Are Your Sleep Routines Keeping You Up at Night?

From Family Circle

Falling asleep at night might be the hardest thing you do all day. Thanks to “go-go-go” lives filled with work deadlines, family responsibilities and home chores, it’s no wonder many of us struggle with insomnia. Problem is, many of our favorite ways to wind down at night may actually worsen our sleep. Discover which sleep habits keep you up at night and learn how to ditch them so you wake up feeling more energized than ever.

Sleep crutch #1: A goblet of vino.

Although alcohol can cause drowsiness and help you fall asleep faster, it also throws off your body’s sleep-wake cycle. Booze relaxes your throat muscles and rushes you into slumber, making it more likely that you’ll snore or have difficulty breathing. Alcohol is also a diuretic, which increases your odds of getting a wake-up call from your bladder. In addition, it’s likely you won’t feel restored the next morning, as alcohol shortens the amount of time you spend in the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep phase, which is crucial for rebuilding next-day memory and concentration levels.

The solution? Finish off that glass of merlot at least three hours before bedtime and unwind with a relaxing activity like reading or light yoga, instead. “You may miss its calming effects, but you’ll eventually teach your brain to power down on its own,” says Jay Puangco, M.D., service chief at the Judy & Richard Voltmer Sleep Center at Hoag Hospital in California.

Sleep crutch #2: Nodding off while watching your favorite TV show.

Zoning out in front of the tube isn’t the calming activity it appears to be. In fact, TV can stimulate your brain, making it even harder to unwind. In addition, electronics (including tablets and cell phones) emit light—particularly the blue wavelength—that inhibits your body’s release of melatonin, the hormone that helps you prepare for sleep.

To solve this problem, remove the TV from your bedroom. Turn it off at least 30 minutes before bed (60 to 90 minutes before is even better). Avoid staring at a tablet, phone or computer in the hours before bed, and dim the lights in your house in order to minimize the suppression of melatonin.

Sleep crutch #3: Tackling your to-do list.

We’re all guilty of trying to squeeze in chores after everyone else is in bed. Although you might believe that doing laundry or finishing up work gives you the peace of mind to drift off, it’s actually a surefire way to increase your stress level. “You can’t zoom around at 80 miles per hour and then go right to sleep,” says Ruth Benca, M.D., Ph.D., a sleep specialist and head of psychiatry and human behavior at the University of California-Irvine School of Medicine. “You need to unwind, otherwise you tend to ruminate on the day’s worries and stresses.”

Instead, aim to finish the to-do list before dinner. Any tasks you don’t complete can wait until tomorrow. Planning out when you’ll take on bigger projects (like researching a family vacation or calculating next month’s budget) can also keep you on track.

Sleep crutch #4: Earplugs—to block out a snoring spouse.

There’s nothing wrong with earplugs per se. But a partner’s snoring that wakes you in the night (especially if punctuated by pauses in breathing) may signal sleep apnea, a serious condition that can increase the risk of heart disease. Seeking treatment is essential for both your partner’s health and yours. Need more convincing? Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, found that just one night of tossing and turning makes you more likely to fight with your partner the next day.

To remedy this situation, talk to your partner about scheduling a doctor’s appointment or seeing a sleep specialist who will examine his/her nose and throat and may recommend an overnight sleep study. With snoring and sleep apnea in check, you’ll both rest easier.

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