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Sleep Health

3 Bad Sleep Habits To Give Up (And 5 Good Habits To Start)

This article, which is adapted from Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day, originally appeared on DemosHealth.com.

By Robert Rosenberg, DO

Good sleep brings clear thinking and vitality, but in order to get good sleep, you might have to break some bad sleep habits and build some good sleep hygiene practices. While changing long-held habits and modifying your behavior is never easy, remember this: if you value your life and want to enjoy better health, then deep sleep is your prized ally; the way you get there is with good sleep hygiene.

3 Bad Sleep Habits You Have To Break

Late night nicotine: Many of my patients who have trouble sleeping—either falling asleep or staying asleep—tell me a cigarette helps them to relax. Indeed, with the first puff this may be true. Nevertheless, within a short time nicotine promotes the release of the brain neurotransmitter acetylcholine. This is one of the most powerful wake-promoting chemicals produced by our brain. It increases the activity of the major wake-promoting circuit of the brain called the reticular activating system. Cut out the cigarettes before bed to improve sleep (and for better health all around, consider quitting entirely).

Drinking too much alcohol: Alcohol initially can induce sleep and can promote increased deep sleep. Unfortunately, many fall into the drinking trap and consume alcohol past this point, actually harming their sleep. As your body metabolizes alcohol, this causes a withdrawal characterized by an increase in the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline. This then results in a rebound of wakefulness, causing an inability to return to sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, try cutting out alcohol, or at least reducing your intake.

Relying on caffeine: Contained in foods and drinks such as coffee, caffeinated teas, and dark chocolate, caffeine should be avoided if you have trouble sleeping. I usually recommend to my patients with insomnia that they eliminate all caffeine. If they cannot comply with that request, then at least curtail caffeine intake after 10 AM. Some patients have severe headaches and anxiety when they stop cold turkey. For these patients, I recommend a 50% reduction every two days until they are off caffeine completely.

5 Great Habits To Help You Sleep

Taking a warm bath: Enjoying a bath before bedtime can help to induce sleep. Everyone knows that warm baths are good for relaxation, but there’s another biological reason why this habit could help you. One of the major signals that occur with the onset of sleep is a drop in core body temperature. A warm bath will raise your body temperature, while exposure to room air after exiting the bath cools you down. A drop in body temperature might help signal your body into entering sleep.

Soak up the morning sun, even on weekends: Morning sunlight is the cheapest and most widely available sleep aid. Exposure to sunlight within two hours of awakening is a strong signal to your circadian clock (the internal 24-hour clock that tells you when to sleep and when to wake). It helps you to synchronize with your environment and promotes a normal sleep time the following night. That is why sleeping late on the weekends and exposing yourself to light late in the afternoon can desynchronize your internal clock and lead to problems getting up for work on Monday.

Check worries at the bedroom door: Too many people take their worries into the bedroom, which makes falling asleep very difficult. You can reduce your worrying and improve sleep in two ways.

o In the evening, make a list of your problems or worries. Place the list in a drawer and leave it there. No need to act on them. Getting the worries out of your mind and onto the sheet of paper, where you can see and acknowledge the list, is enough to calm the mind.

o Have you ever attended a workshop or seminar where the facilitator passed around a wastebasket, going from person to person, and asking for your brain dump? You lower your head over the trash can and shake out all thoughts and become clear and focused for the meeting or seminar. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Yet, it works. Try it before sleeping if worries turn through your mind like a merry-go-round.

Perform muscle relaxation exercises before bed: When your whole body is relaxed, it’s much easier for you to fall asleep. You can achieve great sleep by tensing and relaxing each muscle group in your body.

Keep a sleep diary: If you’ve tried these sleep hygiene best practices to achieve longer, restoring sleep and are still having trouble sleeping, start keeping a sleep diary for at least two weeks. If you have noticed that you are more irritated, tired, frustrated, cry easily, can’t concentrate, or have blank memory moments, then a sleep diary will be your best friend. In your sleep diary, you or your partner can record sleep quality, waking time, quality of focus and energy during the day, and naptime and quality of rest. If you have a restless mind, also record your thoughts that keep you awake. Finally, you’ll write the time of going to sleep and the time of any night awakenings. After two weeks of recording your pattern, you’ll clearly see your sleep-wake cycle map and understand why you feel as you do each day. A sleep expert will want to review this information. Although self-reporting may not be the most reliable, it does tell your health professional what is important to you and how you view the situation, and it enables your health professional to discern deeper patterns or issues to address.

Robert S. Rosenberg, DO, FCCP is the medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center of Prescott Valley, Arizona and Sleep Disorders Center of Flagstaff, Arizona. He is a contributing sleep expert blogger at EverydayHealth.com and his advice has appeared in O magazine, Women’s Health, Woman’s World, and Parenting, among others.