Getting agood night's sleepis essential for your mood, energy level, and overall health. Your sleep also depends on what you do during the day—including how much physical activity you get, what you eat and drink, and how mentally stimulated you are. And in the hours just before you crawl into bed, what you do is especially important.
"When people suffer from insomnia or other sleep issues, it's often because of something they're doing, probably unintentionally, when they should be preparing for rest,"Michael Grandner, PhD, a psychiatry instructor and member of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Pennsylvania, toldHealth.
Here's what not to do before bed if you have been suffering from a lack of shuteye.
Several studies have suggested that electronic devices, like e-readers andsmartphones, or even watching television in or before bed, can disrupt sleep. So, avoiding light-emitting technology for at least one hour before bedtime is essential,Robert S. Rosenberg, DO, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center of Prescott Valley, Ariz., toldHealth.
"The blue light given off by computers, smartphones, tablets, and TV prevents the production of melatonin, which helps the body become sleepy," explained Dr. Rosenberg.
Try this instead: Keep all electronic devices out of your bedroom. Consider dimming the display if you choose to use electronic devices before bed.
Take Certain Medications
If you take medicines or supplements daily and are also experiencing sleep problems, it may help to consult a healthcare provider. The time of day you take your dose may keep you awake at night.
"The effects may be subtle, but some medicines can make you alert for several hours after taking them," said Grandner.
For example, antidepressants can strongly affect sleep. Also, some pain medications may upset your stomach, which makes sleep more difficult. On the other hand, some medicines—such as blood pressure pills—work best at night.
A sleeping pill isn't always the answer, either. Sleeping pills are generally only recommended for short-term use.
Try this instead:Talking to a healthcare provider about when to take your medications would be best. Also, if you take sleeping pills regularly, talk to a healthcare provider about other options. A prescription drug will be safer and more effective for more than a few weeks than sleeping pills. But a longer-term solution that doesn't rely on medication is your best bet.
Think twice before you message a friend or family member or get involved in a group text conversation shortly before bed. If you sleep with your phone in or near your bed, you could be disturbed by replies after falling asleep.
Try this instead:If you are worried about getting messages late at night, put your phone in another room or mute it.
You probably already know you should avoid coffee before bed. One cup contains about 95 milligrams of caffeine, which can keep you alert for hours.
But some people still like the idea of ahot drinkafter dinner, said Grandner. They may not realize that although they're still several hours away from turning in, their habit could disturb sleep. The truth is that caffeine can stay in the body for up to 10 hours.
"Even caffeine at lunch can be too close to bedtime for some people," added Grandner.
Try this instead:Warm milk may be helpful as a sleep aid if you're thirsty before bed.
Even if you avoid coffee, you may need to be careful about another significant source of caffeine: Tea. Drinks labeled as "herbal tea"—such as peppermint or chamomile varieties—are probably caffeine-free, said Grandner. But types that containblack, green, or white tea leaves do indeed include the stimulant.
Try this instead:You may still be able to enjoy your favorite caffeinated tea at night. Dunk your teabag into a cup of hot water, dump it out, and make a second cup using that same tea bag. Most of the tea's caffeine is released early on in the steeping process, explained Grandner. So, this may help you enjoy the flavor and warmth without so much of the stimulant.
Another sneaky source of caffeine is chocolate, especially dark chocolate, with a high cocoa content. Chocolate also contains the stimulant theobromine, which may increase your heart rate and sleeplessness.
"People might not think about ice cream that contains chocolate or coffee as something that might potentially keep them awake," said Grander. "But if they're sensitive to caffeine, that could definitely do the trick."
For example, 50-gram serving of dark chocolate contains about 19 milligrams of caffeine and 250 of milligrams theobromine.
Try this instead:Opt for a light snack without caffeine if you are hungry close to bedtime. Nuts and fruits like pineapple, oranges, and bananas may boost melatonin, helping you sleep.
When people say they can't shut their mind off in bed, they haven't given themselves adequate time to relax an hour or so beforehand.
"When you're going from one distracting activity to another and not giving yourself time to sit back and reflect on your thoughts, it's no wonder that your mind is racing when you finally climb into bed," said Grandner.
