Slipping into bad sleeping habits is easy when you're not making a concerted effort to maintain good ones, but quality slumber is imperative for your health. Sleep deprivation could affect your body in more ways than most of us realize and may even lead to life-threatening conditions like weak immunity, anxiety, heart disease, stroke, depression, and more.
Keeping consistent sleep habits can do more than keep your body healthy; they could improve your mental health, keep you looking young, and foster more significant brain function, allowing you to feel, look, and perform your best every day.
Eating is essential for our health, but if you've ever eaten a big meal then tried to exercise immediately afterward, you can understand how timing can affect our bodies. To get quality rest, we want to be relaxed when we go to bed, but if our digestive system is busy metabolizing our food, this hinders that ability.
Using a crutch of any sort to go to sleep may be helpful in the short term, but needing external help regularly could cause issues later when those crutches aren't available. Further, falling asleep to a TV increases your exposure to blue light, which could disrupt your melatonin production and circadian rhythm.
More happens when we don't get enough sleep than mere drowsiness and lack of energy. Research has shown that we could suffer from short-term and long-term issues when we deprive ourselves of sufficient rest. Memory impairment, relationship stress, and poor alertness are just a few of the short-term risks.
Continuing to operate on minimal sleep could lead to long-term effects like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, depression, and stroke. Lack of rest can even affect your appearance, leading to premature wrinkles and dark circles under your eyes. Further, cortisol increases with more stress, which is connected with minimal rest, and cortisol breaks down collagen, keeping our skin smooth.
Learn More: How One Night of Poor Sleep Affects Our Health
With a few simple adjustments, getting back on track could be easier than you think.
After eating, our bodies need time to digest, and laying down isn't conducive to letting our digestive system do its work. Our body works best in an upright position when processing food because lying down could cause stomach contents to move into the esophagus, triggering GERD or heartburn.
Ideally, we want to eat our last meal at least two to three hours before bedtime, which gives our bodies ample time to digest our food before hitting the hay.
Keeping a routine sleep schedule is incredibly helpful for proper rest. If you've ever had a regular alarm clock to wake up for work, you may notice yourself waking up about the same time, even on weekends when you have a chance to sleep in. This is because our bodies prefer a regular sleep-wake cycle, known as a circadian rhythm.
Staying up late is okay once in a while. However, doing so could still throw off your regular sleep schedule, and you may notice your body waking up at your standard early wake time, despite a later bedtime. Further, it's necessary to rest before bed and give your body time to unwind, so working right up until bedtime for sleep isn't ideal for sleep hygiene.
Exercise is great for our bodies and minds and can help with sleep as well. However, keeping a routine and timing it correctly is essential as well. Physical activity right before bed isn't conducive to rest as it can stimulate your brain and raise your heart rate, creating a barrier to sleep. Ideally, you want to complete any exercise at least one hour before bed to allow your body time to relax before getting under the covers.
Caffeine is a widely used substance and has been for centuries, and there is even evidence that bees enjoy caffeine as they find it in particular flowers. Coffee is excellent for giving us a jolt in the morning but enjoying it later in the day can significantly impair our sleep-wake cycle.
Caffeine has a half-life of four to six hours, which means that it takes your body about this much time to digest only half of one serving of caffeine— meaning it could stay in your body much longer, keeping you awake at night. When you're building good sleep habits, it's best to avoid caffeine in coffee, tea, soda, and a variety of other common drinks. If you enjoy having coffee out of habit, try decaf.
Alcohol is famous for inducing feelings of relaxation and happiness, but it's not ideal for getting quality rest. However tempting it may be to sit down to a glass of wine, beer, or cocktail after a long day of work to help you relax, it probably isn't helping you sleep.
Those who drink alcohol before bed, while relaxed, typically experience sleep latency, where they need more time before they fall asleep. People who have insomnia or sleep apnea issues are commonly found to experience issues with alcohol use as well, so if you want quality rest, stay away from the booze.
When looking to maintain an excellent sleep-wake cycle, try your best to put your electronics away a few hours before hitting the sack. The blue light that electronics give off also contributes to a feeling of alertness when we should be winding down for bed.
Studies have shown that activities like reading before nighttime help reduce stress and clear the mind for sound rest. Soothing music can help you wind down and relax before bed, and meditation is commonly known to quiet the mind, creating a more peaceful state of being conducive to sleep.
Having a respite that feels cozy, relaxed, and peaceful can help you drift off at the end of the day. Making your bedroom feel like a zen sanctuary rather than a deposit for dirty clothes could help your attitude around going to bed. Accessories like a sleep mask or black-out curtains can help with your sleep-wake cycle, letting your head know it's nighttime and time for rest.
While many individuals feel tired when they're warm, being too hot can make you feel uncomfortable and unable to sleep. Cool temperatures can help create a good sleep environment, so installing a bedroom fan or opening a window could help as well.
Many of us have begun working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and if you've set up shop inside your bedroom, this may create confusion for our brains in regards to where we're meant to sleep and where we're meant to work. While not always possible, if you can, try and build some separation between your workstation and your sleeping quarters using a partition, plants, or furniture.
Getting a baby to sleep is a challenge in itself, but it's also easy to fall into bad habits making the daily task more difficult. When looking to create better sleep habits for you and your child, it's wise to avoid a few practices to encourage independent sleep routines.
These habits are perfectly reasonable and may be necessary at times, but only up to a point. By the age of six months, your child should ideally not be reliant on any of these routines. If these habits begin to encroach significantly on your own sleep needs, it may be time to reevaluate your habits.
Quality rest is an essential component of our well-being and mental health. When we fail to get the rest we need regularly, we risk compromising other aspects of our health to function correctly. Not getting enough sleep puts us at a higher risk for severe conditions such as heart disease, obesity, depression, and more.
Inadequate rest can also lead to a weakened immune system, brain fog, low concentration, and a shorter life expectancy. Creating positive sleep habits is not only better for our mental state, but it's also critical for our well-being and long-term health.
 “The Color of the Light Affects the Circadian Rhythms”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 Apr. 2020.
 “Let Your Brain Rest: Boredom Can Be Good For Your Health”, Neuroscience News, 30 Aug. 2020.
 “Here's What Happens When You Don't Get Enough Sleep (And How Much You Really Need a Night)”, Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, 11 Mar. 2021.
 “How Long Should You Wait Before Going To Bed After Dinner?”, PharmEasy Blog, 21 Dec. 2019.
 “Why Does Caffeine Make Us Stay Awake?: Ask Dr. Universe: Washington State University”, Ask Dr. Universe, 6 Dec. 2018.
 “Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine Is Too Much?”, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA
 Soon-Yeob Park, et al., “The Effects of Alcohol on Quality of Sleep”, Korean Journal of Family Medicine, The Korean Academy of Family Medicine, Nov. 2015.
 Paul Gringras,et al., “Bigger, Brighter, Bluer-Better? Current Light-Emitting Devices – Adverse Sleep Properties and Preventative Strategies”, Frontiers in Public Health, Frontiers Media S.A., 13 Oct. 2015.