Advertising
Advertising

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

Advertising

    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.

      Advertising

      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.

        Advertising

        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.

            Advertising

            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

              More by this author

              Marianne Stenger

              Writer, Open Colleges

              Want to Improve Your Quality of Sleep? Avoid These 8 Things Before Bed Four Ways to Boost Your Earning Potential On Airbnb 5 Home Improvements You Should Leave to the Professionals 5 Best Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint Is Your Job Impacting Your Health? Here are 3 Ways to Combat Unhealthy Work Practices

              Trending in Brain

              1 7 Natural Memory Boosters That Actually Work for All Ages 2 How to Train Your Brain to Be Creative 3 How to Think Critically: 5 Powerful Techniques 4 How to Memorize a Speech the Smart Way 5 How to Improve Memory: 7 Natural (And Highly Effective) Ways

              Read Next

              Advertising
              Advertising
              Advertising

              Last Updated on December 2, 2019

              7 Natural Memory Boosters That Actually Work for All Ages

              7 Natural Memory Boosters That Actually Work for All Ages

              Forgot a name? Misplaced your keys? Taking longer to find the right words? Don’t panic. There’s plenty you can do to improve your memory.

              You’re probably expecting us to reveal 7 little known and newly discovered herbs from the forests of the Amazon, the peaks of the Himalayas and the Arctic tundra. No such luck.

              Despite Americans spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on Ginkgo Biloba, Ashwagandha, Periwinkle, Bacopa, Vitamin B’s, Omega 3’s and memory boosting supplement cocktails, there is very little scientific evidence they actually work. [1]

              So, how do we remember?

              The first process in remembering is creating a memory.

              This is where our brain sends a signal, associated with a thought, event or piece of information our mind is processing, over our brains neural pathways, called synapses.

              Think of our neural pathways like roads and information like trucks. The better the roads, the more trucks can be driven.

              The second step in remembering is memory consolidation.

              Consolidation is when the brain takes that thought, event or piece of information and actually stores it in the brain. So now we’re talking about taking delivery of the trucks and storing its contents in the warehouse.

              Consolidation helps us store information and label it properly, so its organized and easy to retrieve when needed.

              Advertising

              The last step is memory retrieval.

              That’s the step whereby we try to retrieve the information stored in our brains. You know when you have the name of someone on the tip of your tongue.

              You have the information; it’s been stored, but you just can’t find it. Our memory recall is typically better the stronger the memory is and the more often we’ve used it.

              Memory decline is a normal part of aging. However, new scientific research is discovering many new ways for us to improve memory creation, consolidation and retrieval–no matter our age.

              I’m going to offer you 7 completely natural memory boosters, backed up by scientific research. It may take a little more effort than a magic memory pill, but the benefits will transcend your memory and improve your overall quality of life as well, making you more fit, energetic, happy and sharp.

              1. MIND Diet

              Healthy eating, particularly more dark colored fruit, vegetables and oily fish has been shown to improve memory and stave off cognitive decline.

              The MIND diet is proven to reduce the risk of dementia. It’s a mix of the popular Mediterranean diet and the low blood pressure DASH diet.[2]

              The study kept track of the diets of almost 1,000 older adults. They were followed for an average of 4½ years.

              The study concluded that “people whose diets were most strongly in line with the MIND diet had brains that functioned as if they were 7½ years younger than those whose diets least resembled this eating style.”

              The study also showed that people who followed the MIND diet in the study reduced their chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease in half.

              Advertising

              So what does the MIND diet consist of? Lots of vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, berries, beans, fish, poultry, olive oil, whole grains and wine.

              2. Aerobic Exercise

              Aerobic activity is about as close as we get to a magic pill for our memories. Exercise helps your brain create new capillaries and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which creates new brain cells and connections. To put it in plain english, aerobic activity changes our brains and helps it grow.

              Studies have shown that exercising increases the size of the hippocampus and improves memory. In fact, even if you start exercising as an older adult, you can reverse cognitive decline by 1 to 2 years and protects against further decreases in the size of the hippocampus, which is essential for memory.[3]

              In another study, reviewed by Dr. Ian Robertson of the University of Dublin, they looked at a group of people of 60 years and older, who engaged in “active walking” for four months.

              They compared them with another group of people who only stretched over the same period of time. After testing both groups before and after the 4 month period, the walkers improved their memory and attention considerably more than the stretching group.

              So which exercises are best and how much do we have to exercise?