Try this instead:Grandner recommended taking at least 30 minutes before you head into your bedroom to put away anything too stimulating, thought-provoking, or absorbing. That includes action-packed television shows or work you've brought home.
Check Your Work Email
Ablue-light-emitting devicecan mess with your body's natural sleep rhythms. But there are other potential problems with checking your email too close to bedtime.
"Unless you're waiting for a specific email that's going to put you at ease and help you sleep better, I would advise against it," noted Grandner.
Checking in with the office too late at night is more likely to make you nervous or agitated or fill your mind with things you'll need to do in the morning.
Try this instead:If you're concerned about things you need to do the following day, try getting them off your mind with a to-do list. Doing this can help you fall asleep quickly.
Having a large meal too close to bedtime can make falling asleep uncomfortable if you're bloated or painfully full. Spicy or fatty foods may be particularly risky because they're associated with acid reflux, which often worsens when you lie down.
Try this instead:Ideally, it would be best to have dinner at least two hours before going to sleep, said Grandner. That gives your body enough time to begin digesting the food. And if you're used to eating something right before bed, stick with sleep-promoting foods like simple carbohydrates or a glass of milk.
"Alcohol tricks you into thinking you will sleep better because it often makes you drowsy and makes it easier to fall asleep," explained Dr. Rosenberg. "But as your body begins tometabolize the alcohol, REM sleep, the period where our sleep is most restorative, is reduced."
When something impairs or disturbs your REM sleep, you may wake up tired and unable to concentrate. For example, a study published in2015 inAlcoholfound that alcohol acts like a diuretic, potentially making you go to the bathroom frequently at night.
Try this instead:According to Dr. Rosenberg, for most people, it's OK to have a drink or two with dinner. But skip the nightcap or the glass of wine on the couch right before bed.
We could go on and on about all the ways smoking is terrible for you, including Many people smoke to relax, said Grandner. But nicotine is a stimulant and can worsen insomnia, especially if you light up close to bedtime. Additionally, nicotine withdrawal can cause smokers to wake up earlier than they usually would in the morning.
"If you're a smoker and you're having trouble sleeping, that may be another reason you should talk to [a healthcare provider] about quitting," suggested Grandner.
It's not just traditional cigarettes you should avoid at night: Cigars, e-cigarettes, smoking cessation patches, pipes, and chewing tobacco can keep you up.
Try this instead: If you need something to help you relax before bed, leave the cigarettes out of the bedroom, and try some relaxation techniques. For example, progressive muscle relaxation can help destress you before falling asleep. The method involves tensing parts of your body, from your toes to your face, and then slowly relaxing them.
Chug Lots of Water
"Staying hydrated is important. But it may not be the best strategy to drink a huge glass of water before bed or sleep with a water by your bed," said Grandner.
Try this instead:Grandner suggested making sure you're drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Also, always use the bathroom before you head to bed.
You may have heard that exercise before bed might keep you awake at night. But some evidence suggests that the common belief may not be accurate. However, prolonged or very high-intensity exercise late at night may make it difficult for some people to fall asleep.
Try this instead:Regular exercise has been shown to help treat insomnia and promote good sleeping habits. So, if you're staying up extra late to make that 9 p.m. kickboxing classes that may keep you awake, see if you sleep better after an earlier workout.
Play Video Games
The science concerning television's effects on sleep is inconclusive. Some studies show that watching television before bed can disrupt sleep due to its melatonin-impairing blue light and mental stimulation. On the other hand, other research has found that the effect is minimal.
But experts tend to agree that electronic media that requires interaction, like video games, can definitely wreak havoc on your slumber.
"Browsing the web or flipping through TV channels before bed may not be so bad if you're not super sensitive to light," said Grandner, "But anything that's highly engaging will almost certainly keep you awake."
"Stimulation from these devices can activate and excite the brain, which presents a challenge when it comes to trying to fall asleep," agreed Dr. Rosenberg.
Try this instead:If you like video games, it's probably best to enjoy them during the day—not before bedtime. At night, quiet your mind by listening to some auditory stimulation, like white or pink noise, while falling asleep.
