Identifying the culprits that disrupt sleeps leads to improved sleep. Certain habits and environmental factors that seem harmless can actually make it tough to fall asleep, stay asleep, or prevent deep, restorative sleep. Here are eight common sleep disrupters and suggested routine swaps. Work with just one at a time. Making small tweaks to sleep routines can make a huge difference in sleep, which affects energy, mood, focus, and quality of life.
1. Bathroom lights. It could be the main lights, lights embedded in a mirror or toilet bowl illumination lights. The bathroom is one of the last places we go before getting into bed and it can flood our senses with the wrong signal.
The routine swap: Scan the bathroom for bright lights and substitute or supplement them with switch dimmers, red light bulbs or use an amber-colored salt night light for teeth brushing. Bright bathroom lights are fine to use up until after dinner, but then lights are best kept low so the body gets the signaling it needs for sleep.
2. TV shows and movies. Especially if they are dramatic or intense. You can still watch, but reserve the last hour before bed for:
These routine swaps: audiobook, music, jig-saw puzzle, reading, meditation, petting an animal, or some of these mindfulness techniques. Choose something that calms, not stimulates.
3. Intense conversations. Bedtime is not the time to vent the stress of your day with a partner or family member, or hash out a dilemma. Save it for breakfast after a full night of rest. Everything will work itself out better and seem less urgent in the morning.
The routine swap: Write a gratitude list together or on your own. If there is a lot of lingering stress, journaling to dump it and then shifting into a gratitude list after is a helpful practice.
4. Checking email. Just like with #2, aim to put away all screens one hour before bedtime. If that sounds hard, start with 15 minutes and work up to an hour.
The routine Swap: Make a to-do list for tomorrow and write down what was accomplished today, so it’s easier to let go and rest.
5. Exercise. Wrap up intense exercise a few hours before bed, with a nourishing meal in between. Elevating body temperature in the evening sends the wrong signal to a body that is meant to be cooling down at this point in the day.
The routine swap: If you feel the need to move, go for a walk after dinner or do some gentle stretches.
6. Social Media. Turn off screens one hour before bedtime.
The routine swap: Feeling lonely? Call a friend you like talking to, preferably one that is uplifting and not over-stimulating and will be able to hang up when it’s close to bedtime.
7. Alcohol. While an evening cocktail can help a person wind down, research shows that it disrupts sleep, even if it’s just a glass of wine after dinner.
The routine swap: Try sparkling water or herbal tea if it’s about the beverage. If it’s more about relaxing and stress reduction then try some of the other swaps listed above to unwind.
8. Caffeine. Having coffee or other caffeinated beverages too late in the day can disrupt the sleepy signals the body needs to fall asleep at night. In addition, sleep experts say if you need caffeine before noon it’s a sign of lack of sleep, creating a vicious cycle between the two (caffeine and lack of sleep); usually caffeine has to be eliminated or drastically reduced before sleep can improve.
The routine swap: Start the morning with warm water or herbal tea, or even half-caf to make the transition. Prioritize going to be early so the need for caffeine during the day isn’t is strong, work at it from both ends.
Easing the body into sleep encourages deeper more restful sleep, just like a warm-up gets the body ready to workout. It’s important to have a regular bedtime that allows for enough sleep before the morning alarm as well. Setting a timer for one hour before that bedtime helps create space for a bedtime routine.