a series or film particularly relaxing, the sensory aspects of TV are likely to negatively affect your ability to fall asleep and get quality sleep. Plus, you are unlikely to be able to follow the storyline very well when you are on your way to snoozeville.
Solution: No laptop on the bed, no TV in the bedroom. If possible, ban all forms of visual media from your sleep space.
Mistake #11: Consuming caffeine
Caffeinated tea, coffee, cola and energy drinks are a big no-no for evening consumption. The caffeine increases your alertness and also take at least twenty minutes to really kick in.
Solution: Quit caffeine by 6 pm (if not 4 pm) and you'll be more likely to get a good night's sleep.
Mistake #12: Too many nightcaps
Alcohol is a depressant, so can certainly assist in the falling asleep department. However, it is also likely to disturb the quality of your sleep throughout the night.
Solution: Set yourself a cut-off time for alcohol consumption—at least a few hours before bedtime.
Mistake #13: Hitting the Snooze button
If you wake up feeling groggy and confused, you are probably someone who goes a little too hard on the snooze button each morning. Sleep inertia has knock-on effects throughout the day, affecting memory, reaction time, alertness and attention. The worse your sleep, the more likely to tap your phone alarm more than once for a few extra minutes in the morning. This will only make it worse.
Solution: If you use your phone as your alarm, keep it plugged in on the other side of the room so that you have to actually stand up to silence it when it sounds. Spending time in natural light during the day, establishing a bedtime ritual and strengthening your body clock will also help you quit your Snooze button addiction and set the scene for better sleep.
Mistake #14: Turning on bright lights
Light exposure affects the brain's ability to produce melatonin, which is the sleep hormone that helps us fall asleep. Bright lights can trick your brain into thinking it is daytime, which is why it can cease production of melatonin. But even if you manage to fall asleep in a room with bright lights, the quality of your sleep is likely to suffer.
Solution: Design the lighting in your bedroom so that it is conducive to sleep. Avoid using bright overhead lights at any point in the evening, and only use gentle, warm lamps when it is closer to bedtime.
Mistake #15: Scrolling on social media
Like bright lights, bright screens can affect the brain's production of melatonin—the sleep hormone that gets released when it is dark. Then there's the mental stimulation involved in social media use.
Solution: Putting your phone on airplane mode works as an extra reminder to not check social media. If you find your thumb reflexively making its way over to Instagram, you'll at least be reminded that you're not supposed to be logging on so late.
Enjoyed this? How Perfecting Your 'Sleep Arc' Can Help You Fall Asleep Faster.