Everyone's preferences differ, but most sleep best between 60 and 70 degrees.
"People sleep better when it's cooler—sometimes a little cooler than they think," said Grandner.
That's because the body's temperature drops at night, and a lower temperature allows people to cover up with blankets without getting too hot.
Try this instead: If you like to stay warm and cozy at night, try sleeping with your favorite blanket rather than cranking up the heat. Additionally, some evidence suggests that weighted blankets positively affect sleep outcomes.
Let Your Pet Into Bed
"Everyone with a pet knows that inviting that pet into your bed is inviting a whole lot more awakenings during the night," noted Grandner. "If you're cool with that, go right ahead. But it's definitely something to consider if it starts to affect your sleep quality."
One study published in2018 inAnthrozoösfound that dogs stayed active 20% of the night, making their owners 4.3 timesmore likely to be awake during that time.
And those sleep disturbances can come from more than just your dog or cat's movements through the night. Pet hair and dander in your bed could also contribute to allergies and breathing difficulties, affecting your slumber.
Try this instead: Despite pets staying somewhat active at night, some pet owners have reported having their furry friend nearby helped them sleep, according to one study published in 2015 inMayo Clinic Proceedings. If your pet provides comfort at night, try letting them sleep on their bed in the same room as you.
If you shower after working out at night or bathe before bed, there's certainly nothing wrong with it. But if you usually rinse off in the morning and you only switch it up occasionally, bathing at night could send the wrong message to your brain.
"Showers often wake people up, so it might not be the best thing to do before bed," said Grandner.
Additionally, people with long hair should be careful not to go to bed with wet hair, which can be uncomfortable and cause knots and tangles. Further, wet hair can dampen your sheets and pillows, creating the perfect environment for mold to grow.
Try this instead:It should be a consistent habit if you want to shower at night. Opt for a warm shower an hour or two before bed. Some evidence suggests that s warm bath may help relax and prime your body for sleep.
Pick a Fight
There's a good reason couples are told never to go to bed angry.
"Stress is a major cause of insomnia," said Dr. Rosenberg. "If a conversation is stressful, it will elevate cortisol and other stress hormones impeding your ability to fall asleep."
Dr. Rosenberg added that angry people tend to ruminate or play over thoughts repeatedly in their minds, making falling asleep difficult.
"A serious conversation before bed is not a good idea," added Dr. Rosenberg.
Try this instead:Going to bed with unresolved issues may not be your best bet, either. Dr. Rosenberg suggested clarifying any problems earlier in the night. Also, it may help to save critical decision-making or serious conversations for days when you have more time to reflect and relax afterward.
Doing the same thing every night before bed is one of the tenets of good sleep hygiene. But switching up that routine by doing something out of order or earlier in the night than usual can disrupt that mental process.
"Without a consistentbedtime routine, your brain doesn't go into sleep mode until you crawl into bed and turn out the light," said Grandner. "You'll fall asleep much faster if you can start that process a little bit earlier, as you're getting ready."
Try this instead:Establish a routine. Brushing your teeth, washing your face, and laying out your clothes for the morning, for example, can all signal to your brain that it's time for bed. And if you do them in the same order and at the same time every night, you may notice an even more restful night's sleep.
Anything That's Too Exciting
Reading in bed can be a great pre-slumber activity, and if it helps you wind down and makes you tired, said Grandner, then go for it. The same goes for any routine habit that enables you to get to sleep—chatting on the phone with your best friend, organizing a photo album, or knitting, for example.
But if that book or that knitting project or whatever else you're doing draws you in too much, you may have difficulty putting it down and turning out the lights.
"When I read at night, I get too absorbed in the story, and the next thing I know, it's 3 a.m.," noted Grandner.
Try this instead:If you tend to get sidetracked, be careful about the activities you choose before bed. Try setting strict time limits for whatever you do decide to take on.
Sleep is vital to our well-being, but unfortunately, many people don't get enough of it. If you have trouble sleeping, it might be helpful to look at your evening routine. Cut back on any habits that might interfere with sleep, whether drinking coffee, smoking, or looking at blue screens too close to bedtime.
Was this page helpful?
Thanks for your feedback!
Tell us why!