20 Things You Shouldn't Do Before Bed
Sneaky sleep saboteurs
"When people suffer from insomnia or other sleep issues, it's often because of something they're doing, probably unintentionally, when they should be preparing for rest," says Michael Grandner, PhD, a psychiatry instructor and member of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Pennsylvania. Here are 20 things you might want to avoid at night, especially if you're suffering from a lack of shuteye.
Use an e-reader or smartphone
"The blue light given off by computers, smartphones, tablets, and TV prevents the production of melatonin which helps the body become sleepy," he says. If you don't want to give up reading your Kindle Fire or using your iPad in bed, follow this advice from a 2013 Mayo Clinic study: Keep the device at least 14 inches from your face and turn down your screen's brightness to reduce your risk of light-related sleep problems.
Take certain medications
A sleeping pill isn't always the answer, either: They're generally only recommended for short-term useover-the-counter meds, especiallyso if you find yourself taking them regularly, talk to your doctor about other options. A prescription drug will be safer and more effective to use for more than a few weeks at a time, but a longer-term solution that doesn't rely on medication is your best bet.
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Text a friend
In fact, a 2011 National Sleep Foundation poll found that about 10% of kids 13 to 18 are awakened after they go to bed every night or almost every night by a phone call, text message or email, and about one in five 13- to 29-year-olds say this happens at least a few nights a week. If you are worried about getting messages late at night, put your phone in another room or mute it.
Drink coffee (maybe even decaf)
A cup of coffee contains anywhere from 80 to 120 milligrams of caffeine per cup, and you probably already know you should avoid it right before bed. But some still like the idea of a hot drink after dinner, says Grandner, and may not realize that although they're still several hours away from turning in, their habit could disturb sleep. Truth is, caffeine can stay in the body for up to 12 hours. "Even caffeine at lunch can be too close to bedtime for some people," says Grandner.
Perhaps even more surprising: decaf coffee may not even be a safe bet. A 2007 Consumer Reports report found that some "decaf" samples" contained up to 20 milligrams of caffeine. But there's good news for people who love a hot cup of joe in the evenings: The new (truly) decaf Counting Sheep Coffee ($12, amazon.com) contains valerian, an herb that promotes sleep.
There may still be able to enjoy your favorite caffeinated tea at night. Dunk your teabag quickly into a cup of hot water, then dump it out and make a second cup using that same tea bag. Most of tea's caffeine is released early on in the steeping process, explains Grandner, so this may help you enjoy the flavor and warmth without so much of the stimulant.
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Milk chocolate bars usually have less than 10 milligrams of caffeine per serving, but a Hershey's Special Dark Bar, for instance, contains 31the amount in almost a whole can of Coke. Chocolate also contains the stimulant theobromine, which has been shown to increase heart rate and sleeplessness.
Skip your wind-down time
Check your work email
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Eat spicy or fatty foods
"If you're a smoker and you're having trouble sleeping, that may be another reason you should talk to your doctor about quitting," Grandner says. It's not just traditional cigarettes you should avoid at night; e-cigarettes, smoking cessation patches, pipes, cigars, and chewing tobacco can all keep you up.
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Chug lots of water
Work out too intensely
There is some evidence, though, that prolonged or very high-intensity exercise late at night may make it hard for some people to fall asleep. If you're staying up extra late to squeeze in time at the gym, or suspect that your 9 p.m. kickboxing classes may be keeping you up, see if you sleep better after an earlier workout.
Play video games
"Browsing the web or flipping through TV channels before bed may not be so bad if you're not super sensitive to light," says Grandner, "but anything that's highly engaging will almost certainly keep you awake." Dr. Rosenberg agrees: "Stimulation from these devices can activate and excite the brain, which presents a challenge when it comes to trying to fall asleep."
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Turn up the heat
Of course, if it's freezing in your house and you can't fall asleep without shivering, there's nothing wrong with bumping the heat up a degree. But know that you'll probably sleep better at a slightly cooler temperature than your house is set at during the day.
Let your pet into bed
And those sleep disturbances can come from more than just your dog or cat's movements through the night. Pet hair and dander in your bed could also contribute to allergies and breathing difficulties, which can also affect your slumber.
Take a shower
"Showers often wake people up, so it might not be the best thing to do before bed," says Grandner. People with long hair should be careful not to go to bed with wet hair, either; not only can it be uncomfortable and cause knots and tangles, but it can also make sheets and pillows damp, which could cause mold to grow.
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Pick a fight
Going to bed with unresolved issues may not be your best bet either, but Dr. Rosenberg suggests trying to hash out any problems earlier in the night, and saving important decision-making or serious conversations for days when you have more time to reflect and relax afterward. "A serious conversation before bed is not a good idea," he adds.
Alter your routine
But switching up that routine, by doing things out of order or earlier in the night than usual, can disrupt that mental process. "Without a consistent bedtime routine, your brain doesn't go into sleep mode until you crawl into bed and turn out the light," says Grandner. "You'll fall asleep much faster if you can start that process a little bit earlier, as you're getting ready."
Anything that's too exciting
But if that book or that knitting project or whatever else you're doing draws you in too much, you may have a hard time putting it down and turning out the lights. "When I read at night, I get too absorbed in the story and the next thing I know it's 3 a.m.," says Grandner. If this happens to you, be careful about the activities you choose before bed, and set strict time limits for whatever you do decide to take on.
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