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Tired at the office today? You aren’t alone.
Some of the reasons for that are beyond our control – an unexpected visit from a friend or a young child can easily get in the way of a good night’s sleep, regardless of your intentions.
But we also do things that can sabotage our sleep. And we can fix some of those behaviors.
Here’s how you might be setting yourself up for a terrible night’s sleep – and what to do about it.
Looking at the computer or tv right before bed.
Watching something on Netflix might seem like the perfect way to end a long day, but research has shown that blue light emitted by electronic screens (like phones, computers, and televisions) can impede the production of melatonin, a hormone the body uses to regulate our internal clocks.
Melatonin helps us relax and get ready for bed, so switch to a book 30 to 60 minutes before you go to bed – or at least turn off your electronic devices.
Having a nightcap.
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That nighttime drink might make it a bit easier to fall asleep, but research shows that drinking alcohol right before bed can disrupt sleep later on in the night, making it less restful overall.
The solution, according to some sleep experts, is to keep your drinking to happy hour.
Checking your phone before bed (even when blue light is filtered out).
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Headlines about the dangers of blue light have led to a wave of glasses, apps, and screen protectors that help filter out that part of the light spectrum.
But these may not help as much as the companies selling them would have you believe. And blue light is not the only sleep-destroying aspect of your phone. Just checking our phones (and the world they connect us to) before bed is enough to mess with our sleep, experts say. If you can keep those devices away from your bed, that might help.
Changing your schedule on the weekends.
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Ah, the weekend – time to stay out late, party, and sleep until noon, right? Unfortunately, as chronobiologist Till Roenneberg explains in his book, “Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired,” it’s best for your body to keep a consistent schedule.
If you regularly go to bed at 11:30 p.m. and wake at 7 a.m., shifting your schedule to stay up until 4 a.m. and sleeping until noon will essentially tell your internal clock that your time zone has changed. Your body might then try to adjust its internal schedule, which will make jumping back into your weekly schedule and waking up on Monday morning harder. It’s like jet lag.
Trying to catch up on sleep over the weekend is controversial, but some research does indicate that if you’re really sleep-deprived, getting some extra sleep time might be good – even if it gets you off schedule.
Overusing your bed.
It can be tempting to try to get work done in bed, especially at the start or end of the day. But there’s a good chance that doing so will screw up your sleep. By associating your bed with work, you’re training your brain to recognize it as a place to think about your job (or your email or side project – whatever work you do while in bed).
Psychologists say you should only use your bed for sleep and sex, especially if you are someone who who struggles to calm your mind when trying to rest.
Trying to go to bed too early.
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Getting into bed too early can be counterproductive if you aren’t ready to go to sleep. If you can fall asleep, that’s fine, but sometimes an attempted early bedtime can result in a frustrating effort to fall asleep that will wind up getting you get all worked up about the fact that you can’t sleep.
That’s a bad spiral to go down. If you start feeling annoyed that you’re not falling asleep, stop trying so hard. The Ohio Sleep Medicine Institute recommends that “patients should not ‘catastrophize’ when faced with a ‘bad night.'” Instead of worrying about how awful your day is going to be because you are tired, realize that you may be better able to sleep the next night because of it.
In situations where you can’t get to sleep, some experts suggest getting out of bed and doing something relaxing. If that doesn’t work, others say the best way to remove that anxiety is to try to lie there awake doing nothing, without worrying about whether or not you sleep.
Assuming you can get by on 6 hours of sleep.
“Eight hours, that’s crazy, I don’t have time for that,” you might think. “I get by just fine on five or six hours a night.”
That’s probably wrong. There’s a tiny fraction of the population that can function normally on a few hours of sleep, but the vast majority of us need the seven to nine hours that the CDC recommends.
If you think you feel fine on your regular short sleep schedule, consider this: Most research shows that we lose the ability to detect how cognitively impaired we are after just a few nights of shortened sleep.
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Eating soon before you go to sleep is associated with heartburn, which can ruin a night.
Try to finish all your meals a few hours before bed, or at least avoid eating a large meal right before you lie down.
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Experts say that if you let yourself drift back off after your morning alarm rings, you run the risk of falling into an even deeper sleep. That would leave you groggier than you’d feel without the extra snooze, and it would take you even longer to feel fully awake – not a good way to start the day.
It’s not terrible to use snoozing timeto gradually wake yourself up, but try not to use it as a means of getting extra sleep in the first place.
At the end of a long day, it’s understandable that you just want to go home and chill. And you may think that and end-of-day run might get your body too exhilarated before bed.
But a daily workout is one of the best ways you can improve your sleep. You should work out when you can, and try to get into a regular routine, even if it means exercising at night. Experts say that an evening workout won’t disrupt your sleep as long as you aren’t getting your heart rate up immediately before trying to sleep.
Avoiding the morning sun.
Morning sun can essentially function like a reset button for your body clock.
Sleep researchers say that exposing yourself to morning sun helps your body wake up by stopping the production of sleep-inducing hormones. That in turn primes your body to start producing those hormones again at the right time, after a full day.
In addition to letting you soak up early sunlight, morning workouts might also help with weight loss, some researchers say.