6 Unexpected Ways You're Ruining Your Sleep
No problem that you have incoming text, email or other notifications on when you're sleeping since you have no idea they're happening, right? Well, turns out you'd be better served to turn those off. "Even sounds that don't wake us up can cause 'sleep fragmentation' and ruin the restorative qualities of sleep," says Michael Perlis, PhD, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania. (If bright enough, light can also disturb sleep, so you'll want to turn off notifications that make sounds and light up.) If you're feeling less than refreshed during the day despite spending an adequate time in bed, this may be one reason why. Many phones make this easy to solve. For instance, on an iPhone, you can turn on the "do not disturb" function.
You're not rolling with the flow
When you're lying in bed but can't sleep because your mind is on a worry feedback loop about to-dos at home or work, it's easy for a rush of panic to wash over you. You might obsessively start checking the clock, calculating how many hours you could get if you just drifted off now. If this is an acute bout of insomnia (meaning: It doesn't happen often), "it's best to roll with it and take the time to address the stressor," says Perlis. Translation: Go ahead and work. Have peace of mind knowing that most episodes of stress insomnia last just a couple days, he says. That said, frequent bouts of insomnia require a doctor's visit, however; otherwise, you could be priming yourself to wake up and work during this time, worsening the sleeplessness. So if it lasts for a week, talk to your doctor.
You're counting on sleep hygiene to be the fix
Sleep hygiene habits, like building in a wind-down time before bed, sleeping in a cool, dark room and staying off devices before bed, are important. However, if you have insomnia, "sleep hygiene is like flossing, it's preventative," says Colleen Ehrnstrom, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and author of End the Insomnia Struggle. Basically, sleep hygiene helps avert sleep problems the way flossing helps you avoid a cavity. If you have a cavity, all the flossing in the world won't make it go away, just as sleep hygiene doesn't get to the root issue. If you have a sleep problem for more than 30 days in a row, you'll benefit most from CBT-I (cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia). This therapy addresses behaviors and mentalities surrounding sleep and have been shown to be more effective in treating insomnia in the long-term compared to sleep medications.
You call yourself an insomniac
Labels can be dangerous when it comes to sweet slumber. People who perceive they have insomnia (whether they do or not) are more likely to suffer from sleep-related problems during the day regardless of the quality of their sleep, according to a 2017 study in Behaviour Research and Therapy. Even crazier: If you think you got great sleep (but in reality, did not), you're likely A-OK when it comes to your health and daytime functioning. Distance yourself away from an identity as an insomniac and you may find sleep comes easier.
You hit the hay early to make up for lost sleep
You had a bad night sleep last night, so you're ready to sleep in, nap the next day or tuck in early. "While it makes all the sense in the world to try and recover lost sleep, it's often the wrong thing to do," says Perlis. An irregular sleep schedule can disrupt your body clock, so you may not be tired enough to fall asleep at your normal bedtime. Likewise, if you go to bed early, you may spend that time lying in bed awake. "The less time spent awake in bed, the better," he says, as that can reinforce frustration surrounding sleep that keeps you up. On the other hand, if you stick to your schedule, the good news is that you'll likely be tired enough by your normal bedtime to fall asleep quickly the next night. (Problem, solved.) If you have to nap in order to get what you need to do during the day done, Perlis suggests pushing bedtime back.
You're not looking on the bright side
The key takeaway is to not freak out when you sleep poorly or fear that you'll be wrecked for the week, as that worry alone can reinforce insomnia. Same goes for when you more or less choose to sleep poorly. For example, on the occasion when you go out and dance the night away at a family wedding, go to bed super late and then wake up late too. Forget the guilt! You shouldn't maintain a rigid schedule at the expense of living life, says Ehrnstrom. "The brain is incredibly resilient. If you break all the sleep rules for a night, you'll be okay—especially in people with healthy sleep," she says. You heard it: Get your sleep habits under control, be consistent and you won't have to sweat the (occasional) small stuff.