Five Things That Might Be Affecting Your Sleep

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Provided by UVA Health

We’ve all been there: downing cup after cup of coffee to stay awake after a bad night’s sleep. Whether you
stayed up too late binging Netflix or the kids wound up in your bed after a nightmare, life can sometimes get in the way of those precious zzz’s. However, if you are struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep night after night, you might have bad sleep hygiene.

“Sometimes the reality of life doesn’t allow us to prioritize sleep the way we should, but good sleep hygiene and a regular routine can help you feel better and improve your overall health,” said Richard Swift, MD, a pulmonologist and sleep expert at UVA Prince William Medical Center’s Sleep Lab.

According to the Sleep Foundation, adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night to avoid the damaging effects of sleep deprivation, which can include high blood pressure, weight gain, poor recovery, weakened immunity, mood changes, memory issues and trouble concentrating. Swift reveals five habits that could be affecting your sleep and how you can improve your sleep quality.

Electronic Use

Interacting with electronics before bed can have damaging effects on your sleep because LED screens emit blue light. This includes televisions, smartphones, tablets and laptops.

“Watching TV, working on a laptop, even reading a book on a tablet right before bed can keep you from falling asleep or staying asleep,” said Swift.

Blue light filtering glasses also don’t stop LED screens from suppressing the body’s release of melatonin, which keeps you from falling asleep naturally. Ultimately, Swift recommends keeping all electronics out of the bedroom if you’re having trouble sleeping.

Exercise

Although daily exercise can improve sleep for many, strenuous exercise too close to bedtime can have negative effects. This is because exercise raises body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure.

“Exercising too hard before going to sleep can also make it hard for your body to recover properly,” Swift noted.

Try to perform intense exercise at least two to three hours before bed so your body can have ample time to wind down. Alternatively, Swift said moderate exercise (e.g., walking, yoga and functional weightlifting) shouldn’t negatively impact your sleep or recovery.

Eating

Eating a heavy meal before bed can affect your digestion. If you eat too much too close to bedtime, your body isn’t allowed sufficient time to digest the food before lying down. This can cause heartburn or indigestion, even if you don’t experience these regularly.

“A good rule of thumb is to eat heavy meals at least two to three hours before bed to allow food to begin digesting and move into your small intestine instead of sitting in your stomach,” said Swift. “If your schedule doesn’t permit this, a small meal without heartburn-inducing foods before bed is fine.” He also pointed out that not eating enough at dinner can disrupt sleep, as you may wake up hungry and need a midnight snack.

Environment

Do you find yourself tossing and turning all night trying to cool down? Or do you tend to wake up in the middle of the night to find a second blanket? It’s important to channel your inner Goldilocks and create a sleep environment that’s just right.

The Sleep Foundation says the best bedroom temperature for sleep is 65°F, but Swift recommends keeping your thermostat set to anywhere between 60°F and 67°F. He also suggests optimizing your bedroom for sleep and freeing it of any distracting light and sound.

Alcohol Use

It’s often believed that alcohol promotes sleep, as it can cause feelings of drowsiness. However, alcohol can disrupt your sleep as it metabolizes. On average, it takes one hour for one serving of alcohol to metabolize.

Research has shown that the sedative effect of alcohol does help you fall asleep faster but only lasts through the first few hours of sleep. As the night goes on and your body works to filter out the alcohol, it can cause frequent waking during the latter part of the night.

“Heavy drinking can actually affect your sleep for up to one week,” Swift noted. “I typically recommend waiting at least three to four hours after your last drink before heading to bed.”

If you’re still having difficulty maintaining a healthy sleep schedule, speak with your primary care provider or consult a sleep specialist.

For more information about sleep health and services at UVA Prince William Medical Center, visit NovantHealthUVA.org/services/sleep-health

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