A good night’s sleep can be truly transformative: Studies show that not getting enough can affect your happiness as much as a stressful deadline and that quality shut-eye improves your memory and even your complexion. Yet sometimes a deep slumber can feel frustratingly out of reach. If you rise feeling exhausted or keep waking during the night, experts say the solution could be in your control. To find out their secrets, we asked sleep experts to share their evening routines and the habits they would never do at night. Correct these common mistakes tonight for the best sleep of your life.
If you’re guilty of using your phone as an alarm, sleep pathologist Sharon Moore says you’re making one of the most common—and detrimental—mistakes. “Never, never, allow screens to be in the bedroom,” she tells MyDomaine. Moore, who has helped patients with sleep issues for over 36 years, says this seemingly harmless habit has real consequences. “The blue light of digital screens switches off melatonin and wakes up the brain,” she explains. Even if your phone is on standby next to your bed, the glow of notifications could be influencing your sleep cycle without you noticing. Instead, charge your devices outside your bedroom and go old-school by using a simple alarm clock.
It’s rare that a health expert warns against drinking too much water, but Moore says excessive liquid before bed is a common mistake. “I don’t recommend big drinks less than an hour before bed,” she says. If you constantly wake feeling dehydrated, she says the issue could be your breathing habits. “Mouth-breathing and snoring can cause the feeling of dry throat, which won’t be fixed with water. Try sleeping on your back to assist with keeping lips closed at night.”
A Nielsen report reveals that the average American spends 11 hours per day on gadgets. Yes, the majority of our waking life now involves some sort of device, and it turns out this tech reliance is wreaking havoc on our minds and bodies. While an all-out technology ban might not be realistic for those who work in an office, avoiding screen time when you get home could benefit your quality of sleep, Moore says. At minimum, she recommends turning off the TV an hour before bed to let your mind relax. Falling asleep with a movie playing on your laptop is “a big no-no!” she stresses.
The link between sleep and exercise is a confusing one. On one hand, a National Sleep Foundation survey found that vigorous exercisers report the best quality of sleep, but Moore says raising your heart rate before going to bed has the opposite effect. So what’s the ideal balance? If you struggle to get into a deep sleep or often wake up during the night, the answer might be to hit the gym in the morning and avoid exercise at night. A study by the Brigham Young University in Utah found that participants who exercised at 7 a.m. each morning woke significantly fewer times during the night and spent less time in REM sleep, the light phase the body enters when you first fall asleep.
According to Moore, successful sleepers all have one thing in common: a consistent nighttime ritual. “The body’s chemical signals that induce sleep are strictly associative, [so] routine is really important,” she explains. Aside from the obvious, like dimming the lights, taking a warm bath, or burning candles, research suggests you should also aim to fall asleep and rise at roughly the same time each day. New findings by Penn Medicine revealed that people with insomnia are more likely to recover if they maintain a consistent bedtime. While it might seem counterintuitive, trying to catch up on lost sleep by going to bed early or sleeping in could do more harm than good.
Eying off a second serving? “Sleep ambassador” Nancy Rothstein says overeating before bed could delay your efforts to fall asleep. “Your digestive system is winding down and processing nutrients,” she explains, adding that the ideal time to eat is at least three hours before you go to bed. If you must snack, Moore recommends banana, milk, honey, and oats, which won’t derail your efforts.
While a glass of wine might make you feel drowsy, science suggests drinking before bedtime isn’t a good idea for those who struggle to sleep. A five-year study by the University of Missouri School of Medicine found that alcohol interferes with sleep homeostasis—the body’s internal timer that helps regulate when to sleep and wake up. In essence, it might help you doze off, but too many glasses of vino could lead to disrupted sleep, or prompt you to wake up feeling dehydrated thanks to its diuretic effect. If you’re tempted, Rothstein says to change your mindset and think about sleep as the start of your routine. Her mantra? “Your day begins the night before.”