              Turns out, it doesn’t really matter whether you run, swim, row or bike. What does matter is that you push yourself beyond your current abilities, keep doing more, keep getting better. Set yourself short term goals and keep pushing the goal posts.

              3. Sleep

              You need your sleep. The deeper the better. Sleep helps improve your procedural memory (how to do things, like how do I navigate my iPhone) and declarative memory (facts, like what’s my password).[4]

              Even short naps from 6 to 45 minutes have been shown to improve your memory. In one Harvard study, college students memorized pairs of unrelated words, memorized a maze and copied a complex form. All were tested on their work. Half were then allowed to take a 45 minute nap. They were then retested. Those who took a nap, got a boost in their performance.[5]

              Advertising

              Another study showed that getting REM (deep) sleep can increase your memory and mental performance by 33% to 73%. Getting a deep sleep helps the brain consolidate memories through dreams and “associative processing”. However, the study also revealed that heart rate variability in deep sleep also contributed significantly to increased memory performance.[6]

              4. Relax

              We all know that stress is bad for our health. It can raise our blood pressure, impact our immune system and interrupt our sleep. Stress also impairs our memory.

              When our body gets stressed, it releases cortisol into our blood stream, which can cause short and long term physical changes to the brain. While cortisol has sometimes been shown to cause increases in short term memory, it can actually decrease our long term recall memory.

              To help reduce the stress in your life, try relaxing with meditation, yoga or breathing exercises. Unplug–even for just a few hours. Stop checking your emails, social accounts and news. Release some endorphins with some exercise.

              Bottom line, the more anxious and stressed we are, the less clearly we think, the poorer our memory works.

              5. Continuous Learning

              The mind is like a muscle. The more you challenge it, the stronger it gets. The more you learn, the more you can learn.

              Research shows that learning can actually change the physical makeup of your brain. Not too long ago, we used to think that you were born with a fixed amount of brain cells, which declined with age. New research now shows that we can actually increase the number of brain cells we have throughout our life.

              Aside from staying physically active, learning new skills and studying can actually keep our brains healthier. Consider taking a continuing education class, studying a new language, learning a new instrument, playing new card games.[7]

              Studies show that the more complex the task, the more benefits for your mind. Simply showing up to class is not enough. You need to be actively engaged. Anything that forces you to focus and learn something new and get out of a rote routine will help you sharpen your mind and boost your memory.

              Try these 15 Ways to Cultivate Continuous Learning for a Sharper Brain.

              Advertising

              6. Stay Social

              The more deep and meaningful social connections you maintain, the more you protect your brain. Bottom line, the more friends you have, the more people you work with, the more you’re forced to use your brain.

              Social isolation and loneliness are significant risks of dementia. Without interacting with others, our brains wilt. Isolation and loneliness lead to depression, physical and mental decline.[8]

              In a 2016 study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, seniors with a full social calendar did better on memory, reasoning, and processing speed tests.[9]

              What to do?

              Party! Seriously, get together with friends as often as possible. Have family dinners. Choose social activities or sports like tennis, golf, cards or go for walks with a friend. Bottom line have fun, build meaningful social relationships and stay connected. Not only will it make your mind sharper and your memory better, you’ll be happier, too!

              7. Wakeful Rest

              This one is getting harder and harder to do. In a world where we can’t sit on a bus, go up an elevator or go to the bathroom without our phones, doing absolutely nothing to distract our minds is becoming increasingly difficult.

              But, the results are in. Doing nothing is great for your memory. Quietly resting for 10 minutes, after you learn something will help you remember and help you create more detailed memories.[10]

              What we do minutes after we learn something new has a significant impact on how well we retain the new information. In another study, it didn’t matter what you did after you learned something new, as long as you weren’t distracted by outside factors. In other words, you could be thinking of your day, making a grocery list, or thinking of a story.

              In either case, wakeful rest for a period of 10 minutes helped the brain process and consolidate your memories so that you were better able to recall the information at a later date.[11]

              Bottom Line

              You don’t have to spend a dime on cocktails and supplements promising a quick boost to your memory power. There is very little conclusive scientific evidence suggesting supplements will help improve the memories of healthy individuals–not for Ginkgo Biloba, Vitamin B, fish oils, Vitamin D, Folate or other supplements claiming they a secret formula.

              There are far cheaper and more effective ways to boost your memory: exercise, rest, eat well, learn, love, laugh and relax. Who wouldn’t want that prescription?

              More About Boosting Brain Power

              Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

              Reference

              Read Next