Everyone develops habits over time, whether it’s watching a movie before bed, enjoying a nightcap or scrolling through social media before calling it a night. Yet, while they may seem innocuous, they can have a negative impact on your health. You may find that you don’t feel as alert during the day and that fatigue sets in quicker. You may even find it difficult to sleep at night despite being eager to get to bed. A nasty cycle could develop where you crave sleep but just can’t get it and your health eventually suffers. Fortunately, there’s a way to get out of this by recognizing bedtime habits that need to be nixed.
When you’ve had a long day, a drink can seem like the perfect way to relax and let the stress fade away. You may even think it helps you sleep better. However, while it’s true that alcohol can make you fall asleep, it doesn’t keep you asleep through the night. In fact, you’re likely to wake up in the second half of the night and may have trouble getting back to sleep. You’ll feel worse in the morning too as the effects of poor sleep take a toll.
People who suffer from potentially serious sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) will also see their symptoms, such as snoring, worsen. This is because alcohol relaxes the muscles in the throat and causes them to collapse. With OSA, the air is unable to pass and you stop breathing for a while. The amount of oxygen in the blood reduces and carbon dioxide builds up. As the brain senses this, it wakes you briefly so your airway opens. This intermittent breathing can happen numerous times throughout the night and is made worse with alcohol.
Escaping from the stresses of the day is a good way to relax and prep yourself for bed. But, if you think watching TV is a solution, think again. Televisions, laptops and cell phones emit blue light that can prevent you from falling asleep. It interferes with your body’s ability to produce the sleep hormone, melatonin. It suppresses its production so that sleep doesn’t come easily. Instead of nodding off, you’ll find yourself lying awake and struggling to sleep. You’ll feel tired and irritable the next day, will have difficulty focusing and will feel more stressed. Over time, this sleep deprivation can impair cognitive function and put you at risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could get by on just a few hours of sleep? That would mean more time to do things. Unfortunately, we need 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night to give our bodies enough time to repair and restore themselves. Five – even six – hours is not enough. Granted, you can function for a few days on little sleep but you’ll soon see the effects. Chronic sleep loss has a widespread effect on health as we’ve mentioned. It can also exacerbate sleep disorders and increase the chance of developing anxiety and depression. These, in turn, affect physical health and may worsen feelings of pain.
Late night snacking isn’t unusual. Unfortunately, many late-night snackers tend to veer towards fatty, salty foods that cause weight gain and poor sleep. Eating late means your digestive system has to work to break down the food and your body can’t rest properly. Snacking on junk food also increases the likelihood of the calories being stored as fat instead of being burned. If you do get hungry at night, consider adding healthy fats and protein to your dinner. An after-meal snack could include yogurt, a handful of cherries or a small banana. They’re not high in calories and may increase levels of melatonin in your body that can help you sleep.
Around 90 million Americans snore and while half are primary snorers (where breathing sounds occur in the upper airway), the other half may be caused by OSA. We’ve already talked about the effects that alcohol can have on OSA symptoms. However, OSA by itself – even without the effects of alcohol – can have dangerous consequences. It can lead to daytime sleepiness that can cause motor vehicle and work-related accidents, cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, and weight gain. Bed partners may be disturbed as well.
Aside from OSA, snoring may be caused by nasal problems and sleep deprivation. Even sleep position can cause it. Sleeping on the back increases the chances of snoring as gravity narrows the airway. Addressing the cause of snoring can help you sleep better and prevent consequent health issues like those associated with OSA.
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Everyone has a favorite sleeping position and that’s fine – as long as it doesn’t cause problems or make existing ones worse. For instance, sleeping on the stomach puts a lot of strain on the lower back as the spine is forced to deviate from it’s natural ‘s’ shape. It can also cause neck pain since you need to turn your head to breathe. However, it may help temper OSA symptoms like snoring as it keeps the airway open. Sleeping on the back with a pillow beneath the head and another beneath the knees is great for back pain sufferers. Note: Using the best mattress for back pain also helps as it provides an even, supportive surface to sleep on. Those who have heartburn and those who are pregnant may find comfort when sleeping on their left side. Which position to choose really depends on how rested – and pain-free – you feel upon waking up in the morning.
Cultivating healthy bedtime habits takes a little time but it’s totally worth it. Sleep has become such a premium that it’s vital to do all you can to get the most of it. You don’t need to make changes all at once; just switch out one or two at a time until they become habits. You can also break other bad habits like drinking coffee and smoking close to bedtime, exercising late in the day and sleeping at odd hours. You’ll find that you sleep better and feel healthier.