Sleep expert on how to curb your poor nighttime habits

·Lifestyle Reporter
·6-min read

Is your nighttime routine sabotaging your sleep?

New research commissioned by Calming Blankets, found that a whopping 99 per cent of Aussies are guilty of engaging in poor nighttime habits that are impacting their sleep and their health.

bad sleep habits
Have you got bad habits impacting your sleep? Photos: Getty

The survey of 1050 Australians found that two thirds of us frequently use devices before bed, 38 percent go to bed at different times every night, a quarter are eating late, 22 percent consume caffeinated drinks late, and an equal 20 percent consume alcohol, study or work late at night.

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Sleep expert on the habits that are bad for your sleep

According to sleep scientist, Dr Carmel Harrington, these poor nighttime habits can have a harmful impact on our health and sleep.

“Engaging in some of these activities or habits occasionally and treating yourself once or twice a week is okay. However, it is not ideal to do so frequently as it can impact the various stages of sleep, leading to sleep deprivation," she says.

“Alcohol is a sleep stealer. While it may help you get to sleep, it will suppress Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep – the ‘dream sleep’ that is essential to mental and physical wellbeing – causing sleep fragmentation and reducing overall sleep duration. 

"Screen use before bed may also interfere with our sleep not only because, due to the bright lights of the screen, it delays the release of melatonin, but also because screens stimulate our brains, making getting to sleep problematic. 

Young woman looking at smartphone in bed.
The survey of 1050 Australians found that two thirds of us frequently use devices before bed, which can interfere with sleep quality. Photo: Getty Images

"Similarly, caffeine is a stimulant. By transiently blocking adenosine (our sleepy neurotransmitter) it tricks the brain into thinking it isn’t sleepy, and because it can take up to eight hours to leave the body, having a coffee at 2pm can impact our ability to go to, and stay, asleep even at 10pm that night.

Dr Harrington also explained that a lack of sleep can lead to other health issues: “Sleep fragmentation and deprivation that can result from frequent bad nighttime habits, can have devastating impacts on our sleep and health. 

"Many studies show that it can result in a decrease in performance or reliability, slower thought processes, an increased tendency to make mental errors and flawed judgements, an increase in false responding, increased memory errors, and decreased vigilance and motivation," she adds.

“If an adult sleeps less than the required seven to nine hours a night regularly, they are also more likely to experience mood swings and increased irritability, and can be more susceptible to developing serious mental health disorders, including a fivefold increased risk of depression."

How to curb poor nighttime habits for better sleep and health

According to Dr Harrington, the key to curbing bad habits is to replace them with good habits in order to vastly improve your sleep. 

Dr Harrington also suggests trying the following:

1. Limit screen time and put away devices at least an hour before bed

"It can help to remove devices from your bedroom to remove the temptation to use them at bedtime. If you live with family, a partner or friends, establish some household limits on technology to keep each other accountable."

woman putting phone away in bedroom
Dr Harrington suggests removing the devices from your room all together. Photo: Getty

2. Avoid late night snacks or meals within three hours of bedtime

"Avoid full meals within three hours of sleep time - if you go to bed too full, your body will be busy digesting instead of sleeping deeply. This is especially important as we get older, as our metabolic rate slows and it can take longer to digest a meal."

3. Avoid caffeine after midday

"It can take up to 8 hours for caffeine to leave the body, so avoiding caffeine after midday can help to improve the quality of your sleep. The older we are, the longer it takes for caffeine to leave our bodies due to decreasing metabolism."

4. Avoid alcohol before bed

"Some myth busting here - alcohol does not in fact help with sleep. Whilst it can have an initial sedating effect, alcohol is rapidly metabolised and after four to five hours minimal blood alcohol will remain where the body can experience ‘rebound wakefulness.’ This refers to periods of shallow sleep and multiple awakenings, sweating, and an increased heart rate. Dr Harrington recommends refraining completely or limiting alcohol to one standard drink."

5. Keep your bedroom cool, comfortable, dark and quiet

"Some people find it helpful to use a white noise machine or a weighted blanket, for example, which can calm and relax the mind and body. This helps individuals ease into sleep and enjoy a deeper sleep, particularly after a stressful day. Think of deep pressure stimulation as a firm hug that can have a relaxing effect on the nervous system, stimulating the production of serotonin. Serotonin, our feel-good hormone, helps us feel calm and relaxed and is the precursor to melatonin. Stimulating both can help us get to sleep and stay asleep."

Young female sleeping peacefully in her bedroom at night, relaxing
Replacing bad habits with good habits can vastly improve sleep. Source: Getty Images

6. Give yourself time to unwind before bed

"Sleep quality is often dependent on how the day is spent, and if it is filled with stress from an overloaded work or study schedule that progresses into nighttime, sleep can be impacted. Deal with the issues of the day in the early evening by spending up to 20 minutes writing down concerns and solutions. Then, close the book and put it away. Those frequently working late could consider having a transparent conversation with their workplace to adjust their workload. Maintaining a study schedule with deadlines and a commitment to work earlier in the evening can also be helpful."

7. Set a regular bedtime and wake up time

“Keeping consistent sleep and wake times will regulate sleep and help Aussies maintain quality sleep. Our body craves routine, and inconsistent wake-up times can cause significant sleep issues as our wake-up time determines when we are able to go to sleep that night. When we wake, we set our body clock rhythm for the next 24 hours, including our sleep rhythm. For adults, this is about 16 hours after waking. For example, if you wake late in the morning, at around 10am, you may not be able to fall asleep until about 2am the following morning.”

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