Your ability to fall asleep at a reasonable time, stay asleep and wake up feeling well-rested the following morning depends on the steps you take hours before your head hits the pillow. And many of them go beyond basic sleep hygiene and focus more on daily habits that are surprisingly easy to address.
Struggling with sleep despite your best efforts? These 9 behaviors might be to blame if they're a part of your average evening after 9 p.m.
1. You're eating the occasional huge dinner.
Inconsistency when it comes to evening mealtime can wreak havoc on your sleep. It's okay to eat an early or late dinner so long as you aim for around the same time every night. As for quantity, sticking with bigger breakfasts and smaller dinners has been shown to stabilize blood sugar, while big meals that include more fatty foods, delicious as they may be, take longer to digest and keep the body awake. If your sleep is suffering, keep dinner on the lighter, healthier side.
2. You're checking your work email.
Once you're finally home from work and preparing to unwind, the last thing you should do is reach for your smartphone to check and see if your boss sent you an urgent, "REPLY ASAP" email. If it's really that urgent, they'll call. Otherwise, take a deep breath and meditate on the fact that any residual work from today can, in fact, wait until tomorrow. The evening is time set aside for you.
A recent study found that even push notifications are just as distracting as actively seeking out your messages, so go ahead and silence your phone, too, so you can focus on your down time.
3. You're ordering a few more cocktails.
That attempt to relax from a stressful day is actually preventing you from sleeping soundly later. While a cocktail or two may seem to make you feel sleepy and help you drift off faster, the quality of your sleep suffers and you often wake up feeling the consequences the following morning. If you're going to indulge, drink a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage you consume, and close that tab three hours before you plan to call it night.
4. You're bickering with a loved one.
It's cliché because it's true! Going to bed angry doesn't offer much in the way of sound sleep, especially if you have Type A tendencies. Overthinkers struggle with letting go of stressful thoughts at all times of the day, but in the evening, that ruminating can keep you mentally alert when your body is physically sending you "time for bed" signals. It's often best to address the things that are irritating you and then work together with the other person to let them go. It'll make your personal relationships stronger and your morning mood sweeter.
5. You're starting a new Netflix binge.
STOP RIGHT THERE. You've experienced this deep, dark rabbit hole one too many times before and know very well what is about to happen. It doesn't matter if you're "catching up" on the latest seasons of one of your favorite series or if you're simply bored and looking to explore a new one. You get hooked, and 30 minutes becomes three hours before you even blink. All that screen time is scientifically proven to affect your body's production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for your sleepy feeling. The sooner you shut down devices, the sooner you'll drift off into dreamland.
6. You're indulging in that after-dinner cappuccino.
Of course it tastes wonderful, but this caffeinated beverage from heaven is best enjoyed earlier in the day -- before 2 p.m. if possible. While the human body doesn't metabolize caffeine in one, uniform way, most available research confirms that if you call it quits with the stimulant by mid-afternoon, it shouldn't affect the quality of your sleep later that evening. Caffeine is another compound that counters the body's natural production of melatonin, so if you're looking to increase your Z's, stick to water or herbal tea in the evening.
7. You're checking out the best Instagram posts of the day.
No matter how good you may think it feels to surf your social media news feeds at the end of a long day, science says that browsing on that smartphone is interfering with your sleep. Teens are particularly susceptible to this effect, because they often turn to their phones to help them drift off when they aren't quite sleepy yet. But a recent study revealed that kids who specifically make a point to unplug before bedtime experience real benefits in the quality and quantity of their sleep, too.
8. You're jumping into the next amazing novel on your bookshelf.
Congratulations on your screen-free choice! But honestly, if you tend to gravitate to thrillers, emotional novels, or more intellectual topics in the nonfiction genre, you'll be stimulating your mind more than relaxing it. Unfortunately, researchers found that such mental demands can lead to poor sleep, so it's best to stick to lighter reading like an entertainment magazine or something a little on the dull side to lull you off to sleep.
9. You're taking your multivitamin.
There's nothing wrong with making sure your body is receiving adequate nutrients, but a hefty dose of B vitamins within your multivitamin in the evening can create an unintentional energizing effect that counteracts the natural sleep cycle. If you're someone who struggles with sleep apnea, try to take any medication with a flexible time prescription in the morning as opposed to the evening to avoid this frustrating interaction. When taken on an empty stomach, multivitamins can sometimes cause discomfort and even nausea, so consider taking yours with breakfast as a preventative measure.