Did you know that your sleep hygiene plays a pivotal role in the quality of sleep you get, influencing your daily performance and overall health? Sleep hygiene is a term that refers to daily habits affecting your sleep. Examples of good sleep hygiene include going to bed and waking up at the same time each day and getting around eight hours of sleep.
But what are the bad sleep habits that are preventing us from doing this? Let’s break them down in detail to see what you can do today to improve your sleep hygiene.
Bad sleep habits are detrimental because they extend beyond just your sleep. Harvard research shows that we could develop 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.
Operating on minimal sleep could also 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.
If you’ve been sleeping badly lately, it could be due to poor sleep hygiene. Changing even one of these bad habits can make a significant difference in how well you sleep and your overall well-being..
Our phones emit blue light, which is shown to suppress melatonin, the hormone that makes us sleep. By scrolling through Instagram right before it's time to turn out the lights, you may not only be hindering your melatonin production, but you're engaging your brain at a time when it should be relaxed and winding down.
Blue light exposure affects our health in many ways, damaging retinal cells, causing vision problems, and even interrupting the cardiac system, putting you at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, sleep disorders, and cardiovascular diseases. However, this doesn’t only come from our smartphones but also TVs, gaming systems, and tablets.
Eating is essential for our health, but if you've ever eaten a big meal and 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.
The problem with late-night snacking, particularly consuming heavy meals, is that our metabolism slows down by about 15 percent as we sleep, so it may take longer to digest this food. As a result, you could wake up nauseous and bloated. Additionally, unhealthy foods and heavy dishes could trigger nighttime heartburn, acid reflux, or indigestion, which makes it more difficult to rest comfortably.
Also, according to Clevland Clinic, our insulin resistance is high at night, so the calories you had right before bed are likely to be stored as fat. If you were to eat the same food in the morning instead, your body would probably burn those calories throughout the day.
However, that doesn’t mean you have to go to bed hungry either. Some healthy late-night snacks, like fruits, smoked salmon, avocado, almonds, green smoothies, and greek yogurt, can be good to eat before bed.
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. Becoming dependent on white noise before bed is relatively harmless. However, it’s a dependency, which means that, after a while, you may not be able to fall asleep without it. This may not sound bad, but imagine being somewhere where this is unavailable to you. You’d likely have trouble falling asleep.
Many individuals keep a busy schedule, competing to pack in as many activities as possible, but this can be detrimental to our health. We need time to mentally and physically unwind before bed; otherwise, falling asleep after we've had a non-stop day can be challenging. If you have too many things going on during the day, you may struggle to make your brain stop thinking about these priorities when it’s time to sleep. In other words, if you go to bed right after you wrap up your busy day, your brain will keep going. Your brain will likely continue analyzing that meeting, school project, grocery list, or whatever else you had going on that day. This is why it’s important to give yourself at least an hour to unwind, relax, and get into sleep mode.
Further, research has shown that our brains develop heightened problem-solving abilities and more profound creativity when we allow them time to shut off and be bored from time to time.
Many people may choose to have a nightcap at the end of the day or when they have trouble falling asleep. According to Alcohol Research and Health, sleep problems are more common among alcoholics, so it’s unlikely a few glasses would make you sleep better. Initially, alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, but the sleep you’d get is far from quality. Drinking before bed reduces REM sleep, which is important for brain development, emotional processing, and memory. In addition, alcohol could make mornings unpleasant, as you may have a headache or feel nauseous when you wake up.
Sleeping in a poor environment can make it difficult to have a good night’s sleep, as it can contribute to stress and discomfort. For this reason, it’s crucial to keep your room quiet, dark, and at a recommended 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit. This range might not be for everyone, so find a cool temperature that works for you.
In addition, an ideal sleep environment also has cool colors, lavender or other calming scents, and comfortable bedding. Poor sleep environment includes clutter, an uncomfortable mattress and bedding, reminders of work, and electronics that emit light and/or sound.
Whether in-person, online, or on the phone, stressful conversations before bed can make it difficult to fall asleep, even when you’re tired. Stress and sleep don’t go well together because the frustration and anxious feelings you develop can get your mind racing, which is the opposite of what you need in order to fall asleep. Furthermore, even if you fall asleep, you’re unlikely to have quality rest, which can make you wake up in a bad mood. For this reason, it’s best to avoid potentially stressful conversations right before bed.
As with stressful conversations, any type of media that causes you agitation or anxiety is not conducive to quality sleep. This can include social media, news, television, movies, and books. For example, that horror movie you watched or a certain news article could leave you feeling frustrated or scared, hindering your ability to rest easily. Rather than consuming stressful media just before bedtime, opt for things that bring you joy and relaxation, such as a favorite travel book or soothing music.
Irregular sleep schedules can impact your ability to get enough hours of shuteye each night, making it harder to wake up refreshed in the morning. For instance, sleeping in late one day could result in insomnia later that night. Furthermore, research has found that inconsistent sleep patterns increase a person’s risk of obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
For this reason, it’s important to go to bed and wake up at the same each day, even when you don’t have work or school, as this helps keep your body’s internal clock in check.
Learn More: How One Night of Poor Sleep Affects Our Health
As with adults, it’s important to avoid certain habits that can negatively impact a baby’s sleep. 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.
Bad sleep habits affect your life by making it difficult to fall asleep and get quality rest. Luckily, avoiding these poor sleep practices is fairly easy to do on your own, and though some may take more time to get used to than others, making these changes can result in better rest and an overall improvement in your well-being. Through better rest, you should see positive changes to your physical, emotional, and cognitive health.
 LeWine MD, Howard E. “Too little sleep, and too much, affect memory”. Harvard Health. 2020.
 “Here's What Happens When You Don't Get Enough Sleep (And How Much You Really Need a Night)”. Cleveland Clinic. 2022.
 “The Color of the Light Affects the Circadian Rhythms”. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last modified April 1, 2020.
 “How blue light affects your eyes, sleep, and health”. University of California Davis Health. 2022.
 Sharma, Sunil., Kavuru, Mani. “Sleep and Metabolism: An Overview”. International Jounral of Endocrinology. 2010.
 “Is Eating Before Bed Bad for You?”. Cleveland Cinic. 2022.
 “Let Your Brain Rest: Boredom Can Be Good For Your Health”. Neuroscience News. 2020.
 Brower M.D., Kirk J. “Alcohol’s Effects on Sleep in Alcoholics”. Alcohol Research and Health. 2001.
 “Does exercising at night affect sleep?”. Harvard Health. 2019.
 “Irregular sleep patterns linked to higher risk of metabolic disorders”. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. 2019.