According to the Sleep Foundation, sleep is an essential function that not only helps us to recharge, but also enables us to stave off disease, process memories, and much more. In order to enjoy these benefits, experts have long recommended between seven and nine hours of sleep every night.
Though this number is largely arbitrary depending on individual requirements and even genes (yes, really!) getting enough sleep has certainly proven essential for the regulation of our circadian rhythms. Off the back of this, we know for a fact that a lack of sleep or poor quality sleep over extended periods can lead to a range of serious issues including high blood pressure, depression, heart disease, and even early death.
In other words, if you don’t snooze, you most definitely lose. But, that’s nothing new. However, what you might not have realized is that, regardless of the quality of sleep that you’re getting, more recent studies have revealed how bad sleep habits can actually pose some pretty serious risks of their own. Some of these bad habits are common sense, others might surprise you, and we’re going to consider each of their implications here.
Bad habit 1 – Using technology before bed
If there’s one thing we should all know about by this stage, it’s the damage that we can cause by using technology in bed. Blue light from the screens of our favorite devices has proven especially problematic for inhibiting melatonin production and drastically impacting sleep as a result. However, while this is pretty common knowledge, many people don’t realize that experts predict this negative effect can be felt even from technology that we’ve used as much as five hours before bed.
Luckily, studies have revealed that melatonin isn’t generally impacted by as little as one hour of screen time. But, as soon as we click over to 1.5 hours, we start to feel less sleepy. Over five days, this has been proven to set our body clocks (the regulation of which is the primary purpose of sleep, remember?) back by as much as 1.5 hours.
It is perhaps worth noting that studies have generally revealed that blue light does impact everyone differently, with teens especially able to sleep despite the devices they use, but it’s still important not to take these findings lightly. Most notably, it’s crucial to limit screen time as much as possible before bedtime, especially in the two hours before we intend to sleep. If we do use devices during this period, studies have found that turning down screen brightness or inverting the screen color where possible can at least help to offset the damage, facilitating the best quality sleep regardless.
Bad habit 2 – Irregular bedtimes
Technology might be an obvious sleep sticking point, but fewer people realize that irregular bedtimes can also be incredibly damaging, with some pretty worrying implications for heart health. A 2020 study from the University of Notre Dame especially revealed that bedtime variations of just 30 minutes (either earlier or later) can cause a significant increase in resting heart rate. More worryingly, this increase can pass on to the next day in individuals who go to bed 30 minutes later, putting cardiovascular health at real risk.
This is part of a larger conversation surrounding heart health and sleep, and is largely thought to be driven by the poorer quality or irregularity of sleep that changes to our nightly sleep regimen can create. To offset these detrimental effects, it’s recommended that individuals develop not only a regular bedtime routine (recommended for general sleep quality,) but that they also focus on doing so at a regular time. Controversially, these findings also suggest against early bedtimes as much as they do late nights, further highlighting the need for regularity regardless of the amount of sleep.
Bad habit 3 – Negative sleep associations
Sleep associations are often discussed in a positive light. For babies, especially, sleep associations such as bath times, white noise, and being placed in a crib can be invaluable for facilitating good night sleep. Even for teens and adults, regular bedtime routines that lean on various sleep associations including dim lighting, reading or meditating can help to facilitate good sleep. But, studies have long since revealed that negative sleep associations are more harmful than a lack of bedtime routine at all.
Alcohol is an especially guilty culprit in this sense, and is unfortunately used by millions of people across the world as an imagined sleep aid – hence the term ‘nightcap’. Unfortunately, delving a little more deeply into the matter reveals that alcohol can prove incredibly detrimental to sleep quality, making frequent wakings far more likely due to a reduction of deep sleep and an increase in REM (rapid eye movement.) And, alcohol isn’t the only detrimental sleep crutch. Studies have also revealed that the prolonged use of medications in the benzodiazepine family (Xanax, Valium, etc.) can prove equally problematic.
These negative associations are especially detrimental due to the reliance they create, and individuals looking to overcome these setbacks need to find healthy replacements that are equally effective. CBD is perhaps the most recent of these, and studies have found that increased sleep duration and decreased cortisol levels are just two of the many reasons why you should use CBD oil as a sleep aid if you’re looking for healthier alternatives. Natural solutions like meditation and mindfulness practices have also proven helpful, though on a lesser scale, for creating the same relaxing benefits as the negative associations that have been tricking you out of sleep for too long.
Bad habit 4 – Eating too close to bedtime
We all love a midnight snack, but studies also reveal various reasons why eating too close to bedtime can cause a fair amount of damage. In fact, experts suggest that eating a significant meal any later than two to three hours before you intend to sleep can lead to a range of issues for a range of different reasons. Most notably, our metabolisms slow down as our bodies prepare for rest, meaning that digestive issues off the back of late-night eating can disrupt sleep quality. On top of this, lying down while digesting can also cause stomach acid to enter the esophagus, which leads to issues such as indigestion and heartburn which also keep us awake. This can all result in either poor quality sleep, or food-induced insomnia, especially if we’re eating foods that are directly detrimental to sleep, such as caffeine enriched chocolate or strong aged cheese that contains the amino acid tyramine to keep us alert.
Even if they feel unable to cut out the late-night snacks altogether, individuals should therefore make an effort to stick to foods that help rather than hinder sleep. To some degree, these don’t offset the impact of digestion on sleep quality, but they are better than alternatives, and they include –
- Almond butter
- Pumpkin seeds
- And more
Bad habit 5 – Sleeping on dirty sheets
We may be at the end of the road, but dirty sheets still deserve your undivided attention. Admittedly, this is more of an inaction or an oversight than a bad habit as such, but the impact on your sleep can be equally detrimental. This is especially the case given that studies have revealed how the fungal bacteria that breed on unwashed sheets and pillowcases can worsen respiratory issues such as asthma. This is a problem that can drastically inhibit the quality and length of sleep, and it’s not the only issue you might find here. A 2018 study in the UK also revealed how harmful diarrhea-inducing bugs survived even after going through the wash. If that’s the case, think how many nasty bugs can hide in unclean bedding. From a sleep perspective, you’re certainly going to struggle to get a good night if you’re having to run to the toilet every five minutes!
The good news is that, while some experts do recommend cleaning your sheets every week, other recommendations sit at a more reasonable figure of once a month. Either way, cleaning those sheets is your best chance at good health that keeps you sleeping. And, let’s be honest, that just-washed feeling of a clean bed probably won’t hurt either.
A final word: What does good sleep look like?
The results are most definitely in, and it looks like we’re doing way more damage than we realized to our sleep patterns overall. But, all of these bad habits pose one pressing question – what exactly does good sleep look like? Luckily, now that you know the bad habits to avoid, it should be easier than ever to realize this reality. Most notably, the studies cited here seem to suggest that getting the best possible night of sleep is all about –
- Regular sleep routines
- Tech-free bedtimes
- Positive sleep associations
- Early eating times
- Clean bedsheets
- And more
In other words, it couldn’t be simpler to get sleep right at long last. Now, it’s time to hit the sack, and enjoy the best night of sleep you’ve ever had!