Sleep is a fundamental pillar of our health, playing a crucial role in processes ranging from memory consolidation to physical recovery. However, certain habits can interfere with our sleep architecture, the structure and pattern of our sleep, leading to less restorative sleep.
Here are five habits you should consider quitting for a better night's sleep, along with the scientific reasons why they can harm your sleep quality.
1. Drinking Alcohol
Alcohol is a sedative that can induce feelings of drowsiness, leading some to believe it can aid in falling asleep. However, the relationship between alcohol and sleep is complex and often detrimental. While alcohol can shorten the time it takes to fall asleep, it disrupts the sleep cycle, particularly the REM (rapid eye movement) stage. REM sleep is crucial for cognitive functions such as learning and memory. Alcohol can reduce REM sleep early in the night, leading to an imbalance in the sleep architecture.
Moreover, alcohol can exacerbate sleep-related breathing problems, such as sleep apnea and snoring, and increase the likelihood of nocturnal awakenings. Instead of alcohol, consider sleep-promoting alternatives like herbal teas, which lack these disruptive effects.
2. Eating Late
Our bodies follow a circadian rhythm, a roughly 24-hour cycle influencing physiological processes, including digestion. Eating late can disrupt this rhythm and lead to sleep disturbances. When we eat, our bodies produce gastric acid to aid digestion. Lying down soon after eating can cause this acid to flow back into the esophagus, leading to heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which can disrupt sleep.
Furthermore, foods high in sugar and caffeine can stimulate the nervous system, delaying the onset of sleep. Aim to finish eating 2-3 hours before bed and opt for foods that are easy to digest and low in sugar.
3. Consuming Marijuana
Marijuana is often used for its sedative effects. However, research suggests that, much like alcohol, it can disrupt the sleep cycle, particularly REM sleep. This disruption can lead to less restorative sleep and affect cognitive functions. Regular marijuana use can also lead to dependence, making it harder to sleep without it. If you're struggling with sleep, consider safer alternatives like relaxation techniques or cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I).
4. Taking Cold Showers
Body temperature regulation is a key part of our sleep-wake cycle. Core body temperature decreases in the evening, signaling that it's time to sleep. Cold showers can interfere with this natural rhythm by causing a sudden decrease in body temperature. While this might be invigorating, it's not conducive to sleep onset. A warm bath or shower, on the other hand, can raise body temperature, and the subsequent gradual decrease can help facilitate sleep onset.
5. Looking at Screens
Screens from devices like smartphones and TVs emit blue light. Exposure to this light in the evening can inhibit the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles. Reduced melatonin can delay sleep onset and disrupt sleep architecture. To promote better sleep, turn off screens at least an hour before bed and consider using a blue light filter if you must use a device in the evening.
Beyond avoiding these habits, implementing healthy sleep practices can further improve sleep quality. This includes maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a sleep-friendly environment, and incorporating relaxation techniques into your bedtime routine. Regular physical activity can also promote better sleep, but try to finish exercising a few hours before bed as it can initially have an alerting effect.
In conclusion, while some of these habits may seem harmless or even beneficial for sleep, the science suggests otherwise. By understanding how these habits can disrupt our sleep and making a conscious effort to avoid them, we can significantly improve our sleep quality and, by extension, our overall health and well-being.