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Want to Improve Your Quality of Sleep? Avoid These 8 Things Before Bed

Want to Improve Your Quality of Sleep? Avoid These 8 Things Before Bed

Do you wake up feeling rested and ready to tackle the day, or groggy and desperate for a cup of coffee to help you pry your eyes open? The truth is that most of us aren’t getting the right amount of sleep each night, and one survey found that 58% of workers feel they don’t sleep enough, and only 16% are getting the recommended eight hours of sleep each night.[1]

Chronic sleep deprivation can contribute to everything from obesity to cardiovascular disease, but even a low level of sleep deprivation can impact cognitive function and will almost certainly affect your performance at work, and eventually maybe even your career.[2]

So what can you do to ensure that your nights of rest are actually restful?

Most of us know better than to consume caffeine or sugar late at night, but there are likely plenty of other things you do regularly that are messing with your quality of sleep. With this in mind, here are eight things you should try to avoid at all costs before bedtime.

1. Smoking or drinking alcohol

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    Obviously you’re aware that smoking and drinking alcohol aren’t the healthiest of habits to begin with, but smoking or drinking right before going to bed can make it more difficult to fall asleep, and also cause you to wake up more frequently throughout the night.

    Nicotine is a stimulant, so smoking just before bed will leave you feeling wired, and while alcohol may initially cause you to feel drowsy, it also disrupts your restorative rapid eye movement (REM) sleep,[3] leaving you feeling groggy and unable to concentrate throughout the day.

    2. Heavy meals

      In general, it’s best to avoid eating too close to your bedtime, as a full stomach will make it harder to fall asleep. Lying down right after you’ve eaten can also cause heartburn and indigestion, which obviously doesn’t contribute to a good night’s sleep.

      If your schedule makes it impossible to eat at least three hours before your bedtime, try to eat your heavier meals for lunch and then eat lighter meals that are easier to digest at the end of the day, such as salads, or fruit and yogurt.

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      3. Technology in bed

        Research shows[4] that the blue and white light given off by the screens of our favorite devices prevents the brain from releasing melatonin, which is the hormone that tells your body when it’s time to sleep.

        With this in mind, it’s best to avoid reading on your smartphone or laptop before going to sleep, and if you usually watch TV or binge on Netflix in the evening, try to give yourself at least one hour of screen-free time before you climb into bed each night.

        4. Hot baths

        Hot baths can certainly be relaxing, but taking one too close to your bedtime can also prevent you from falling asleep. This is because your body temperature naturally drops a bit in preparation for sleep, so when you take a hot bath, your body needs more time to cool down before you feel sleepy.

        If you like taking hot baths right before bed, you can avoid this problem by taking a cold rinse off right after your bath to bring your core temperature down again.

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        5. Strenuous exercise

          Exercising during the day can lead to more restful nights, but if you’re working out too close to your bedtime you might actually be sabotaging your sleep. Just like hot baths, strenuous exercise causes your core body temperature to rise. It also leads to increased brain activity and releases adrenaline, which is not ideal when you’re trying to sleep.

          If you’re not a morning person, try to do your workout at least three hours before you go to sleep, and when this isn’t possible, try a less strenuous form of exercise, such as swimming or yoga.

          6. Work related activities

            Checking your email or taking work calls right before you go to sleep not only exposes you to the melatonin-suppressing light of your phone’s screen, but also prevents you from ever really relaxing.

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            One study even found that people who used their smartphones for work purposes at night were less productive and had difficulty focusing the next day.[5] With this in mind, it’s important to set some clear boundaries and make a conscious effort to unplug and relax once you finish work for the day.

            7. Intense conversations

            Arguments tend to elevate cortisol and other stress hormones, which is really the last thing you want just before bed. While it’s not always possible to avoid arguments and stressful conversations entirely, try to hash things out earlier on in the day rather than leaving frustrations to simmer until bedtime.

            If you know you have an important decision to make, or need to talk something through with a friend or partner, it’s better to agree on a time to discuss the issue the following day when you’ll be free to reflect and process things.

            8. Not following a routine

              Humans are creatures of habit, and if you’re constantly going to bed at a different time, it will be difficult for your brain to slow down and fall asleep. With this in mind, try to develop your own little nighttime ritual that starts about an hour before you plan to go to sleep and helps you relax and wind down.

              This could include anything from laying out your clothes for the next day, to stretching and meditating, to reading or journaling, which has been shown[6] to relieve stress and anxiety, and even lower symptoms of depression.

              Featured photo credit: Hernan Sanchez via unsplash.com

              Reference

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              Marianne Stenger

              Writer, Open Colleges

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              Last Updated on June 6, 2019

              Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

              Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

              In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

              Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

              Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

              Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence.

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                 A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice.[1] The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

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                The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

                “We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

                In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.

                The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence

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                  A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

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                  Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.

                  “When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues.

                  When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

                  The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

                  As Herman Melville once wrote,[2]

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                  “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

                  Silence relieves stress and tension.

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                    It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

                    A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

                    “This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.[3]

                    Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.[4]

                    Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.

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                      The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

                      Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

                      But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise.[5]

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                      Summation

                      Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.

                      Featured photo credit: Angelina Litvin via unsplash.com

                      Reference

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